For the birds!

Members of Keri Grieser’s fifth-grade class from Meeker Elementary School took part in celebrating International Migratory Bird Day.
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Members of Keri Grieser’s fifth-grade class from Meeker Elementary School took part in celebrating International Migratory Bird Day.
Students observe International Migratory Bird Day. Each year, some 350 bird species migrate between summer and winter habitats. Their flights span state and national boundaries and have inspired unique partnerships dedicated to bird conservation. Federal and state agencies, conservation organizations and individuals have discovered innovative solutions to safeguard the future of these often vulnerable bird populations.
International Migratory Bird Day celebrates these successful partnerships that benefit bird species and habitat conservation. Each May, the U.S. Forest Service, Blanco Ranger District, works closely with Meeker Elementary School to raise awareness for local bird species returning from their winter habitats. Students learn about the identifying field marks, life history and migratory patterns of several local bird species through various Forest Service-sponsored activities. You may have spotted groups of students over the past few weeks pointing at the sky or staring into a hedge with binoculars.
In-class activities include PowerPoint presentations focused on the current year’s theme, coloring contests, and games that test students’ knowledge of bird trivia. The 2010 theme for International Migratory Bird Day is “The Power of Partner-ships” in bird conservation, which celebrates the power and effectiveness of teamwork. Attention this year is brought to 20 different bird species that have recovered from dangerously low numbers experienced in the 1900s to thriving populations today. Six of these 20 species are residents of this area or migrate through Meeker. Recovery efforts have focused on habitat protection, research, captive breeding and controlling recreational activities around vulnerable species during nesting season.
Birding trips to Circle Park allow fourth- and fifth-graders a hands-on experience to learn about these colorful area inhabitants. Students are greeted by tree and violet green swallows as they cross the bridge into the park and may get to glimpse the American dipper (water oozle) as it dives under the water. Sandhill cranes and Canada geese can often be spotted in the wet meadow adjacent to the park, to accompany the cacophony of the red-winged blackbirds singing their chorus. The yellow, yellow-rumped, and orange-crowned warblers along with an occasional common yellowthroat captivate the students with their bright colors. Northern flickers drum on the dead cottonwoods and fly in and out of cavities while the catbird sings in the underbrush. Even the most rambunctious students are captivated and excited each time a new bird is spotted.
Younger students are treated to a walk around the block, where local backyards and bird feeders host numerous species. Students delight in identifying the colorful lazuli buntings and yellow warblers, watching a robin grab a worm out of the ground, and eyeing the tiny broad-tailed hummingbird sitting on its tiny nest of jelly-bean sized eggs. A pair of house finches take a bath in a dog bowl while the turkey vultures rise up in the air currents from their roost trees around the courthouse, heading out for their daily scavenging.
There is so much to see when we become aware of the array of birds that our small town supports. Through International Migratory Bird Day activities, we can celebrate the beauty and diversity of our local birds while also raising awareness to the countless threats they face as they follow traditional migratory routes in our swiftly-changing world. We can all make a difference by becoming partners in bird conservation.
— Mary Cunningham is a biological scientist with the Blanco Ranger District