Building a Simple Bird Sanctuary March 22 2010

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Building a bird sanctuary with your class is easier than you might think.

It's also a cheap and easy way to get your students involved in the world around them. Birds are plentiful throughout the year, and they want and need to eat. Birds are free to watch and document, and your class will learn about how to take care of their local environment. And probably the most convenient reason to build a bird sanctuary is that you get some of the benefits of a class pet without the mess!

What Do Birds Need?

Before starting to build anything for your local birds, review with your students exactly what birds are looking for so they'll be attracted to your bird sanctuary. Create a chart and fill in the following information with your students.

Birds need:

  • Shelter - This depends on the types of birds. Down by my local rivers, we have cliff dwellers that nest on the undersides of bridges. Most of the time, though, trees are a safe bet.
  • Food - bird feeders with all kinds of bird seed, flowering plants, fruit and seeds
  • Water - birdbaths or other water sources
  • Nesting Sites - bushes, vines, little caves or holes in trees

What Do We Want In Our Bird Sanctuary?

This part of the process will depend on your immediate surroundings. Food and water will be relatively easy to provide. But regarding shelter and nesting sites for the birds, is there an area outside your classroom or around your school that's leafy and green? Can you see that area from your classroom? Do you already have a school or community garden onsite that you want to expand?

Before beginning to build anything for your bird sanctuary, use this Bird Sanctuary Chart to figure out what you already have versus what you and your students want and need. Maybe you and your students want to be able to observe and document birds from your classroom, or maybe there's an outdoor classroom that you want to take advantage of during the school year.

How Will We Build It?

This is the fun part! Brainstorm with your kids about how to create items using materials they can recycle to fill the birds' needs.

  • Shelter and Nesting Sites - There may be some kids in your class interested in building bird houses out of reclaimed wood or other sturdy materials. You could certainly provide the wood, wood glue and clamps for them to use (minus the saws - just have pieces pre-cut) or students can build them at home and bring them in. Also, there might be parents willing to donate a few bushes or a tree or two if your schoolyard could use more habitable spaces for the birds.
  • Water - Don't buy an expensive bird bath. Use small cat litter bins, garbage can lids or other wide, shallow containers. You'll have to rinse it out every so often and fill with fresh, clean water, but your kids will enjoy maintaining them and they're easy to find, free or cheap.
  • Food - this is my favorite part. Recently I posted about a Shoe Bird Feeder, which would be an easy and fun project with your class. However, your students can build creative bird feeders out of several different kinds of recycled materials. An easy example includes cutting holes in milk jugs or milk cartons, placing bird seed inside and hanging them from a tree branch.Brainstorm with your students what's necessary in a bird feeder, and consider holding a contest for the most creative use of recycled materials in this project. Whatever your class decides to build as bird feeders, use a variety of bird seed to attract different birds to your feeders.

Watch and Study

Once the bird sanctuary is set up, there will be plenty of opportunities for bird watching. Bird Sighting! is a handy sheet to have available for your students to fill out as they spot different species of birds. Have books and websites ready for your students to use in order for them to figure out what birds they are observing in their classroom sanctuary. As students fill out these sheets, compile them and create a class book for your students to read!

Another consideration with this bird sanctuary involves maintenance. Invested from the beginning of this project, your students will be enthusiastic participants when it comes to checking and changing bird seed and water sources to keep "their" birds coming back. Create a simple schedule that specifies which students go out a couple of times a week, or make "Bird Sanctuary" part of your class job list, sharing the responsibilities to your class.

Building a bird sanctuary offers your students a variety of lessons concerning your local environment, participating in recycling, and studying and caring for species that share our world throughout the school year. This simple - and cheap - investment in your schooyard will yield benefits for your students...and for the birds!