What a birdie can tell you
“Since being in the program, I look for birds all the time.”
“At home, I look at birds outside my windows.”
“Mockingbirds make a lot of different sounds and noises.”
“After making these bird feeders out of seeds and peanut butter, I’m going home now to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!”
“I like making bird feeders out of bottles.”
“I know the name of the red bird at my house. It’s a cardinal!”
“I saw a big eagle on top of my next door neighbor’s house.”
“Birds eat yucky worms and bugs!”
These are just a few of the many comments you’ll hear when you talk to kids from the Salvation Army’s West Philadelphia, Pa., Corps.
This summer, they participated in “Bird Sleuth,” a bird feeder watching education program. Under the theme, “Migration,” the corps partnered with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a member–supported unit of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., which studies birds and other wildlife.
“We also created and observed pollinator gardens,” said Shirley Williams, corps liaison to the program. These gardens provide a safe haven for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other endangered species. “Members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the Philadelphia and Chester Beekeepers Societies have offered their educational support to our pollinator garden,” Williams said.
Bird Sleuth is a science curriculum kit. Kids engage in the study of real data collection. Using scientific processes, Williams encourages them to answer their own questions about nature. They also spend time outdoors to see fascinating sights, hear intriguing sounds, and analyze the surprising and peculiar behaviors of birds.
“I saw a woodpecker in my backyard!”
“We had fun making snow owls with cotton balls and pine cones.”
“The squirrels try to eat up all the birds’ food.”
“Birds are in the sky, trees, and on the ground.”
Envoy Tony Lewis, who is in charge of the corps, said, “Here at the West Philadelphia Corps, we deal with exposing children to God’s gift of creation. We allow them to feed the fowls and then explain the unique experience to everyone.”
Lewis said connecting science with Scripture is a key component of the program. Doing so helps build character, confidence, and self–esteem. “In Matthew 6:26, Jesus reminds His disciples, ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’”
Lewis also said the act of “feeding the fowls” instills in the kids a sense of responsibility and purpose. “God provides for those birds as they arrive here at the corps. Therefore, we are an extension of God’s hand as He feeds His creation.”
Williams said it’s all about literacy. “The program encourages kids to read more. ‘Look Who Grew in Our Garden,’ our original project, was acknowledged by First Lady Michelle Obama (see sidebar). We’re doing Bird Sleuth to continue our emphasis on literacy. As the kids do hands–on projects, what they do and read sticks with them better.” She said another benefit is each child is more aware of his or her surroundings. “They look down and see the variety of bugs on the ground. When they look up, they see birds—and they identify them by name.”
Williams said she underestimated just how much fun the kids would have as bird sleuths. “A four–year–old boy said to me, ‘I know what talons are!’ When I asked, ‘What are they?’ he widened his eyes and proceeded to tell me all about them.” Williams said she’s also having fun making toy birds with the kids.
“The opportunity allows us time to talk. In turn, they have conversations with their parents and are reporting in school. It’s a three–legged–stool approach: church, home, and community.” Williams recommends corps do similar projects. “Because it doesn’t take much and birds are all around us.”
by Warren L. Maye