When I look out my office window, there’s a pretty limited selection of wildlife. But always, even in a Michigan winter, there are birds. Birds are part of virtually every global ecosystem, and in urban landscapes they are one of the most visible evidences that even amidst concrete, the cycles of life continue. They also provide a context for real-world outdoor science experiences in all kinds of school environments.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a great resource for promoting what they call “citizen science” around birds. Citizen science is real science conducted by non-professional scientists, including science by students beginning in early grades. Their education page has a number of links to programs and resources for both K-12 and higher education, but my favorite link is Celebrate Urban Birds. At the Celebrate Urban Birds site, students can participate in data gathering about birds in urban areas. They learn to identify local birds, choose a data-gathering location, and observe ten minutes a day for three days. Then they can upload their data as part of an international database. Students can easily check the species map to see where in the world similar birds have been spotted.
The Celebrate Urban Birds website is full of useful resources in both English and Spanish. You can easily download a (free) data gathering kit and identification guide to get started. Thinking about where birds are—and perhaps more importantly, aren’t—found can provide opportunities to move from data gathering to raising questions, as do real creative scientists. It also gives students a chance to talk about green spaces, preserving habitats, and the role of varied species in our communities large and small. What better venue for problem solving than right outside our windows?
Of course, if you’d also like to observe birds in more distant locations, Cornell’s Bird Cams can help. Now I think I’m going to take a break from my snowy window and watch the Albatross Cam from Kauai, Hawaii!