School Gardens for Birds!
This blog is part of a school garden series sponsored by Alaska Fertilizer. Learn more about school gardens and grant opportunities.
Creating and maintaining a school garden is a wonderful way to encourage your students to spend more time outdoors. It will not only serve as a beautiful outdoor space, but also as center for learning. Take your lessons out to the garden and teach your students about everything from ecological interactions to healthy eating habits to environmental awareness.
In addition to planting fruits and vegetables, you can plant colorful and fragrant nectar-rich flowers to attract butterflies and bees. These insects will help pollinate your garden and attract birds too! You can also attract birds directly by planting things like sunflowers, thistles, and berries. Especially important are plants that are native to your area. Bringing birds to your garden adds a whole new dimension to its teaching potential, as birds are exciting to watch and demonstrate a variety of scientific concepts (habitat, food web, diversity and adaptations… just to name a few). Whether you have a garden already or are thinking about planting one—do it for the birds, for the bees, for the butterflies, and most importantly, for your students!
Background: Bird Habitats
Like every living thing, birds need a habitat- a place that provides the food, water, cover, and space it needs to survive. If a bird can’t find these things in your area, it won’t live there.
- FOOD: Not only do plants directly provide food for birds through their seeds and nectar, but plants also attract insects, a major source of protein for adult and nestling birds. Plants like goldenrod, thistles, and sunflowers are good nectar sources for butterflies and bees, and later form seedheads that attract goldfinches and other songbirds. Let flowers dry and stay on stems so the birds can eat the seeds o they are available to birds in fall and winter. Another easy way to start out attracting birds is to put up a bird feeder in your school garden.
- WATER: Birds need water for drinking and bathing. You may also consider constructing a small pond that will support insects, frogs, and small fish to attract a wider variety of birds.
- COVER: Whether it’s a safe place for sleeping, a protected haven from the elements, a hiding place to elude predators, or a secure nesting spot, providing shelter is an important way to make your schoolyard bird-friendly. Consider leaving a brush pile behind, and planting varying heights of plants, bushes, and trees. Providing nest boxes and nesting materials can also meet birds’ needs for shelter.
Take it Outside
The first step in designing a bird garden is to evaluate the space from a bird’s perspective. As a group, go outside and take a look at your school garden. Either in groups or individually, make lists or drawings of the food, water, and cover that birds would find in the garden. Consider using these “Improve Habitat” Journal Pages to map your habitat and structure this investigation. When the students return from their trip outside, wrap up by asking them to share what they found on their search:
- Does our garden provide the basic necessities—food, water, cover—that birds need to survive? If not, which are lacking?
- Which bird species do you think might visit this garden?
- Did you see any birds? What were they doing?
- How has our habitat been modified by people? What effects (positive and negative) do you think these have had on the species that live here?
- Is there something we could do to make our garden a better habitat for birds? (For example, hang up bird feeders or plant fruit-bearing trees or shrubs; put in a birdbath; clean up trash in the schoolyard; put up nest boxes; plant native plants.)
Create a list of potential improvements on the board and consider making some of these garden improvements. To go further, monitor the birds that visit before and after the changes and try to determine what impacts your improvements have made. Our Investigating Evidence curriculum will help guide these investigations, making your school garden the perfect place for inquiry! Learn more about habitat improvements and find our how you can get grants to make your garden more bird-friendly through our Habitat Heroes program.
You might also like:
- Our Most Wanted Birds curriculum will help your group identify birds and monitor them through the eBird citizen-science project.
- Bird Bingo and Habitat Scavenger Hunt Cards are a fun an easy way to engage kids in learning about habitat.
- Use a citizen-science project such as eBird or Habitat Network to help you monitor your school garden.
- Find out more about your local habitat, what plants are native to your area, ways that you can make positive changes at this Habitat Network guide.
- Our new self-paced course, Integrating Inquiry for Educators: Developing Student Science Practices, is designed to help educators explore the process of inquiry and scientific investigation, especially as inspired by outdoor observations and citizen-science participation.