Monday, January 28, 2013

Nature Study in Winter--That's for the Birds

No, I'm not saying I won't do it.  I mean it's a great time to study birds.  Think about it, the trees are bare so when you hear a bird calling, you much more likely to be able to find it sitting on a branch than when leaves are in the way.  Also, a lot of their food source is gone so it's easier to entice the winter residents into your yard with a feeder.   I'm going to focus in on two special birds for whom winter is prime time viewing season.

The Owl
For the last several years, the Conservation Dept has been host Owl Prowls in January.  This is the time of year the birds are picking mates and finding nest sites.  We spend about an hour inside looking at stuffed birds and listening to a ranger's lecture on the species that live in or winter in our state.  After hearing about all the specialized features of owls, I'm amazed anyone can doubt there is a creator.

  • Many owl species have asymmetrical ears that are different sizes and different heights on their heads. This gives the birds superior hearing and the ability to pinpoint where prey is located, even if they can't see it.
  • Owls have specialized feathers with fringes of varying softness the help muffle sound when they fly. Their broad wings and light bodies also make them nearly silent fliers, which helps them stalk prey more easily.
  • An owl's eyes are supported by bony eye sockets and they cannot turn their eyes. Instead, owls rotate their heads up to 270 degrees, but they cannot turn their heads all the way around.
  • Speaking of eyes, if an owl had a head the size of an average human its eyes would be roughly the size of softballs.  That doesn't leave much room for a brain so the adage of "the wise old owl" probably isn't accurate.

After the lecture we headed out into the night to see if we could hear any owls calls or attract some with calls of our own.  There are calling devices in the marketplace and we even had one young girt do a pretty good imitation of the famous "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all" call of a barred owl.  Unfortunately, the evening of the Owl Prowl it was only about 5 degrees outside.  I think the owls were all huddled indoors and talking about those crazy humans standing outside hooting.   For our next bird nature study though, I believe the colder the better...

The Bald Eagle

A bald eagle in a zoo is a sad thing.  It usually means it's been injured and can no longer fly or catch food for itself.  At best, it can take a few long hops, but for many people that's their only opportunity to see one of these majestic birds.   Those of us who live along the Mighty Mississippi though have the opportunity to see them at their best--soaring in circles and swooping down to catch fish.  So why is colder better?  When the river is ice covered, the birds congregate around the locks & dams where there is still open water.  Two years ago Schnickelfritz and I saw nearly 300 eagles (the conservation dept does aerial counts) around Clarksville, MO

Now the birds are there all winter, but on special Eagle Days the Conservation Dept has rangers with field scopes set up and usually the World Bird Sanctuary brings some of their injured birds for close up viewing. 

Just as a side note, nothing will ruin your enjoyment of winter nature study faster than a kid (or you) saying "I'm cold! I want to go inside."  Schnickelfritz and I both wear Hot Headz fleece hoods when we'll be out in the cold.  For the Owl Prowl it was only 5 degrees, for Eagle Days it might have been in the low teens.  Trust me when I say our heads were the warmest part of our body.  Here's a picture of Fritz in his blue Hot Headz.  If you're not interested, then here is Fritz comparing his wingspan to that of an eagle.

Of course, you may not live in an area condusive to bird watching in the winter.  Then you'll want to check out what other Homeschool Crew members came up with for Winter Nature Study ideas.


alhsjej said...

Love it!

The Zookeeper said...

Love his owl eyes!!

Discovering Montessori said...

I just learned so much from reading this post! I love the picture of Fritz measuring his wing span!

Thank you for sharing.

Kym Thorpe said...

So cool! We occasionally see Bald Eagles near us, but it is HARD to get a picture. That's amazing to see so many soaring above the river.

Julie said...

You are a nice momma. About as far outdoors as I go bird watching in the winter is next to the patio doors.

Melanie Schemanski said...

My boys saw a bald eagle the other day, never seen one here in KY before. It was wonderful!

Crystal said...

Ah you are adventurous! We did a winter Bald Eagle event once. I think yours was better. More informative.

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