7 Tips to Plant the (Bird) Seed in Your School
Perhaps the subject of envy for every science teacher, the 1990’s “Magic School Bus” character Ms. Frizzle could convert apathetic students into science fanatics with her spectacular school bus excursions through Paleolithic worlds, human blood streams and outer space dimensions.
Ms. Frizzle is pretty hard to live up to, but we think we’ve found the next best thing in Mrs. Maria Curely, a Taunton, Massachusetts teacher who created the Friedman Birding Club out of her own fascination with birding. The club is in its fourth year, with attendance building every season.
Interested in starting your own club? Put some of Mrs. Curley’s “birding club best practices” to use!
Lesson #1: Teachers, become students.
Mrs. Curley became interested in birding while taking a graduate-level field methods science course at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA over the summer of 2012. She was eager to share what she’d learned with her students, and the rest is history!
Find a way to connect with an expert, take a class or read up on birding to make sure you have a strong foundation to offer your students.
Lesson #2: Find your sweet spot.
The Friedman Middle School is an ideal campus for birding. It has a self-contained, predator-free courtyard, where multiple bird feeders of all types are located, as well as ample classroom window space for mounting classroom feeders. The courtyard and school are located parallel to a wetlands ecosystem, pond ecosystem and deciduous forest ecosystem.
Seek out an outdoor classroom space that will be hospitable to birds – somewhere that offers natural water and food sources and encourages birds to feed, roost and nest. This is where you’ll set up shop!
Lesson #3: If you Plant it, They Will Come.
If your school is in an urban area or far from bird-filled ecosystems, there are still plenty of strategies to attract birds - but you’re going to have to get your hands dirty. With your students, plant a small, potted garden to attract birds.
Thistle attracts goldfinches, pine siskins and redpolls - and no bird can resist a black-oil sunflower feed. No water source? Even one bird waterer is enough to keep ‘em coming. Learn more about using plants to attract birds in our learning center!
Lessons #4: Make Connections.
Teachers, you know the drill - it’s always best to come prepared! And while the prospect of birding may seem limited in its “teachable moments”, there are in fact endless opportunities to teach about the intricate web of ecology, animal behavior and ecosystems.
Each year, students in the Friedman Birding Club learn about the types of feeders, types of bird food, bird species (23 and counting!), and bird behavior including feeding, interactions, and nesting. It’s all connected!
Lesson #5: Don't Go on a Wild Goose Chase for Material.
We've done the work for you! Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Perky Pet offer the Habitat Connections curriculum – a wealth of resources and ideas for teaching about birds. Mrs. Curley’s science students have learned all about habitats, ways to make a schoolyard habitat-friendly for birds, and will be brainstorming ideas for plants that can be added to help nectar-eating and seed-eating birds next year.
Lesson #6: There’s an app for that!
Encourage students to download the free Merlin Bird ID app on their phones, an excellent tool for extended learning beyond the classroom. Many of Mrs. Curley’s students return to school eager to share information about the birds they identified and researched at home using the app.
Lesson #7: Inspire Lifelong Birders.
At Perky-Pet, we’re always rooting for students who apply classroom lessons to their home life - those life-long learners who don’t stop making discoveries once the bell rings. A great way to keep the spirit of curiosity alive is to provide parents with practical, affordable ways to practice birding at home. This can include installing a bird feeder, creating a water source or building a shelter. Perky Pet offers a wide selection of birdfeeders at various price points as well as tips for building a bird lover.
We wish you well in your pursuits to set up a birding club. Mrs. Curley would agree that the payoff is well worth the effort. She reports that the Friedman Bird Club has created a “whole new generation of birders.” Not even Ms. Frizzle can say that!