Improve Your Habitat


Big Idea:
Students will inventory their habitat and improve it for birds.

Background:
Improving your habitat comes in many forms, from planting native trees to putting in bird feeders and bird baths. This lesson takes what students have learned about birds and their habitat and applies it to the real world. Students get a chance to plan, and hopefully also carry out a habitat restoration/conservation project.


Learning Objectives:
  1. Students will review four key features of a habitat and relate each one to the specific function it serves for a bird.
  2. Students will be able to inventory a habitat.
  3. Students will be able to investigate and create a plan for a small habitat restoration/conservation project.

Time Needed:
Several periods both in class and outdoors

Materials:
  • Habitat Sketch (Journal Page 10)
  • Habitat Design (Journal Page 11)
  • Out Door Bird Observation (Journal Page 12)
  • Take Action! (Journal Page 13)
  • Access to Share your Action Wiki

Getting Ready:
Make copies of the Student Journal pages. Discuss your plans for the habitat project with your school administrators, if necessary.

Conducting the Activity:
Explain to the students that regardless of the scope or size of the project, a number of steps are involved to make the project a success. These steps are Investigate, Plan, and Carry out the Project.

1.) Investigate
A.) Review the four key features a bird needs from its habitat (food, water, cover, space). Remind students that every living thing has a place that supplies its particular food, water, and shelter requirements — its habitat. If a bird cannot find these things in an area and in the "right" arrangement (the definition of "right" depends on the species), it cannot survive there. See Lesson 2 for more background on habitats.

B.) Take students outside to map a habitat in their schoolyard using Student Journal. In Journal Page 11 have the students draw a map of the site and list all of the natural features or structures that are currently found there. Refer to Journal Page 10 for example. Also have students pick one bird to observe and write their observation in Journal Page 12. Photographs of the natural area can also be used instead of taking students outside.

C.) Extension activity: Conduct a bird count to see what species are currently found in that habitat. Discuss which bird species you would like to attract/support in this habitat.

2.) Plan
A.) Take students back to the classroom to discuss their findings and make a list of improvements. Ask questions such as:
  • Describe the habitat of our area. Do you think this is a good place for birds to live? To nest? Why or why not?
  • What are the specific needs of the birds we have counted or seen in this area? Do they all have the same needs regarding food, water, cover, and space?
  • How has our habitat been modified by people? What effects (positive and negative) do you think these have had on the species that live here?
  • How have certain birds adapted to urban environments? (These birds take advantage of human food, even out of places like human garbage dumps. They also often nest in human supplied locations.)

B.) Ask the students what they think they could do to make their schoolyard or backyard a more bird-friendly habitat. Create a list on the board. Ask them to decide on a section of their schoolyard or backyard habitat that they would like to improve. If possible, photographing their section of yard might help them to map and visualize changes.

C.) Take students to the computer lab to research the birds they would like to attract to their site and determine what they can do to attract them. Discuss what could be added or changed at the site to create a bird habitat, including native plants and other measures to attract their chosen birds. See the bottom of this page for ideas and online resources on landscaping and attracting birds. If you are having students create a habitat improvement plan you expect to implement, you may want them to think about how to pay for the improvements. They could research funding sources that might be willing to give your class a donation for supplies such as native plants, bird feeders, bird seed, and bird houses. Consider taking and posting photos around the classroom before and after your changes have occurred.

3.) Carry out the Project
A.) Collect any materials that you will need to complete the project, plan out the project and get started! Schedule times during class or after school to work as a team to improve your site. Share your plans with your BirdSleuth Coordinator and on the Share Your Action wiki.

B.) Once you've made the improvements to your backyard or schoolyard habitat, continue monitoring the site to see which birds visit it and when they visit. Use the "Count Your Birds" activity (see Lesson 7) and observe the habitat whenever possible. If you have installed feeders, here are questions to consider:
  • How long does it take the birds to discover the feeder?
  • Will all birds eat from this feeder? Why or why not?
  • Which birds eat from the feeder? Do some feed on the ground?
  • When do the birds come to the feeder? Do all of the different birds come at the same time?
  • Why do birds eat from the feeder? (To get energy, because feeders are an easy way to find food, because there may be a shortage of “natural” foods in the habitat.)

Consider taking photos after your changes have occurred. Post them on the Share Your Action wiki.

Suggestions for Creating Bird Habitat
  • Plant native plants in mixed species clumps.
  • Create an understory using native grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers.
  • Leave dead or dying trees when possible. Leave brush piles and pruned debris through the winter.
  • If there aren't any nearby, create water sources.
  • Reduce predators—keep cats indoors and eliminate outdoor sources of food which attracts rats, opossums, skunks, foxes, and jays. These are all nest predators that will eat bird eggs and young.
  • To discourage non-native bird predators such as House Sparrows and European Starlings, take down nest boxes being used by these species (or clean out their nests).
  • Support birds' habitat needs in your schoolyard by providing a source of food. Consider planting native "food" plants in addition to a bird feeder. Food plants include ones that produce berries or flowers, but there are many other plants that don't fruit and still support insects and provide seed for birds as well. See the Landscaping for Birds section of the All About Birds website for more information on the best plants and trees for birds. If you want to put up a bird feeder, try making one of these feeders depending on the materials and resources you have available:
    • Bagel Feeder: Coat a bagel with peanut butter, lard, or shortening, roll it in mixed birdseed, and hang it on a tree branch.
    • Pine Cone Feeder: Coat a pine cone with peanut butter, lard, or vegetable shortening; add raisins, cranberries, or other dried fruit (optional). Roll in mixed birdseed. Hang or place in your habitat.
    • Circle Cereal String: String Cheerios (or other round cereal with a hole) on a 24-inch length of string or yarn. String on bushes.

See also the following links:
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/celebration/gardening
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/celebration/gardening/ten-ways-to-landscape-for-songbirds
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/attractingbirds-landscaping