Dr. Fitzpatrick talked about how the earth is currently on the cusp. We are at this point in natural history where big changes are rapidly occurring worldwide. With a population currently at around 7.6 billion people, the earth's landscape, climate, and ecosystems are changing. But how do birds fit into this?
- Birds are a model of how nature works. Think about life cycles, habitats, and predator-prey relationships. Everything is connected.
- Birds are environmental indicators. When a population of birds suddenly plummets, we have to consider the cause. What has changed? How will the decrease in birds impact everything else around that species?
- With migration, birds are truly the heartbeat of global annual cycles. Their movement across the globe has been tracked by weather radar as well as data from banding and citizen science reports.
- Finally, birds are nature's voice to humans. How many of us in the Midwest hear that early chickadee singing "fee-bee" on a cold January morning and instantly anticipate spring?
Dr. Fitzpatrick also talked a bit about a great citizen science project called eBird that is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. With eBird you simply take note of the bird species in your surroundings, submit your findings through the website, and become part of a global birding research community.
How does all this relate to Twin Cities Urban Nature? Birds can be found in every city, every habitat, and nearly every place on earth. Birds are a simple, but often overlooked, link between human and wild. And they are a great way to get children interested in nature and wildlife!
Last year I took a small group of preschoolers out on a birding adventure. We gathered supplies such as binoculars, clipboards, pencils and markers, field guides, and a story book and set out to look for birds.
I asked the children where we could find some birds:
- in the trees
- maybe by those bird feeders
- let's just sit and listen
- in the sky
We decided to walk through the woods, toward the prairie and the nature center where the bird feeders are hung. Along the way, children looked into the trees, listened for birds, and used their binoculars.
At the edge of the prairie they spotted some HUGE birds... wild turkeys!
We quietly watched the turkeys for a while and noticed that we usually see them on the ground, not flying like songbirds.
Next, we made our way toward the bird feeders and sat down to watch. The children saw a lot of activity and many different kinds of birds. They used a field guide to identify what they were seeing and did some observational drawing.
After talking about what they had seen and heard and reading a story together, it was time to play. Young children naturally learn through play. Without any prompting from me, the children suddenly "became" birds. They stretched out their arms like wings and "flew" through the air, chasing each other and laughing. I thought about how good it must feel, for children and birds, to feel the breeze on their faces and such freedom of movement.
So in the context of children and urban nature, how can birds save the world? Well, I think the joy that is apparent in the above photo speaks volumes. If we allow children to connect with the wild through play, follow their curiosity, pay attention to their surroundings, and give them time to just be in the outdoors, birds can be a catalyst for learning more about the natural world. When we help them make those connections we are preparing them to be stewards for healthy ecosystems in a world that can support all of us, human and wild.
Tips for Urban Birding With Children
- Put out some bird feeders.
- Watch what happens in and around a nearby tree.
- Notice gulls, sparrows, or other birds in urban parking lots.
- Listen for the sounds of robins, chickadees, crows, and other common urban birds.
- Have children draw or describe what they see.
- Get a field guide, identify a bird, and read more about that species.
- Make a list of all the birds you see. Note differences in species at different times of year.
- Become citizen scientists and report your findings on eBird.