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Tales of the Bluebird Trail at the Nature Academy

Last week at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Children’s Nature Academy, the students were only able to check five of our ten boxes on the trail due to the heat. Hayley Kubler, a UWEC senior, and I decided to check the boxes six through ten while the students stayed inside with their lunches.

Hayley and I started with nest box ten and went backwards, as it was the quickest route. We weren’t going to stay out in that weather! Last time we were at nest box six, we found three Bluebird eggs with the first through fifth graders. Our other Bluebirds in box one had been banded for identification and were close to flight!

I was so curious to see what would be in that box. Had the eggs hatched? Did the mother finish her brood? I tried to convince Hayley to sing “Zip-a-dee-do-dah” with me, but she reminded me that she played the clarinet for a reason.

We approached the box, and I was so excited! I knocked, waited, and removed the duplex nail holding the door closed. I was full of such joy as I slowly opened it.

A house wren nest had been built on top of the Bluebird’s. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, and I took a closer look at the nest. Sure enough, our Bluebird nest had been crushed and was now the basement of a house wren.

Our Bluebird nest is now a basement.

I double-checked the records, confused. I then realized that the eggs were probably gone. We looked and felt for the three Bluebird eggs, but they were no longer there. I was thankful the students were inside and had left on a happy note that day.

On Wednesday, we’ll have to share the bad news with the students. As unfortunate as it is, this is nature. This is why I like leading a weekly songbird lesson at the Nature Academy; the lessons write themselves every day. We find new magic in those boxes, even if it’s not exactly what we were expecting.

With the students, we have been going over all the vocabulary needed in order to monitor. When I began learning about restoring songbirds, I learned new words every day. Even at the Nature Academy, I am amazed at how my vocabulary has developed just by answering all the children’s questions. We are students as well, so we have basically been “winging it” and have come up with a lot of our own definitions that children and others in the community can relate to. I’ll share a few!

Vocabulary at the Nature Academy

Clutch: A group of eggs.

Brood: Basically, a family of birds. Most Bluebirds give us two broods a year, but sometimes they can get three!  We always are hoping for that extra one!

Hatchling: A newborn baby bird!

Fecal Sacs: We always get a few giggles when we mention this phrase. Basically, a fecal sac is like a diaper for birds. The sac encloses the baby bird’s feces so that mom or dad can easily remove it from the nest.

Nestling: A bird is called a nestling after it gets a bit older. If compared to a human child, it encompasses toddler-age to middle school, all in about two weeks! Can you imagine your son or daughter growing that much in so little time?

Fledgling: When the birds are ready to fly, this is what we call them. They are a lot like teenagers, and mom and dad have to coax them outside with food! A bird “fledges” when it finally leaves the nest.

A boy's drawing of "Fledge!"

These are just our silly definitions of some of the scientific words we have learned along the way. The children at the Academy have really enjoyed picking up and using the vocabulary.  It’s been amazing to watch the students engage themselves in the lesson, not even realizing they are learning.  I’ve always believed that children and nature equals magic, and this hands-on opportunity is a great example.

Do you have any vocabulary you use to talk about birds? Any words you would like us to define? If so, please tell us in the comments below!

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