The second full week of February brings the observance of Homes for Birds Week. While the snow may still be falling and spring seems far away, our feathered friends are preparing to build their nests and raise a family. There are approximately 85 species of birds in North America that nest in cavities from March through August. Some birds create their own cavities and some use cavities that are pre-existing. Due to the development of land and the removal of dead trees, there are fewer options for nesting birds to find a safe place to raise their young. This is where you can help promote and enhance biodiversity by setting up nesting boxes while incorporating a multitude of subjects, utilizing a hands-on approach that your children or students are sure to enjoy!
“…there aren’t enough hollows in dead trees, cracks in old buildings, and other natural cavities to go around. Old trees are often cut down to make way for new tree growth or commercial development, and many old, cracked buildings are renovated.” (Audubon)
History & Importance
The first modern nest box was invented by Charles Waterton, a British conservationist, in the early 19th century. He wanted to grow the birdlife and waterfowl on his estate, so he set up nest boxes, studied the birds, and cared for them. He built a 9-foot-high wall three miles long around his estate, creating the first nature reserve.
Preserving birdlife helps to maintain a balanced ecosystem, which is vital for the survival of all species. Unfortunately, there is a decrease in natural areas for nesting birds to build their homes, which can lead to an imbalance in the ecosystem. “Cavity nesting birds, including Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, House Wrens and Chickadees, are in need of nest boxes due to a loss of habitat by development. As land has become more populated, the trees that often housed nesting birds in their natural cavities have decreased. There is also a supply issue with cavity nesting birds competing with aggressive House Sparrows and Starlings for nesting space. Given the right location and commitment to monitoring, nest boxes can have an immediate and positive impact on increasing the population of cavity nesting birds” (MSU – W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary).
Nesting Box or Birdhouse?
If you are like me, you may think that a nesting box and a birdhouse are two different names for the same thing. It turns out that while the two are similar, there is a very significant difference when it comes to the preservation of birdlife. Because each species of bird has its own unique needs for nesting, the specifications of the nesting box need to be precise for the survival of the birds and their young. Birdhouses are typically more for decoration and can be harmful to birds if they decide to nest in a birdhouse that is not suited for them. The opening may be big enough to let in predators or be in an area where they will be disturbed by loud noises, people, animals, and bad weather. While decorative birdhouses are beautiful and can add appeal to your yard, nest boxes are functional and designed to meet the individual needs of each species to ensure the best chance of survival.
“Nest boxes are made as functional structures, and they don’t usually have a decorative look. They also need to be cleaned after every nesting season. That’s why they typically have a back door for old nest removal. Interestingly, nest boxes are also used by some non-migratory animals during the winter season to survive. On the other hand, birdhouses are specially made for birds, and they usually come with decorative designs. They usually don’t have a way to open the box if they’re not being used for functional purposes. In general, birdhouses are less practical and more of a decorative piece. Bird houses are typically only used for one nesting season.” (The Bird Geek)
How to Implement Bird Week into Your Lesson Plan
If you would like to incorporate hands-on activities into your lesson plan, we have provided some great ideas that cover multiple subjects.
- Set up a nesting box: You can either buy one or build one of your own. Not all birds will use a nesting box, but there are many that will. It is very important that your nesting box meets the needs of the species of bird you are trying to attract. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an invaluable resource for making a safe, successful home. Buying or building a nesting box will utilize many skills including research and mathematics. Students will research which types of birds are in their area, what their needs are, the type of nest box they will need, and the places they can purchase their box or the products needed to make their own. Price comparison, budgeting, and measuring will provide a tangible lesson in math.
“Many backyard birds will not use a birdhouse or nest box, including popular species like cardinals, orioles and goldfinches. But enough birds do nest in birdhouses to make it worthwhile to set up a few to see what happens. About 30 bird species in each region of the country are so-called cavity nesters, which means that most of them will also use a birdhouse. Bluebirds, purple martins, house wrens, chickadees, tree swallows and house sparrows are the most common birds that nest in houses. Attracting birds like wood ducks, screech-owls, woodpeckers, titmice and nuthatches may also be possible.”
(Birds & Blooms)
- Enjoy some culinary delights: Who doesn’t love food, especially when it is fun and hands-on?! Bring your newfound knowledge of birds and nesting boxes into the kitchen and enjoy some fun that is simultaneously delicious and educational! Teaching with food involves measuring ingredients, dividing into equal servings, health and nutrition, and lessons about where food comes from and how it grows. You can also bring shapes and geometry into the lessons, as well as how foods react when mixed together. Here are a few ideas to get you started, and a quick internet search will yield many more.
It’s craft time: Crafts are one of the best ways to add an element of creative fun to the learning experience. Not only are crafts engaging, but they also help develop fine motor skills. Allow children to express their creativity using the following ideas or allow them to think up some of their own.
- Unique Bird Coloring Pages by iHeartCraftyThings
- Fun & Easy Bird Crafts for Kids by Messy Little Monster
- 30 Easy Spring Bird Crafts for Kids by Artsy Craftsy Mom
- 25 Fun and Awesome Bird Crafts For Kids, With Pictures by Mom Junction
- Take a look back: Bring history into the lesson by helping children learn about Charles Waterton, Walton Hall, nature reserves, environmentalists, or nest boxes from different periods of time. Children will also learn research skills and language arts skills if you have them write about what they learn.
Eye to the skies: Enjoy bird watching with your students/children and introduce them to the joy of learning in nature. It is like a treasure hunt that requires keen observation skills and a sense of adventure. It is truly an activity that people of all ages can enjoy together. Here are some tips:
- Easy Ways to Get Kids Birding by Audubon
- Birding for Kids: Bird Watching Activities and Lessons by Rhythms of Play
- Learn the life cycle: Explore the life cycle of birds and see if your children can identify them out in nature during their bird watching adventure. Compare a bird’s life cycle to that of a human and other animal species. Ask your students what they think it would be like to be a bird at the different stages of the cycle. Have fun coming up with all sorts of thoughts, whether serious or silly!
- Working with words: Have your students write a story or a poem about birds. Let their imagination flow as they come up with words that are factual, funny, expressive, etc. Have them illustrate in a style that they choose to add some art to the lesson. You could also allow them to make a slide presentation if appropriate for your setting. Have them read their work in front of the class for public speaking and presentation practice.
SnapWords® Cards: Use Child1st SnapWords® and Science Vocabulary Cards to introduce words and definitions utilizing a right-brained approach. Our SnapWords® teach phonemic awareness, phonics and orthographic mapping, instant word recognition, spelling, writing, comprehension and fluency, delivered in a way that utilizes the three primary learning modalities: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory. Our science cards not only teach students to recognize and read science terms fluently, but the backs of the cards also share a detailed definition alongside the plain words. Study the fronts of the cards together, paying close attention to the images that will help the words go into visual memory for great recall. Next, share the definition from the back, tying the word to related words in the set of cards wherever possible. Sets include Life Science, Earth Science, and Physical Science. You could also use our Math Vocabulary Cards to teach math terms if you are building a nest box.
Ideas for SnapWords® that would integrate into lessons about birds and nest boxes include:
- Bird, egg, life cycle, migrate, and ecosystem from our Life Science Cards.
- Measure, shape, length, height, inch, ruler, width, area, parallel, perpendicular, and right angle from our Math Vocabulary Cards.
- Fly, flapping, spring, week, box, home, bird, house, and build from our SnapWords®.
- Read a book: There is a variety of books about birds for every age range and interest level. There are fictional stories, educational books, funny stories, bird identification guides, etc. Visit the library or do an internet search and find books that your students/children will enjoy!
- Take part in the count: Join people from around the world for the Great Backyard Bird Count. This would be a great project for a school, a class, or a family. “Spend time in your favorite places watching birds–then tell us about them! In as little as 15 minutes notice the birds around you. Identify them, count them, and submit them to help scientists better understand and protect birds around the world.” This year’s event takes place from February 17-20, 2023.
- Follow along: If you or your students are interested in migration patterns, you may enjoy these Bird Cast Migration Tools. There are many helpful resources and interesting facts, as well as events and news. This would be an excellent way to incorporate geography into your lessons.
Birds are fascinating creatures to watch. You can observe them from the comfort of your own home, step out into your backyard, take a walk, or visit a zoo; the options are endless. Get creative and have fun as you explore birds, migration, and nesting, while helping to protect birds and keep balance in our ecosystem. Please share your experiences and ideas with all of us!
As always, we are here to support you! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us!