Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Clayton-Bradley Academy Discovers Birds!

On May 23rd, the Discover Birds Program had a great morning of discovering birds with students on the campus of the Clayton Bradley Academy in Blount County, Tennessee.
Above, Billie Cantwell gets students ready to learn about birds by playing the bird's song while showing students the bird on her I-pad.  A slideshow presentation followed showing students a variety of birds, their habitat and the ways in which the bird's characteristics make it well suited for that habitat.  
Students groups rotated through a three-part program--a bird slide presentation, a show-and-tell session with bird related items that students could handle and examine, and a guided bird walk. Students were given a Waterford Press Pocket Naturalist Guide on Tennessee Birds to help in identifying birds and binoculars were provided.  Birding spotting scopes were also provided to help "bring the birds closer".
Above, Warren Bielenberg talks with students about listening for bird songs and calls.  Often we know that a bird is in the area because we here their song or call notes.
Above, Chris Welsh helps a student use the spotting scope while another student finds a Mourning Dove with his binoculars.
Above, Warren talks with students about how to find birds.  His walk took his students along a path near a creek, below.  Eastern Bluebirds, American Robins and a Green Heron were among the birds found.
Warren explained that some birds have more than one name.  The Robin's full name, for example, is American Robin.  He compared these longer names to human first and last names.  We hear the Robin's full name less often than the simple name, Robin.
The Green Heron was found sitting on an electrical wire which seemed like an unlikely place to find a wading bird.  The two green herons in the area seemed to like these wires for perching.  Warren gets the scope on the heron just before it flies.  
Above, you see the Green Heron in flight and below, a closer view of a Green Heron in its wetland habitat. Green Herons are wading birds that feed on fish and other small wetland animals.
Photo credit:  Wiki Commons

While Warren's group was on their bird walk, another group of students was visiting with Paula Schneeberger to see and learn about her collection of bird-related objects.  Bird talons, eggs and a collection of owl pellets are among the items the students examined.   
Above, Paula explains that baby birds while hatching have a "pipping" tooth on the end of their beak, a hard protrusion that helps the unhatched chick break open the shell.  The pipping tooth disappears a few days after the chick is hatched.
Above, the last bird walk group assembles outside for their birding experience.  As Warren explains some tips on finding birds, Chris Welsh gets his telescope on an Eastern Kingbird perched high in a tree at the edge of the campus.
It looked as though the kingbird and his mate were guarding their partially built nest, located to the right and below the kingbird shown above.  Below, is a closer view of an Eastern Kingbird.  Kingbirds are fly-catchers.  They catch insects by flying out from a perch in spectacular maneuvers to snap up insects in flight.
Males and female kingbirds look alike.  Below, a Common Grackle perches on a limb briefly before flying on.  Notice his yellow eye and overall size.  Grackles are smaller than crows, which are also black.
At the concrete supports that brace the nearby highway, we found nest-building Cliff Swallows. Cliff Swallows build their nests of mud and are colony nesters, meaning many pairs nest together in the same location.  The swallows flew into the nest area together and left the nest area at the same time, filling the sky with chattering, insect eating birds!
Below, two images that show the beautiful colors of the Cliff Swallow and a closer look at an unfinished mud nest.  When finished, the nest entrance will be closed into a small round opening, protecting the eggs and hatched young inside.
Photo credit:  Wiki Commons

The swallow below has just applied wet mud to the nest.
Photo credit:  Wiki Commons

Below, a Red-tailed Hawk flies over-head giving us a look at his powerful wings and red tail.
Red-tailed hawks are one of our most common hawks in Tennessee.  They feed on mice, voles and other small rodents that they find by hunting from a high perch.

Our thanks to Clayton-Bradley School and the teachers who invited us to bring the program to their students. Thanks also to Discover Birds Program volunteers Doug Schneeberger, Paula Schneeberger, Warren Bielenberg, Chris Welsh, Vickie Henderson and Billie Cantwell.

For the morning we found 41 species of birds.  Chris Welsh uploaded the following list to eBird at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

3 Mallard
1 Double-crested Cormorant
1 Great Blue Heron
2 Green Heron
1 Black Vulture
3 Turkey Vulture
2 Red-tailed Hawk
2 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
3 Mourning Dove
1Chimney Swift
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
1 Northern Flicker
1 Eastern Phoebe
     Nest under overpass, fresh but did not see birds at nest.
1 Great Crested Flycatcher
2 Eastern Kingbird
     Seen near what appeared to be unfinished nest.
     Breeding Code--Visiting Probable Nest site
1 White-eyed Vireo
3 Blue Jay
4 American Crow
2 Barn Swallow
     Nest under overpass
     ON Confirmed--Occupied Nest
50 Cliff Swallow
     Active nests under overpass
     ON Confirmed--Occupied Nest
1 Carolina Chickadee
     heard only
1 Tufted Titmouse
     heard only
2 Carolina Wren
4 Eastern Bluebird
     (2 adult males; 1 recently fledged juvenile (sex unknown); 1 adult female)
     Confirmed recently fledged young
4 American Robin
2 Northern Mockingbird
6 European Starling
18 Cedar Waxwing
1 Prothonotary Warbler
     heard only along creek east of overpass
1 Common Yellowthroat
   heard only
1 Yellow-breasted Chat
1 Eastern Towhee
3 Field Sparrow
2 Song Sparrow
4 Northern Cardinal
1 Indigo Bunting
1 Eastern Meadowlark
     heard only
5 Common Grackle
8 Brown-headed Cowbird
12 House Finch
2 American Goldfinch

Links and Resources:

Clayton-Bradley Academy
Waterford Press Pocket Guides--Tennessee Birds
KTOS--Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society
KTOS on Facebook
Discover Birds Program
Discover Birds Activity Book
Discover Birds Curriculum Guide
Discover Birds in the Tennessee Conservationist
eBird at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Tennessee Birds
Tennessee Watchable Wildlife--Birds
Cornell's free beginning birding app--Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Audubon Mobile Field Guides


  1. What a lovely way to get children interested in the birds. Wish there were more such activities all over the world.

    1. Thank you. That would be my wish as well! Vickie


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