Almost 1,000 elementary school students in Haldimand-Norfolk are becoming budding young scientists.
The Long Point Biosphere Reserve (LPBR) received additional funding from Nature Canada that enabled the distribution of FeederWatch kits to 50 classes throughout the Grand Erie District School Board.
“It’s one of the easiest ways to get children’s eyes on nature, and make them curious from that point on,” said Cynthia Brink, Naturehood outdoor educator at LPBR. “Birds are an indicator species of what our environment is all about and what’s going on in it.”
Prior to the pandemic, Brink would take classes of school children for daylong, hands-on study at a bird banding station, the lookout decks on the Long Point causeway, and the old growth forest at Bacchus Woods.
“I can’t take any of these kids anywhere right now, and thought ‘How do I connect these kids with nature,’” she said.
Karen Hammond at Doerksen Country Store in Port Rowan was able to obtain a discount for the feeder kits that allowed for 27 additional kits to be purchased for children learning at home through the Grand Erie Virtual Academy.
Another 58 kits were also able to be purchased for students at Lloyd S. King Elementary School at the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, whose students will not return to the school this year due to COVID-19 protocols.
The kits include a window feeder, birdseed, bird identification poster and a one-year Birds Canada membership.
Brink said LPBR has furnished a junior nature journal from Nature Canada so students can record sightings, while the Bateman Foundation’s Sketch Across Canada project has also provided a sketch journal.
Christina Gubesch, a Grade 6 teacher at Port Rowan Elementary School said they only got their window feeder set up on Friday, but the number of visiting birds is increasing daily.
Students are tasked with making notes of the species of birds that visit the feeder, as well as weather, season, bird song and behaviour.
“It’s nice for (the students) to know that their recordings are going to help with other scientist’s research,” said the teacher. “It’s a nice, hands-on way to learn about research and the diversity of the animals out there.”
Data collected will aid winter bird research by Birds Canada, and Brink said she hopes to meld other ideas into future projects, such as establishing an Indigenous garden close to the feeders with host plants for insects, butterflies, and seeds to sustain some of the birds that remain in the area over the winter.
“I want to continue the citizen science,” Brink said. “Kids don’t have to wait until they’re in university to do science like this. Birds connect our world, and for some this generates natural curiosity to discover more about the natural world around them.”