School Vacation Week is For the Birds!

Raptors to Songbirds: Learning About Birds in Western MA During February Vacation

Raptors to songbirds, school vacation week is an excellent time to learn about and support our fine feathered friends here in Western MA!

School vacation week is for the birds! For learning about them, that is. Opportunities for exploring the local landscape through a feather-centric lens abound! The week is filled with events centered around birds of all sorts, and families can fill in the space between organized activities with feeder-making, shelter building, food scattering, and quiet observing.

Kick off vacation week by participating in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, an event that engages communities all over the world as citizen scientists. Families can easily participate by spending at least fifteen minutes watching their backyard and keeping track of the different bird species who visit them. The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place all weekend, so families can collect data anytime between February 14th and 16th, 2014.  — Extending all the way through the end of February is the Mass Audubon’s citizen scientist program, Focus of Feeders.

In addition to the bird count, vacation week begins with Tom Ricardi’s “Birds of Prey” presentations with live rehabilitated raptors. On Saturday, February 15th at 12:30pm, Northampton Recreation hosts Tom Ricardi and his beautiful birds at JFK Middle School (300 Pine Street, Florence, MA). Tom will showcase a golden eagle, a red tailed hawk, a turkey vulture, and other majestic and fascinating birds who he has helped to rehabilitate. Admission is $7 per person.  Ricardi will also be at Springfield’s 36th Fabulous February at Forest Park with his “Birds of Prey” show on Monday, February 17th with two shows, one at 12:15pm and the second at 1pm.

Vacation week also brings two different presentations by Wingmasters, a group dedicated to spreading understanding of and appreciation for North American birds of prey. On Monday, February 17th at 7pm, Shutesbury’s MN Spear Memorial Library sponsors North American Birds of Prey, a presentation by Julie Anne Collier of Wingmasters. Held at Shutesbury Elementary School, the event will focus on raptors and will encourage understanding and appreciation of these birds of prey. On the other side of the river, Kestrel Land Trust presents Birds of Prey in New England: Their Lives and Challenges with Wingmasters with a second presentation to Easthampton’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary on Sunday, February 23rd at 2pm. Arcadia is located at 127 Combs Road, and a donation of $8 per adult and $4 per child is suggested.

Families looking for some interdisciplinary bird studies can visit the Quabbin Reservoir Visitor’s Center on Sunday, February 23rd for an event that covers breeding and population studies of bald eagles with local history and environmental science. From 2-3pm, the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife will present, Bald Eagles and Quabbin Reservoir, a presentation (best for older students) that discusses the vital role that Quabbin played in the reintroduction of bald eagles in Massachusetts.

While you’re not out in the community learning about birds from experts, do some hands-on learning at home! Families can easily make a variety of feeders using recycled materials – soda bottles , toilet paper and paper towel rolls, and milk or juice cartons can all easily be made into fine feeders! In addition to peanut butter and birdseed, some types of birds also like to eat dry rice and other grains – try making a few different feeders, fill them with different foods, and see who comes to visit each one!

Families can attract ground-feeding birds by creating a feeding shelter or platform. Birds who prefer to eat in well-sheltered parts of the ground will love a small lean-to filled with dried ears of corn and other treats. Birds who don’t require as much shelter can feast on birdseed scattered over a board balanced on a stump, five gallon bucket, or large flower pot. They’ll be especially hungry right after a fresh snow, since wild foods won’t be as easily accessible. When there aren’t any feathered friends feeding in your yard, go out and look for tracks. Birds leave tracks in a variety of sizes and depths and while it would be difficult to ID them based on their footprints, it’s still fun to inspect and follow the paths! For added excitement, search for spots in the snow where birds have left not only footprints, but wing prints from flapping and fluffing during mealtimes. Check our archived post from last year, Searching for Nests & Animal Tracks in Winter, for more winter bird loving ideas!

[Photo credit: (ccl) Zach Den Adel]

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