Bird Sitting with Kindergartners

little blonde girls in a fall field with lake and mountains in background

Kindergartners are like earthworms, minnows, bumble bees, puppies… take your pick.

 By KLT Outdoor Educator Dave Kretzschmar 
They are little bundles of infinite energy and curiosity, squiggling and moving, laughing and talking.  Rather than try and fight against this energy, a losing battle in my estimation, I try to harness and channel it.  If I can find one thing to focus their inquisitive natures on and then let that energy run I usually find it works.
The other day at Southside Elementary, I introduced the idea of “bird language” to them, like the Black-capped chickadeeLISTEN HERE
The concept that birds speak a language and that we can understand them.  I quickly shared the 4 baseline languages: companion calls, juvenile begging, male aggression, and songs.  The final language I introduced was the alarm and told them how birds will often have a sentinel perched on a treetop keeping watch for predators.  Birds will give different alarms for 4-legged predators, birds of prey, and even humans.
Then we trudged out to the playground to do our first bird sit. Two feet of snow still covered the ground, but underneath a ponderosa pine, we found a dry spot. Each student had a note card and a pencil and was told to sit and listen to the birds and make a little check mark for each sound they heard.
Almost immediately a train started trundling by and then I realized the highway noise was quite loud as well.  Hearing the birds was like trying to hear someone tell you something at a rock concert.  However, we persevered and stayed put and listened.   I had shown them notation for the 5 different languages but did not expect them to be able to differentiate.  Little did I know.
When we gathered up to share afterward not only did the students have dozens of check marks but they also had notations showing companion calls, songs and alarms.  They had also recognized a black-capped chickadee call, a crow, a turkey and written out other calls phonetically.  They had sat still for fifteen minutes without moving and even with the cacophony of noise had managed to tune in to the bird’s language.
So well they are often like puppy dogs and bumble bees when their inquisitiveness is released out in nature their energy can shift radically, and their interest can be held for a long time by something as simple as a song sparrow singing.
Now we just have to find a quieter spot