For the Classroom
Let your students' imaginations and passion for the Earth soar by bringing birds into your classroom. It would be especially exciting if someone had a pet bird you could observe for a while.
Being a Birder
Birding requires patience and the ability to be still and quiet. Birds are naturally skittish, but your patience will pay off. You'll need binoculars, a bird field guide, and a blank notebook. For older children, you can borrow a few pairs of binoculars and have the students share. For younger children, make binoculars out of old toilet-paper rolls, tape, and string. Before you go outside, study your field guide to find out which birds live in your area and which ones would most likely be found nearby. If your school is in the middle of the city, you won't be seeing any marsh dwellers. Know where you are and what you are looking for.
The best time to see birds is generally first thing in the morning. Have the children watch for birds and take notes in their notebooks. They can write down or draw things to help them remember the bird to look it up in the field guide later. What color is it? Does it have any distinctive markings? How big was it? What was the beak shape? Wing shape? What was the bird doing? What is the bird saying? Can you mimic its call?
After taking notes, look through the field guide to find out what kind of bird it was. You can also discuss the differences between the birds you've seen. Which one was biggest and which one was smallest? Which one do the students think was the prettiest? Which one was the strangest? Did any bird have a particularly memorable birdcall or song? Which one was the fastest flier? Depending on where you are located, you can also discuss why you may not have seen very many birds. Are there places around for them to land or build nests? Where would they find food? How is the air quality?
Eating Like a Bird
Birds use a lot of energy when they fly, and they need to eat a lot of food to power their flight. Seeds (especially sunflower and millet seeds) and suet or peanut butter are high-energy bird foods. Students can make a variety of simple bird feeders, but one of the easiest is a pinecone feeder. Attach a piece of string or yarn to a pinecone. Using a spoon, cover the pinecone with suet, lard, vegetable shortening, or peanut butter. Roll it in seeds, hang it from a tree branch, and voilà! Fast food for flying friends!
To make the feeder a bit more gourmet, you can create a more flavorful, energy-boosting fatty mixture for the base. Mix ½ cup suet, lard, or vegetable shortening with 2½ cups raw oats or cornmeal until well blended. You can even mix in chopped dried fruit or chopped nuts for extra oomph.
Always be sure you are aware of any peanut or nut allergies your students may have. For the extremely sensitive, even touching peanut butter can cause a serious allergic reaction. Know your students and always have emergency plans of action that are available for your own reference and for substitute teachers.
Build a Bird's Nest
Just like people build different types of homes in many types of locations, so do birds. Birds build nests just about anywhere you can think of with a wide variety of materials. They are creative architects! Some owls raise their young in burrows underground. Birds live in chimney hideouts, mud homes, and even small depressions in the sand. They build nests with branches, twigs, leaves, mud, saliva, trash, string, and even their own feathers.
Discuss the types of material birds might use:
What would make a nest strong enough to hold up to storms and wind?
What could be used to hold all the pieces together?
What could make the nest soft and cozy?
Look closely at pictures of different types of nests to try to identify the different components. Have students bring nest materials from home, collect them from your schoolyard, or use things that you supply. Either alone or in pairs, have students try to build their own nests.
Any time you handle materials from nature or even craft materials in your classroom, you should make sure that your students are very careful about not touching their faces. Children should wash their hands well, using a plant-based soap and singing the ABCs twice as they scrub between their fingers and around their fingernails.