This is a guest post by my partner and teacher-naturalist extraordinaire at Audubon New York, Laura Revilla. She gets to spend her time teaching 2-4th graders about NYC birds and their conservation.
What is mating? That was a question a got from a 2nd grader my first day of work as a Teacher-Naturalist at For the Birds!. I was stunned, did not have an answer ready at all, but luckily was quickly saved by another 2nd grader who told her that is was like ‘getting married’ but for animals. Lesson number one; never use a word or phrase that cannot be explained in simple terms. Teaching children about urban birds and wildlife conservation is a very rewarding activity. Birds are everywhere; sparrows, pigeons, starlings, doves; yet they are wild animals with interesting interactions and behaviors that can be used to teach kids about ecology and conservation.
Birds teach us about the importance of habitat conservation and biodiversity, clean water and geography- as many birds migrate, for thousands of miles, twice a year, every year. One particularly amazing example is the ruby-throated hummingbird that migrates from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico to the southeastern United States every spring, a journey of 500-600 miles over the Caribbean Sea that takes 24 hours without a break!
While migrating birds are incredible and adapted for the journey, they still need resting places with food resources on their way to nesting sites; places they depend on year after year. Unfortunately, many times these migratory paths become death traps for countless birds. For example, China’s second most important migratory bird route has become an illegal hunting ground. In addition, it is estimated that between 100 million and 1 billion North American birds are killed each year by collisions with buildings; some 90,000 birds annually in New York City alone.
Birds unite us; make this world a smaller place, reminding us that we are all connected with shared ecologies and how our local actions can have global repercussions.
I teach my second graders that anyone can make a difference and I believe it. Here are some examples of ways you can have a direct, positive impact on bird survival:
- Put up a bird house in your yard
- Put a bird bath in your yard to provide a year-round clean drinking and bathing water source for birds
- Erect bird feeders and nectar feeders in proper distances from windows or places where birds can’t be ambushed by predators
- Limit the use of lawn chemicals and pesticides in your garden, which are harmful not only to birds, but to a variety of wildlife and to household pets
- Hang cutout silhouettes of birds, such as hawks, in large windows to prevent birds from colliding with the windows of your home
- Plant native fruit and berry-bearing bushes and trees on your property
- At night, turn off the lights or close the blinds of your high-rise offices or apartment buildings, and spread the word to your co-workers
By the way, pigeons mate for life. That is why the second grader asked me what I meant by mating. Every year male pigeons court the same female all over again, creating a display of throaty coos accompanied by strutting, puffing shimmery throat feathers, bowing, and tail fanning and dragging, as if it were the first time they met.