Bug of the Week

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Our activity today is inspired by the nonfiction children's picture book A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. For a full review of the book, see our sister blog Wrapped in Foil.

A Nest is Noisy is appropriate this week because we noticed a pile of sticks in our hollyhock.

verdin-nest-009What could it be?

verdin-nest-close-up-0002

With a bit of patience and some luck, we learned it was a beginning of a verdin nest (a verdin is a tiny bird that feeds on insects here in the desert). We soon saw the pair of verdins visit the half-finished nest. After much chattering, they have apparently chosen another site. A finished verdin nest is a round ball of sticks with a hole in the side for the birds to enter, and this one is only about 1/3 done.

Activity 1. Who builds nests?

Of course, when you think of nests, you probably think of birds right away. In fact, a dictionary definitions of the word "nest" might be "a place where a bird lays its eggs and cares for its young."  In the book, however, the author quickly points out that insects, frogs, fish, alligators, and even orangutans make nests. A better definition might be that a nest is a structure made by an animal as a place to produce and care for its offspring.

Brainstorm with your children about what kinds of animals make nests (remember that birds are animals in the sense they belong to the animal kingdom). Make a list and then add to it as you read the book or research to discover new kinds of nests.

wasp-nestInsects like honey bees, wasps, and ants make extensive nests.

Activity 2. Take a nature hike and look for evidence of nests.

Take a walk around and look for evidence of nests. You can even see nests in the city, where birds like house sparrows often nest on buildings or other structures. Remember:  Always be respectful of animal nests and do not disturb them. Sometimes animals return to the same nest year after year and even a nest that seems abandoned may be recycled or reused in the future.

If you can't find any local bird nests, take a look at the awesome bird cams at Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Activity 3. Provide Bird Nesting Materials

Making index cards full of nesting materials can be a fun project that is easy to do with supplies from around the house.

Gather:

  • index cards or roughly three-inch by five-inch pieces of card stock, enough for all participants
  • hole punch or scissors
  • yarn, preferably wool or cotton
  • thread, again natural fibers are best
  • hair, particularly horse hair
  • animal fur
  • clean chicken feathers (tree swallows love white feathers for their nests)
  • pesticide-free dried grasses
  • string or ribbon to hang card

Brainstorm about what birds might use for a nest. Poke holes in the index cards with a hole punch or cut holes with scissors (with an adult’s help). Tie a 12-inch piece of string, yarn or ribbon through one hole to serve as a hanger. Loosely stuff the rest of the holes with a variety of nest making supplies, making sure the birds can pull it out fairly easily. When you are finished, go outside and hang the cards in bushes or trees where the birds will find the materials, preferably where you can also watch them. Check over time to see which materials they chose first, second, etc. Refill the cards as needed.

Activity 4. Buy or build nest boxes to put out for local wildlife.

Help your local wildlife by buying or building nest boxes. Before you start, however, be sure to research what kind of animals use nest boxes where you live (for example, it turns out that bats don't use bat boxes where we live in the Sonoran desert). Also, find out where the boxes should be placed and if you have a proper location.

Just a few resources:

The National Wildlife Foundation has information about setting up bird boxes.

Bumble Boosters has a citizen science project for constructing bumble bee domiciles.

Even Amazon has a wide variety of houses for solitary bees for sale,

like this mason bee house.

Keep track of how and when your nests are used throughout the year. It can be a fascinating long term project.

If you chose to, leave a comment to tell us about your wildlife nest project.

Finally, check out A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long

 

Age Range: 5 - 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten - 3
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books (April 14, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1452127131
ISBN-13: 978-1452127132

Disclosures: The book above was from my local independent bookstore. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

 

 

You've heard the saying "busy as a bee," but why not "busy as a wasp?"

mud-dauber-wasp-054

This female mud dauber wasp is hard to photograph because she is moving so fast. (You can tell it is a mud dauber wasp by her ultra-thin, thread-like "waist.")

best-mud-dauber-wasp-69

She is searching a sunflower plant for spiders or insects (depending on what species of wasp she is). She systematically looks over the plant, and then flies to another. Up and down, searching, searching, twitching sideways, and flicking her wings as she goes.

She isn't looking for food for herself, but for her offspring. Somewhere nearby she has a small nest made out of mud where she will hide some prey when she finds it. Then she'll lay her egg on the living food and seal up the mud chamber. The egg will hatch and the resulting larva will eat the food its mother left for it. When the larva reaches full size it spins a silk cocoon within the mud nest before forming a pupa. Eventually it will become an adult wasp and chew its way outside.

Mud dauber wasps are solitary wasps, which means that each female wasp makes her own nest and provisions it herself. Mud daubers do not work together like some of the social wasps do, for example the yellow jackets or white-faced hornets. Being solitary, like solitary bees, means these wasps are not very defensive.

 Have you ever spotted a busy wasp like this one?