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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Bird Watching in Winter

Outside my home and classroom the birds are slowly starting to return. It is easier to see them against the backdrop of snow that still remains from the winter storms. The kids in your classroom will be anxious to turn their attention outside and birds are a perfect focus for a late winter science lesson.

Birds that do stay over the winter in the northern climates are amazing. The adaptations they have for keeping warm are diverse. Birds will eat different food between summer and winter. Their winter food is packed with calories to keep their bodies warm. They will nest in cavities and seek warm nesting spots out of the wind. One of my students noticed a lot of birds sitting on the roof of one local business every day. He even took the time to stop and ask why. The business owner did not know about the birds on his roof. With a little help from the local utility company the owner found that he had so much heat leaking through his uninsulated attic that the roof was a warm spot for this flock of birds. They had simply found a warm place to sit out the day. My student now thinks that birds could be a good sign of places in need of insulation. Wow, the intersection of life and physical science with energy conservation thrown in the mix.
http://www.kindnews.org/wildlife_in_winter/winter_wildlife1.asp

I do like to have a bird feeder outside my classroom. I have a simple try feeder that I fill with safflower and this seems to attract cardinals, pigeons, doves and a host of sparrows.  Another teacher has students make feeders out of pine cones, seeds and peanut butter. This was a great activity and she attracted lots of birds but the squirrels were even more fun to watch as they tried to free the pine cones and carry them off to someplace warm to digest the bounty.

Winter is the perfect time to feed birds when their natural food sources are in shorter supply. What to feed different birds can lead to an interesting lesson on seed differences and bird adaptations. The Audubon Society has an exceptional web site on that subject.
http://www.audubon.org/bird/at_home/bird_feeding/index.html

Each bird has a specific shaped beak that is an adaptation to help it eat specific food. There are several sites with excellent photos of bird beaks and activities to teach adaptations using them.
http://www.vtaide.com/png/bird-adaptations3.htm

Bird feet are not as easy to see but they are adapted too. Think of the different uses of ducks feet as opposed to a woodpecker. One has to swim and one has to hang onto tall trees or poles. Those feet are different and there is, of course, a site that shows the feet adaptations.
http://www.vtaide.com/png/bird-adaptations2.htm

Lastly there is color. I love seeing a bright red male cardinal at the feeder. However, my kids pointed out that there are really subtle variations in other birds as well. I have developed a new appreciation for the difference in finch and sparrow feathers with the help of an observant 4th grader.
http://www2.entomology.cornell.edu/public/IthacaCampus/ExtOutreach/Outreach/Resources/pageBodySections/05/pageBodySections/00/text_files/file27/Burns_Birds%20TeacherResourceGuide-2.pdf

One site on bird identification even sorts the birds by color.
http://www.whatbird.com/browse/attribute/birds_na_147/110/Color/

So, while the coat room is filled with heavy boots, coats and mittens and the talk in the teachers’ lounge is mostly grumbling about the cold and snow at least you can use a class window to see a glimpse of spring in the birds outside. If you live in a warmer climate then you have these fabulous little winged lessons available every day of every year.

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