It’s for the Birds…An Introduction to Ornithology with Kids

Guest post by Ms. Amy Ellisor, Bookman Road Elementary, Richland School District Two, Columbia SC

Involving children in being responsible for the animals and natural habitat that surround us provides a foundation for sustaining our environment.  As a 2016 Champions of the Environment grant winner, Bookman Road Elementary’s ornithology project allows children to create bird sanctuaries to provide protection from predators, a safe nesting space, and nourishment for a thriving bird population for our school families and community to enjoy for many years.  Through this type of environmental education, students learn to be responsible custodians of the land, the animals and other living creatures in this mini ecosystem.

Project Summary

Bookman Road Elementary students in kindergarten, fifth grade and the school’s Ecofriendly Club created bird sanctuaries in the existing nature trail on the school property. Through this project, students learned the importance of relationships within habitats and to be responsible custodians of the land, animals and other living creatures in this mini-ecosystem.

First, the nature trail was cleared of debris, then nesting boxes and webcams were installed with the help of local experts in ornithology, biology and environmental science. All K-5th grade students, their families, and community visitors have access to the live streaming video of the nesting boxes through the school blog, as well as access to visiting the bird boxes and sanctuary on school property.

Student-friendly Introduction to Ornithology Discovery kits from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology will provide additional activities and resources for fun student learning. The Ecofriendly Club will help assemble the kits and create a training video for the use of the kits and procedures for visiting the sanctuary. Observations and images will be captured in Nest Notebooks and students will use the Merlin Bird ID by Cornell for data collection analysis.

Inspirational Education

The inspiration behind our Champions project was to allow students of different ages and abilities to work to together to learn about the birds indigenous to our local area.  Bringing in technology such as mini iPads, web cams and bird watching applications allows us to make observations, collect data and share information with other people across the globe.

The best part of the project was the first time we looked onto the computer and straight into our Cardinal nest with a clear, birds-eye view.  We have also really enjoyed establishing a relationship with the experts at Cornell University.  This institution created the Merlin Bird ID application.  They have provided answers to many of our questions to assist us in setting up our project.  They are also eager to collaborate with us when our sanctuaries become populated.

Overcoming challenges

A challenge we faced was getting the webcams installed and connected to a live video feed. The original location we selected for this project was the school’s nature trail.  The trail was too far to manage with the equipment in our budget range.  However, locating the nest boxes, cameras and feeders in three key locations close to the school ended up resulting in even better locations than we originally planned.  Our existing locations are easier for students and families to access, to monitor activity and to take care of the sanctuaries more easily.

With donations of bird food, regular sanctuary area cleaning and maintenance and continuous technology, the impact of our project will remain permanently.

Bookman champions.jpg

Tips for Teachers

For schools wishing to create their own environmental education program, we suggest forming a partnership of students, teachers, SIC/PTO members and the support of local experts and volunteers.  Think of a project that will be simple, fun and beneficial to many people.  Organize your plan to begin with research and then plan to include time with a small leadership team to think about the participants you wish to be involved, the dedicated space needed, the cost of materials needed for your budget and the sustainability of your project.  Celebrate the success of your grant being funded with students, parents and your school community.  Notify your school district’s community relations division and inform your local media to showcase your great news!

Contact Bookman Road Elementary to come visit and talk with our resident Beacon Birds.

This post is part of a series of posts on environmental education submitted by DHEC’s Champions of the Environment 2016 winners.

About Champions of the Environment
Champions of the Environment provides resources and support to foster environmental education and action in South Carolina’s kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms. The program is sponsored by S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, International Paper and SCE&G, with assistance from the Environmental Education Association of South Carolina. For more information, visit www.scdhec.gov/champions.

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