Learning Outdoors

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For STEM Friday we're going to the birds again with a new middle grade book, Birdology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Birds (Young Naturalists) by Monica Russo and photographs by Kevin Byron.

If you are already familiar with Chicago Review Press books for kids, you will recognize the format. Each section reveals information about a topic, such as feathers, and then provides suggestions for making observations and for appropriate hands-on activities to reinforce learning.

Birdology gives an introduction to many aspects of bird biology, such as their anatomy and special characteristics, where to look for them, what they eat, bird migratory behavior, etc. In the final section it explores common careers that involve working with birds.

The author is very careful to point out that it is illegal to collect or possess feathers, nests or eggs of wild birds. All the activity suggestions keep this important consideration in mind.

Educators will be interested in the Teacher's Guide and Resources in the back matter. Monica Russo is an experienced teacher, which is evident because the Teacher's Guide includes suggestions for how to accommodate a student who is afraid of birds. That is not something a beginning teacher is likely to have encountered.

Kevin Byron's photographs are inspiring (see activity suggestion below). You almost wish more space had been devoted to them, although that might have left less room for the fabulous activities. See what I mean by checking out the barn swallow in flight on page 76.

Birdology is a must have book for beginning ornithologists, and basically any older child interested in science and nature. It would be wonderful paired with a citizen science project such as the Great Backyard Bird Count. Educators will also want a copy for ideas for quick projects that are appealing and well-designed, and that could work with multi-aged groups.

Age Range: 7 and up
Publisher: Chicago Review Press (January 1, 2015)
ISBN-10: 161374949X
ISBN-13: 978-1613749494

Related activity suggestions:

1. Anting by birds

Imagine you are watching some big black birds called crows. Suddenly one spies an ant mound, runs over to it and starts flopping around on it while ruffling its wings. Then it grabs some of the ants and starts thrusting them up into its feathers. What is wrong with this crow? Has it eaten some bad food? What is it doing?

In fact, the bird is using the ants’ defensive chemicals as a personal bug killer. Birders call this behavior “anting.”

Birds can be host to various itchy lice and mites. Scientists have long thought that by anting birds kill these parasites, but few are willing to do the experiments to prove it. However, one man actually took the lice off several birds he had observed anting and compared them to the lice on some birds that hadn’t anted. He found many of the lice from the anting birds died, but only a few from the non-anting birds.

When the birds actively pick up the ants and wipe their wings with them, it is called active anting. Other birds simply squat or lie on an anthill shaking their wings and tails, and stirring up the ants. This behavior is called passive anting.

You can see an example of passive anting in the following video (there is background music):

Doesn't the behavior look odd at first?

When you are watching birds, be sure to keep your eye out for birds that are anting. Document your observations in a nature notebook, sketchbook, with photographs, or with video and then share them with others.

2. Bird Photography

Birds are often small and active, but with patience and experience, children can learn how to photograph birds.

Tips:

With any camera, start with larger birds that are easy to spot and are not likely to fly away. Water birds might be a good choice.

mallard-duck

Think about the background. Again, water birds make this easier because the water is generally uniform and gives good contrast.

heron background issuesSee how much easier it is to spot the mallard in the top photograph, where the heron gets lost in the second photograph?

heron-headNo pesky background in this photograph.

goose-head

Add interest to a photograph by concentrating on the head and eye of the bird. If  you study Kevin Byron's photographs, you will see he does this.

Encourage your budding photographers to keep records of what kinds of birds they photograph, where and when the photograph was taken, what the birds were doing, etc.

Talk about the photographs, too. Compare the beak of the heron versus the goose. Do you know what each kind of bird eats? (Herons eat fish whereas geese graze on vegetation.) Who knows what else you might discover!

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Previous Growing With Science posts with bird-related activities:

 

More Resources:

Check our Pinterest board of bird-related activities.

Looking for more bird books for children?

childrens-books-for-young-birdwatchersA growing list of bird books for kids at Science Books for Kids

Taking-Flight-childrens-books-about-bird-migration-300x270plus a list of children's books specifically about bird migrations.

 

Disclosures: The book above was from our local library. 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.

 

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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.

 

 

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For our regular STEM Friday feature we recommend two books about trees for children, just in time for Arbor Day, next Friday April 24, 2015. (Read the rest of the reviews and see a video book trailer at Wrapped in Foil blog.) Then we'll finish out Butterfly Gardening With Children Week with a discussion of trees for butterfly gardens.

The first book, Branching Out: How Trees Are Part of Our World by Joan Marie Galat and illustrated by Wendy Ding (2014), describes a particular species of tree, how it used by humans, and what animals depend on that kind of tree in a series of four-page spreads. The 11 species of trees highlighted range from red maples and downy birches to pau brasil and cork oaks.

The second book, Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World by Margi Preus and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (2011), consists of a series of two-page spreads telling the stories of 14 famous, tall and exceptionally-old trees from around the world, the back matter gives more information about the trees and a number of suggestions about what the reader can do to help and encourage trees.

Appropriate for butterfly gardening week:  In the section about oak trees in the back matter of this book, we find out that a single large oak tree can support up to 34 species of butterflies!

That fact reminds us that although growing pretty flowers helps the adult butterflies, to have a truly productive butterfly garden you need to supply food for caterpillars as well.

Many beautiful species of butterflies require trees as larval hosts.

Examples:

1. Hackberry trees (Celtis species) are larval food for

  • Tawny emperor butterflies
  • Hackberry emperor butterflies
  • Mourning cloak butterflies
  • Question Mark butterflies
  • Snout butterfly

mystery-butterfly-2-identicationThe snout butterfly

Hackberry_Emperor,_Megan_McCarty46Hackberry emperor butterfly (Public domain photograph by Megan McCarty)

(Seed of the Week post about Canyon Hackberry)

2. Live oaks are larval food for California sister butterfly larvae.

California-sister-butterflyCalifornia sister butterfly, Ramsey Canyon, Arizona

Some duskywings and hairstreaks also use oaks for food.

3. Black cherry (Prunus serotina) trees are larval food for:

  • Red-spotted purple
  • Eastern tiger swallowtail
  • Coral hairstreak

4. Citrus trees (orange, lemon grapefruit) attract numerous giant swallowtails. Their larvae are called orange dog caterpillars.

caterpillar-orange-dogAn orange dog caterpillar on a grapefruit leaf

In addition to larval food, trees provide shelter for butterflies (and a multitude of other animals), provide safe places for the caterpillars to pupate, and some flowering trees supply nectar for many more adult butterflies.

In his book, Bringing Nature Home, entomologist  Doug Tallamy gives a list of how many species of butterflies and moths are supported by 21 kinds of trees. The numbers are astonishing! He says oak trees (genus Quercus) provide food for some 534 different species of butterflies and moths. Given that those butterflies are important pollinators and parts of the food web, that is an enormous contribution.

Activity:

If you are going to plant a tree for Arbor Day or any other event, consider choosing a local species that will host butterflies. You will get yet another benefit from a tree. Please leave a comment if you have any questions about how to choose a suitable butterfly host tree for your area.

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Wrap-ups:

 This is the final post for Butterfly Gardening with Children Week. Hope you enjoyed it. If you missed the previous posts from the week, check our links page for topics we covered.

butterfly-gardening-with-children

Interested in reading more great books about trees for Arbor Day? Try our giant, redwood-sized list of children's books about trees at Science Books for Kids.

tree-books-button

 

Disclosures: The books above were from my local library. 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.