Learning Outdoors

During a recent quiet morning walk I spotted something unexpected,

great horned owla great horned owl napping in a cottonwood tree!

I had some questions, so when I got back home I pulled out the new children's informational book Great Horned Owls by Melissa Hill and Gail Saunders-Smith, PhD (Consultant Editor) to find out more (It is Nonfiction Monday, after all.)

Are great horned owls common in the desert? Checking the map of where great horned owls live, it turns out they are found throughout North America and parts of South America. There is even a photograph showing a great horned owl nesting in a saguaro cactus. Another source suggests that great horned owls catch and eat scorpions, which makes sense since they are both active at night. Great horned owls do live in the desert.

Looking at the large photographs in the book, it was also surprising to see that the feathers of the great horned owl vary in color. Some great horned owls are predominately dark like the one in my photograph, some have more reddish-brown feathers, and others are quite pale in color. All have the tall tufts of feathers on their heads, however, that give them the name "horned."

Did you know that owls don't build their own nests? It turns out they use cavities in trees, nests built by other large birds, or even nests built by squirrels as places to lay their eggs. After laying, the female incubates the eggs for about a month, while the male brings her food. Once the baby owls hatch, both parents feed them.

Great Horned Owls helps early readers learn new vocabulary while exploring age-appropriate facts about these fascinating nocturnal creatures. Reading it will allow them to become as wise as owls!

Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten - 1
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1491460539
ISBN-13: 978-1491460535

Related Activities:

Hear owls hooting,  see highlight videos from a great horned owl nest cam, as well as visit an extensive list of great horned owl FAQs from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Related books from Capstone:

Burrowing Owls by Melissa Hill and Gail Saunders-Smith, PhD (Consultant Editor) is another title from the new Owls series.

Burrowing owls are small owls that live in tunnels in the ground. They are also commonly found in the desert.

Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1491460466
ISBN-13: 978-1491460467

Why Do Owls and Other Birds Have Feathers? (Animal Body Coverings) by Holly Beaumont is new title that explains how owls use their feathers to keep warm and to fly, among other things.

Age Range: 5 - 7 years
Publisher: Heinemann (August 1, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1484625382
ISBN-13: 978-1484625385

Don't forget our growing list of books about birds for children at Science Books for Kids.

childrens-books-for-young-birdwatchers

Disclosure: These books were provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title or cover links and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.

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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.