Our main goal was to get kids outside, interested in birds and to engage them to become stewards of our environment, locally and beyond as well as to involve them in Citizen Science. We wanted to give the students the knowledge and tools to make a personal impact on the environment by developing awareness and concern for migratory birds and the opportunity to utilize the knowledge and tools to improve the habitat for birds at their 4-H meeting location and in their own yards.
We began implementing the Habitat Connections curriculum with a core group of 15 bird lovers in our 4-H club ranging in age from 5 – 15 years. The children (and parent volunteers) especially enjoyed the interactive learning games, the migration obstacle course in particular. Students also learned bird identification methods in preparation for the Great Backyard Bird Count. They were excited to share which birds they observed during the count and made good use of the folding pocket guides we purchased. The students made felt birds of different species in class, and some students continued making more on their own at home. Students were tasked with building their own bird nests at home and showing and explaining their methods in class. They also made pine cone bird feeders, as well as feeders made of recycled bottles. Some feeders were hung at the meeting site and the students each brought feeders home to use in their yards as well. Students were given suet feeders to hang at home and binoculars to use at home and in class. Students observed the birds visiting their feeders at home and shared their observations in class. A window feeder was installed at our meeting site during the winter and an employee of the building reported that she was amazed by how many birds were showing up to the feeder and how nice it was to see them. The students were very enthusiastic for every class and bird encounter. They loved sighting birds everywhere they went and sharing their findings. Some students brought their pocket folding field guides with them wherever they went. One parent reported that her son brings the field guide with him on all his Adirondack hikes and that overall his awareness and enjoyment of birds has been much enhanced by this project.
With the knowledge gained about habitat through the curriculum, the students assessed the grounds at their 4-H meeting site and realized it was lacking in a variety of food and a water source for birds. We introduced students to YardMap and showed them how to use it. Some of the students helped map the 4-H meeting site and others worked on making YardMaps of their homes. Up to 40 students were involved in planning the bird habitat improvement area. Students worked in different groups to learn which shrubs and plants were beneficial to birds, especially as a food source, where the improvements would be made, what preparatory work would need to be done, choose bird feeders and houses, and plan a solar powered bird bath. Several student and parent volunteers from our club worked on preparing the improvement site, which was an open ended courtyard area that had some minimal plantings that were not especially bird friendly. We planted shrubs with berries such as winterberry and coralberry, and nectar producing hydrangea, as well as rudbeckia, adding to the perennial flowers already there. A crabapple tree was planted in a different area outside of the courtyard. The bird bath will be completed in the spring, in the corner of the courtyard, which will make use of a solar panel to run a fountain pump for circulating the water, keeping it cleaner, and attracting more birds to the moving water.
Overall it was a great experience for all the students, teachers/leaders, and parents involved. Our 4-H club is looking forward to bird watching at the newly planted area and is expecting to see more birds there this winter. They will be encouraged to participate in the GBBC and other Citizen Science programs.