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Posts Tagged ‘birds’

Fall has arrived and we’ve been revving up for the start of our fall school programs at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Our field trip lineup has been revamped with some new offerings and we also brought back an old favorite we’ve been missing called “Migration Sensation”. In this feathery program, students investigate the adaptations that let birds take flight, learn all about how and why birds fly long distances in the spring and fall, and play a super fun migration game. In the game, the students transform into migratory birds; they must collect food and avoid human hazards on their way to distant wintering grounds. If you’re interested in booking an educational field trip for your school group, visit our School Programs page.

In preparation for a Migration Sensation visit, take your students to a park for some urban bird watching! Your class could even become part of a larger community of bird scientist by participating in Cornell’s “Celebrate Urban Birds” Program. Order a free kit for your classroom which includes facts about 16 species of local birds.

When I walked into the BCM garden today, I was greeted by a chorus of noisy grackles pecking around for seeds. Take a listen to their boisterous chorus!

When grackles migrate, they only travel short distances. Many stay put in the same place all winter. Scarce food is usually the main bird migration motive and grackles are extremely opportunistic. They’ll eat anything from seeds to bugs to trash so you’re likely to be able to spot them all winter long.

File:Common Grackle male RWD.jpg

Did you notice their beautiful iridescent feathers?

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As we enter into August, some of our most helpful garden visitors – ruby-throated hummingbirds – will be migrating south. These quick little birds can be hard to spot, but you’ll be more likely to encounter one before their journey south if you put out a feeder full of sugar water to fuel their trip. Hummingbirds need to eat every few minutes since they expend an incredible amount of energy beating their wings up to 80 times per second!

This week at the museum, we learned all about hummingbirds and constructed our own feeders to hang in a garden, or out a window, fire escape, or front stoop. All you need are floral tubes like these, some colorful plastic craft materials (we reused old red and orange grocery bags), string, and sugar water!


The colors of the bags are important – hummingbirds have a strong preference for red and orange flowers like bee balm, bleeding heart, cardinal flower, or nasturtium.

We showed our garden helpers how to fold squares of plastic into fours, snip the center corner, and then design their own pretty petal shapes (very similar to snowflake crafting). The next step is to simply shimmy the flower petals up the neck of the floral tubes, fill with 1 part sugar/4 parts water and hang outside! It is recommended to heat your sugar water so the sugar dissolves nicely, and you’ll want to change it every 4 days so it doesn’t ferment.

After your hummingbird feeder’s hanging in a nice sheltered place, sit back and look out for a bright winged blur! Did you know hummingbirds spend so much time in the air catching bugs and slurping nectar that their weak little feet are nearly useless? They can perch, but they typically can’t walk!

Check out this tiny hummingbird nest from our collection. You can find more tips on making your garden a hummingbird nesting ground here. You can even help track their migration by reporting your sightings!

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This weekend in science at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum we investigated animal nests in our program sponsored by National Grid. Kids piled into the greenhouse where we brought out some awesome examples of creative nests from our collection. Kids had the chance to build their own small nests and worked together to create one giant outdoor nest from recently trimmed tree branches.

From twigs and mud to bubbles and spit, nests can be made out of just about anything. Try our nest building activity in the classroom: Start with a layer of glue on the bottom of a paper bowl, then pass out a big mix of materials. You can either collect twigs and dead leaves from outside or gather up any fabric, string, yarn or other craft materials you have around. Let the kids go wild making nests and see what they create! Using chop sticks as a mock beak makes this activity a little more challenging for older kids. Can they make a sturdier nest by weaving together or braiding their materials? Would they want their nest to be flashy or to blend in?

We’ve talked about the creativity of urban birds on the blog before. While your students are building their nests, the class can also be monitoring one of the Nest Cams that scientists and bird lovers have set up around the city to keep an eye on our populations of Peregrine Falcons and Hawks.

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In addition to all the birds we mentioned yesterday, there are numerous plant and animal species here in New York City. One resource for finding out more about each one is the online field guide at eNature called ZipGuides.

You go the ZipGuides website, type in your zip code or region, and up pops a list of birds, butterflies, mammals, reptiles/amphibians, trees, and wildflowers in your neighborhood. So it doesn’t cover every single natural category, but it is quite comprehensive. Here’s what we found near the Brooklyn Children’s Museum:

What species of plants and animals will you find living near you?

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So, just how many different species of birds can you find in New York City?

Mallards are a familiar bird here in New York City...

If you want to find out more about what birds tend to be seen in and around New York City, you can check out the New York City Audubon website. In addition to their general information, here are two sections that might be of interest to you as a resource:

First of all, check out the information about birds and their seasons, in a sort of online field guide. There, you can find year-round information about how frequently which birds can be seen, like the Double-crested Cormorant, Snowy Egret, Gadwall, American Coot, Willet, Chimney Swift, Eastern Phoebe, or American Redstart (all of which nest within New York City).

... but have you ever seen a Black-Crowned Night Heron?

Next, if you want to know where to find these birds, the website also features a list of birding locations you might consider for a birding field trip. Locations suggested spread over all five boroughs of New York City, plus a location in Nassau County. You may discover a location or nature center you’ve never heard of before!

The website is not written for kids, but has simple enough text on the seasons and birding location pages for a child to read. The website is also a great resource for you, the educator, to supplement your own content knowledge.

If this inspires you to go out and find some birds, don’t forget to bring a print field guide with you!

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So, we’ve been talking a lot about birds – why would you teach birds in your classroom? Here are some great reasons to study and observe birds with your students:

  • Ducklings provide an opportunity to talk about animal families

    Birds are part of your science curriculum. In New York City, you can link birds to your study of animals (K), animal diversity (1st), plant and animal adaptations (3rd), animals and plants in their environments (4th), ecosystems (5th), diversity of life (6th), dynamic equilibrium (7th), reproduction, heredity, and evolution (8th)… You could also link birds and their habitats to your social studies units on family and community.

  • Using a field guide to match a bird you can see to its name is a great opportunity to learn about descriptive adjectives and classification, something that students in New York City study from PK up.

This is a scene you could see in New York City!

  • Lots of kids think there is no nature in a city. That’s totally incorrect – even when nature has been altered by human impact, the natural world is present in cities and forests alike. Going outside to look for birds (or other animals and plants) helps kids see that nature does exist in the city.
  • Kids are already fascinated by birds – they fly! You can use their curiosity as a hook to help students get interested in the natural world in general.
  • Birds could be part of your civics study – what is the national bird? What is your state bird? This is information your students will take pride in knowing!
  • Will you find a yellow warbler while birding?

    Going birding – looking for birds – is an excuse for walking around (maybe even hiking) and it’s always great to encourage physical activity, especially if you give kids a new reason for physical activity. You might have a kid who is really into birds discover that she is really into hiking as well!

  • Birding teaches soft, useful skills like patience and observation. You can also tell stories of adaptation and creativity through stories like that of Pale Male, osprey in New York City, or the birds in Urban Roosts.

What other great reasons can you think of? Let us know why you teach birding with your students or children!

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Urban Hawks

We’ve been talking about birds this week and last. If you’re looking for hawks, in addition to all the fantastic Pale Male resources, check out Urban Hawks.

This fantastic blog, written by a local bird enthusiast with great camera skills, includes photographs and videos of hawks, birds, and other wildlife in New York City. Check it out as a classroom resource to supplement the book Urban Roosts, to use with nest cams, or to talk about nature here in New York City.

What cool shots of birds will you find??

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