Saturday, June 11, 2011

Spring Bird Study - Outdoor Hour Challenge Spring Series #3

This week we focused on the Outdoor Hour Challenge Spring Series #3: Spring Bird Study that is at the Handbook of Nature Study website.

Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
- Bold - are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
- Italics - are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
- Regular - are my own words.

Inside Preparation Work:


As part of our spring nature study this week, we will prepare by learning about some familiar bird songs. Read about the “Songs of Birds” in the Handbook of Nature Study on pages 42 and 43.


The following exerpts are from the Handbook of Nature Study (the book) that I found interesting and shared with the girls:

In most cases only the male bird sings, but a few exceptions are recorded...the female rose-breasted grosbeak and cardinal grosbeak, which sing under some conditions.

Birds do most of their singing in the early morning and during the spring and early summer months.

Some ornithologists have developed complicated systems of recording bird songs as musical scores.  Wilson Flagg and F.S. Mathews are well-known names in this field.  Such a method has its limitations because many variations of bird songs cannot be indicated by the characters used in writing music.

The song of the warbling flycatcher.
A Year with the Birds by Wilson Flagg

The song of the green warbler.
A Year with the Birds by Wilson Flagg

The song of a bird written as music is not usually recognizable when played on a musical instrument.

Here is a link to a page that will help you learn about to listen to and then identify birds by their calls:  Songs and Calls.  This link has wonderful examples of bird songs divided by rhythm, pitch, tone, and repetition.

It also has a spectrogram which visually illustrates bird songs.  There were a few birds of particular interest because we have quite a few that visit our yard regularly: American goldfinch, house wren, rose-breasted grosbeak, black-capped chickadee, and cardinal.  As we listened to the spectrogram for each of these birds, we read the description about the songs:

"The American goldfinch's long, varied song lets you see how lots of different sounds look when they're translated into a spectrogram."

Bird banding at Warner Nature Center
American goldfinch that was being banded
at a local nature center.
Sophia, Olivia, and I were able to watch how this was done.


"The cardinal's song is a series of sweet, slurred whistles. Watch the curving lines on the graph as you listen to the pitch changing."

Olivia thought it was "neat" and Sophia thought it was "interesting."

Brainstorm a list of birds you know that live in your area. Pick two or three to research on the All About Birds website. Look up each bird and listen to their bird songs. Challenge your children to imitate the bird song and to listen for it when they go outside.

The girls came up with the following list of birds that they know live in our area:

- Goldfinish
- Cardinal
- Catbird
- Brown-headed cowbird
- Red-Winged Blackbird
- Pheasant
- Nuthatch
- Blue Jay
- House Finch
- Mourning Doves
- Sparrow
- Wren

Olivia picked these birds that she was interested in hearing their songs: brown-headed cowbird and red-winged blackbird.  Initially, she thought the cowbird sounded a lot like the red-winged blackbird.  Then we she heard the blackbird she was able to distinguish it from the cowbird since it sounded more "squeaky" and "high-pitched."

Sophia picked the following birds that she wanted to listen to their songs: pheasant and house wren. We hear both of these birds regularly in the yard and pasture; and hear them on our nature walk for the Spring Bird Study.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Male
Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak that was at
one of our feeders.  The grosbeaks have a beautiful song.


Outdoor Hour Time:


Spend your 10-15 minutes of outdoor time this week looking and listening for birds. You might try going out several times during the week at different times of day to listen and observe.


This will be a week you can work on a few minutes of quiet time while you are in your backyard or local park. Remind your children that if they are quiet even for one minute they might hear a bird or other animal. One minute can see like a lifetime for young ones so use your good judgment on this activity.

Sophia and Olivia making marks in their nature journals
every time they hear a bird song.

We spent time outside in our backyard since there is a variety of birds that regularly visit us each day.  We walked to and then stood in different locations (e.g., deck, by the apple tree, by the pine trees in the backyard, and several places on the nature trail). 

Olivia walking out on the nature trail
to listen to birds.

One of the things Olivia mentioned was that she heard so many birds singing all at the same time.  One would start and then another and another.  "I couldn't tell the old birds from the new birds."  It did sound like - a constant symphony of birds singing and calling to one another. 

This bird kept singing while
we were on the nature trail

As we listened to the birds, there were some that were easily recognizable and we knew their songs and calls:  red-winged blackbird, mourning dove, house wren, American goldfinch, and pheasant.  However, for the majority of the bird songs and calls we were hearing, we couldn't identify which bird was making the sound.

It would be nice to have someone skilled in identifying bird songs to come here and listen to the birds with us and say, "Oh...that song is from the purple finch.  That one is from the blue jay."

Follow-Up Activity:


Take a few minutes to follow-up on any interest that came from your outdoor time even if your children were interested in something other than birds.

We were noticing that a lot of milkweed is starting to grow now throughout the nature trail area and backyard.  I flipped over a milkweed leaf and saw a tiny yellow ball.  The girls and I are hoping that it is an egg.  So, we brought the leaf in and it is in the butterfly observation holder. 

We're hoping that this is a monarch egg
that's on the underside of a milkweed plant.

We also were happy with the gentle rain that fell the night/early morning before our nature walk.  Temperatures had reached over 100 degrees during the week, and there had been no rain recently.  Having rain - without the thunder/lightening and hail - was a welcome sight and sound.


Rain drops on one of the irises
in the morning.

Review the bird songs you learned and practiced during your preparation work. If you saw an unfamiliar bird, try to identify it using a field guide. Learn more about identifying birds here on this page: Bird Identification SkillsIf you do not have a field guide, you can try this online bird site to help identify birds: WhatBird? And this website for additional information as well: AllAboutBirds.

We tried to identify the bird above since it was pretty far away from us and we didn't have binoculars with us.  It had a small crest on its head which seemed more pronounced when it sang.  When we came back indoors, Sophia looked at the Minnesota bird book and found one that looked similar to what we saw:  Tufted Titmouse.  The name means "Small Bird," and comes from Scandinavian and Old English words.

However, looking at more pictures of this bird on the internet, led us to believe it may be another bird (perhaps the feathers on the bird's head just moved so they looked like a crest when it sang).  Looking at the picture of the bird we saw, we noticed it had a spotted chest and was more brown in color.  Looking athe Minnesota bird book again, we found the female rose-breasted grosbeak which looks just like the one we saw.


Don’t forget to look up any birds you identify in the Handbook of Nature Study and see how Anna Botsford Comstock suggests you learn more about that particular bird by reading the narrative and the accompanying lesson.


Allow time for a nature journal entry.  You can print the pages from a coloring book, complete them, and then adhere them into your nature journal or you can use the black line drawings as a guide to sketching your bird directly onto your journal page.

After the walk, the girls worked a bit on their nature journals.  They wrote the names of some of the birds they heard and recognized and counted the number of songs they heard.  Sophia wrote a brief description of the walk and what the day was like (e.g., cool, cloudy).

Looking to the southwest from the nature trail.

Other Activities

I ordered a book from the library that should arrive soon.  It's called The Music of Wild Birds: An Illustrated, Annotated, and Opinionated Guide to Fifty Birds and Their Songs by: F. Schuyler Mathews and illustrated by Judy Pelikan.  Mr. Mathews was referenced in the Handbook of Nature Study.

What intrigued me about this book is that the description said, "As Mathews points out, the music of wild birds is everywhere - in poems, children's nursery songs, as well as in the works of the great composers: the Black-billed Cuckoo's call appears near the close of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony; the Nashville Warbler's song is found in the opening bars of Rossini's Carovale, and the Meadowlark's song is remarkably like the first two bars of Alfredo's song in La Traviata.

"He reveals how a bird's character is reflected in its song: the Baltimore Oriole is a sharp-billed, sharp-witted character, and his remarks are as incisive and crisp as the toots of a steam whistle. And he reminds us of the words of our great poets - Wordsworth, Emerson, Sir Walter Scott - and their descriptions of the very same birds and their music."

Black Capped Chickadee
A black-capped chickadee at the feeder.
We hear the chickadee singing almost every day.


Found this poem about a bird that's commonly seen around here throughout the year: the black-capped chickadee.  It's called The Snow-Bird's Song Poem and it's by F.C. Woodworth.  The girls both liked the poem...especially the part about the stockings, shoes, and little frock:

The ground was all covered with snow one day,
And two little sisters were busy at play,
When a snow-bird was sitting close by on a tree,
And merrily singing his chick-a-dee-dee,
Chick-a-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee,
And merrily singing his chick-a-dee-dee.

He had not been singing that tune very long,
Ere Emily heard him, so loud was his song;
“Oh, sister, look out of the window,” said she,
“Here’s a dear little bird singing chick-a-dee-dee.
Chick-a-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee,
Here’s a dear little bird singing chick-a-dee-dee.

“Oh, mother, do get him some stockings and shoes,
And a nice little frock, and a hat if you choose;
I wish he’d come into the parlor, and see
How warm we would make him, poor chick-a-dee-dee!
Chick-a-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee,
How warm we would make him, poor chick-a-dee-dee!”

“There is One, my dear child, though I cannot tell who,
Has clothed me already, and warm enough too.
Good morning! Oh, who are so happy as we?”
And away he went singing his chick-a-dee-dee.
Chick-a-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee,
And away he went singing his chick-a-dee-dee.

5 comments:

amy2blessings said...

Hi,
I’m your newest follower, hope you will follow back.
April

W-S Wanderings said...

Wow, what a great resource you have created and shared here! We have been delighted to have some Whippoorwills move in nearby. It's the first time we've heard their characteristic call at the farm.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

Learning new birds and their songs is a life-project and it sounds like your girls have a lot of knowledge already under their belt. My best advice is just to keep learning one new bird at a time and soon you will have an entire list of songs you can pick out and hear.

You have had such a wide range of weather lately and I am impressed that you are continuing your nature study through it all!

I enjoyed reading about so many things in your entry...your bird list, your work on identifying your unknown bird, and the book you referenced.

Thanks so much for sharing your entry with the OHC. Please make sure to add your entry to the OHC Blog Carnival.

Bethany said...

Thanks for the great links.

Zonnah said...

I love picture of the singing bird!