Academic journal article Science and Children

Birds of a Feather ... Introducing Students to the Sights and Sounds of Birds

Academic journal article Science and Children

Birds of a Feather ... Introducing Students to the Sights and Sounds of Birds

Article excerpt

Many years ago, biologist Rachel Carson warned the world that we were in danger of experiencing what she called "a silent spring," and her warnings eventually brought about the end of our use of the pesticide DDT. Continuing use of DDT, she wrote, could interfere with the hatching of baby birds, eventually leading to a spring without the lovely bird sounds we tend to take for granted. Too often, we fail to hear the bird songs and enjoy their colorful plumage, and we forget how important birds are in the overall scheme of things. Today, we invite you and your youngsters in grades preK-2 to become better acquainted with the birds around us and begin to gain a renewed appreciation of these creatures and their important roles in helping our world to work the way it does.

Our focus across these activities is to enhance students' innate sense of wonder about the natural world; to encourage and build on their curiosity by engaging in science processes such as observing, comparing, measuring, and experimenting. These activities address several of the Scientific and Engineering Practices presented in A Framework for K-12 Science Education, specifically: 1. Asking questions, 3. Planning and carrying out investigations, and 6. Constructing explanations (NRC 2012, p. 42).

Searching for Feathered Friends

A friend once complained, "We hear, but we don't listen very well!" Let's begin by simply opening our eyes and ears to the sights and sounds of the birds around us. Even if most of our hours are spent in the city, an enjoyable way to do so is to take young children on a "listening walk" (see NSTA Connection for outdoor safety tips). Ask them to listen very carefully for sounds of any type. What are they hearing? Depending on where you are and the events going on about you, the range of sounds can be very broad indeed. Among all that is being heard, are there any bird sounds? If so, ask the children to describe them and even to try to imitate what they are hearing. If where you have been lacks birds and their sounds, consider going to a nearby park or even a cemetery. Places with trees, lawns, and shrubs are more likely to have birds nearby. And, so-called "urban birds" (i.e., pigeons, crows, and sparrows) are much more widespread in city neighborhoods than we sometimes think, but one needs to learn how to carefully watch and listen for them.

To drum up even more excitement about the birds, consider setting up one or more bird feeders at a convenient place nearby. Although a wide variety of feeders can be purchased, you and your children might want to build one (Figure 1; see Internet Resources for detailed instructions for many types of homemade bird feeders).

Observing Birds

No matter which feeder design you choose, you will need to encourage the children to become careful observers. Being quiet so they don't disturb the birds may be a challenge for them, but noises, talking, and sudden movements will scare the birds away! Be on the lookout for different kinds of bird visitors and provide crayons and paper to encourage students to draw pictures of those observed. Digital cameras will enable you to capture images of your feathered visitors. Display photographs alongside the children's drawings on a bulletin board. Along the way, ask probing questions to encourage more careful observation: What colors do you see? How are the beaks of those two birds alike or different? Do all the birds we see have feathers? What else do our bird visitors all seem to have?

Invite children to tell you what's special about birds. Be prepared for a wide variety of responses! Often mentioned will be beaks, their wings, the ability to fly, the songs or sounds they make, bird eggs, and of course, their feathers. Ask them to share their observations by drawing pictures. Having children make drawings of the birds that visit your bird feeder also encourages closer observation and displaying their pictures inspires conversation about what they have seen. …

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