Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Winter Series Outdoor Hour Challenge #7 Winter Birds + Homeschooling in the Snow

Cardinal and black-capped chickadee at
one of the feeders

This week's focus for the Winter Series Outdoor Hour Challenge is winter birds (including bird migration). For this challenge, instead of picking a particular bird from the Handbook of Nature Study (HNS), the Handbook of Nature Study website suggested learning about bird migration and then spending some time outdoors looking for birds.

The website also encouraged participation in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count that took place from February 18th-21st.

(Note:  The information that is in bold typeface is from the Handbook of Nature Study website.  The text in regular typeface is mine.  Quotes that are in italic typeface are from the book, Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.)

Inside Preparation Work:

Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 35-37. This will help explain why you have some birds in your area only during certain seasons. If you are interested in more information, you might want to check the Peterson Field Guides for additional information about particular birds that you have in your feeders or near-by parks.

These three pages were very interesting.  Some facts worth noting:

- The Arctic tern's round trip mileage...is about 22,000 miles. 

- The Arctic tern has more hours of daylight than any other animal on the globe.

- We see great flocks of swallows [before they migrate] .... Some birds do not gather in flocks before leaving for the winter; they just disapper and we scarecely know where they go.

A permanent resident in Minnesota

- Chickadees, jays, downy woodpeckers, nuthatches, grouse, and pheasants are typical examples of the permanent resident group.

- The first migrants...are, in general, those which have spent the winter only a comparatively short distance away. [These are] robins, red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, and bluebirds.

- In many species, the males arrive first; they may come as much as two weeks ahead of the females.  The immature birds are usually the last to arrive.

- Usually the very first birds of a kind to arrive are those individuals which will within a few days continue their northward journey.  The later arrivals are usually those that remain to become summer residents.

- [Some species of birds have] double migration routes .... One route may lead chiefy over land while the other may lead over the ocean.  The golden plover is an example of such a case.

There will be maps in the field guide that show where birds winter, migrate, and spend their summers. I encourage you to pick one common bird you have in your area and see if it migrates. (If you do not have a field guide, use the links in the Follow-Up Activity to research your bird.)

Outdoor Hour Time:

Spend 15-20 minutes outdoors this week looking for local birds. Choose one of the birds to learn more about and to record in your nature journal. If you are participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, plan on spending your outdoor time to tally birds you see in your yard. If the weather is too cold, you can always sit at a window where you can see your birdfeeder and take a tally from there.

Olivia measuring the snowfall on the birdfeeder
before clearing it off for the birds

During the Great Backyard Bird Count, Olivia and I were sick; and Sophia was on the verge of getting sick.  Therefore, we weren't able to get outside and do a bird count.  However, after the big snowfall on Sunday-Monday, we cleaned off the feeders of 8"+ of snow and re-distributed the seed we had on hand between the feeders to make it a bit easier for the birds.

Two birds at the feeder - the nuthatch (on the upper right)
and the dark-eyed junco (on the lower left)

Within a short period of time, the birds started visiting the feeders that were empty - including some of our favorites:  the cardinals and woodpeckers.  This is a blurry picture, but it's one of our favorite visitors to the feeder:

Follow-Up Activity:

Give an opportunity for a nature journal entry after you talk about any birds you observed. Help your child identify any birds they saw if you can. Remember to check the table of contents in the HNS to see if your bird subject is covered in a lesson. You can use those suggestions to learn more about your backyard birds.

The girls do a lot of bird watching, so they are very familiar with the permanent residents.  During spring and fall, when the birds are migrating, we often birds that we've never seen before which is exciting. Sometimes we can identify them...other times, we are just happy that we saw a bird that we never saw before. 

If you have a field guide, use the information there to discuss if the bird is a winter resident or a year-round resident. Our family uses this online bird site to help us identify birds: WhatBird? And this website for additional information as well: AllAboutBirdsAlso make sure to log into the Great Backyard Bird Count and record your results from your neighborhood.

Additional bird migration websites:

Bird Migration (Backyard Nature)

Bird Migration (Wild Birds Unlimited)


Sophia measuring the snow depth in the front yard

The snowstorm that traveled through central and southern Minnesota from Sunday night through Monday evening luckily didn't leave as much snow as anticipated (at least here at the farm).  The average snow depth was about about 8 1/2", with some drifts as high as 12".  
The girls definitely enjoyed finding evidence of wildlife around the yard.  The most fascinating thing we discovered was a rather elaborate tunnel system through the snow that we're thinking that a squirrel made since it led right to the squirrel/rabbit feeder. 

Near the pear tree there was a hole and then a pathway that led to two tunnel openings (see picture below).  One opening led right up to the squirrel/rabbit feeder.  The other opening led to an area under a nearby shrub that the birds, rabbits, and squirrels use for shelter and an eating area.

Two tunnels leading the squirrel/rabbit feeder. 
Reminded me of this quote:
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
U.S. poet (1874 - 1963)

Near one of the feeders, Sophia discovered that the vole had returned and had a little tunnel.  As she got down to examine it a bit closer she said, "It already has a bunch of birdseed in here!"

Olivia was walking near the tall pine trees on the east side of the farm and was excited that there were a lot of rabbit tracks.

Rabbit tracks


While the girls were outside, I had them each fill a canning jar with snow.  Sophia chose to pack the snow in her jar, while Olivia simply filled hers. 

Olivia gathering snow to put in a jar

The girls brought the jars inside where they started melting. 

Within  a half hour, the snow had melted a bit

About an hour or so later, Olivia wanted to check on the progress of the snow in her jar.

The snow is taking longer than anticipated to melt

By mid-afternoon, the snow had melted completely in Olivia's jar (on the right, in the picture below) and had almost melted in Sophia's jar (there was a small piece of ice in the center). 

Amount of water remaining after a jar-full of snow melted

Although Sophia's jar did have more water, it wasn't a tremendous difference between her jar and Olivia's jar.  This was rather surprising because we all thought there would be a more significant difference.

The snow sparkled today - it was just beautiful!  Initially the snow that fell on Sunday was a bit heavy, so that was packed down.  The snowflakes that fell later on Monday were huge, (and for a lack of better words:) fluffy flakes that rested on top of the other snow.  This morning, with the sun shining on the snow, it looked like crystals - or diamonds - gleaming in the light.
It was a morning of exploration...
Montague trying to find something (a vole, perhaps?) in the snow

and of play...
Sophia making a snow angel


Monica said...

Looks like a fun study. We have a lot of junco's here too! You have a lot more snow than we do too.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

Wow...look at the snow on your feeders! I'm sure the birds appreciated your effort to clear them off so they could have a winter feast. :)

You snow melting experiment is so interesting...we have far more water in our snow than you do in your part of the world. We are expecting 8 inches or more later in the week...we shall see. Brrrr...it sounds like it is going to be a cold one.

Thank you for warming my heart and sharing your link with the OHC.

Phyllis said...

What a lovely post. It was so fun watching as your girls explored and learned.

ELK said...

as you know i relish birds so much , you have a wonderful series here .. see we may have the same type of dog too....

http://quiltsbagsgardens.blogspot.com/ said...

Your blog looks great....I am enjoying the bird-study photos.

Earnest Efforts said...

Wondeful post and your blog looks fantastic! Your header is wonderful!!! Best of luck and take care, Heather