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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Third Graders Enjoy Kirtland's Warbler Education

Region 3, June 1, 2012
Service biologist Dan Elbert teaches third graders at an elementary school in northern Michigan how to identify a Kirtland's warbler.
Service biologist Dan Elbert teaches third graders at an elementary school in northern Michigan how to identify a Kirtland's warbler. - Photo Credit: n/a
Students play the role of a Kirtland’s warbler, attending to a nest, during a mock breeding season.  Students playing the role of brown-headed cowbirds will later try to parasitize these warbler nests.
Students play the role of a Kirtland’s warbler, attending to a nest, during a mock breeding season. Students playing the role of brown-headed cowbirds will later try to parasitize these warbler nests. - Photo Credit: n/a
Service biologist Chris Mensing shows third graders a cowbird and explains how the Service protects Kirtland’s warblers from nest parasitism.
Service biologist Chris Mensing shows third graders a cowbird and explains how the Service protects Kirtland’s warblers from nest parasitism. - Photo Credit: n/a
Service biologist Dan Elbert discusses the challenges of conserving a fire-dependent species like the Kirtland’s warbler, while leading a field trip for third graders who live amongst the jack pine forest of northern Lower Michigan.
Service biologist Dan Elbert discusses the challenges of conserving a fire-dependent species like the Kirtland’s warbler, while leading a field trip for third graders who live amongst the jack pine forest of northern Lower Michigan. - Photo Credit: n/a

In late May and early June of 2012, biologists from the East Lansing Field Office travelled to elementary schools in northern Lower Michigan, to educate approximately 365 third graders about the Kirtland’s warbler. Biologists visited classrooms to introduce students to endangered species and the plight of the Kirtland’s warbler through an interactive presentation and educational game. Students learned to identify a Kirtland’s warbler by sight and sound, about the special type of jack pine habitat the species needs during the breeding season, and how the surrounding area, where the students live, is also used by hundreds of Kirtland’s warblers. Biologists also introduced students to the brown-headed cowbird, the concept of nest parasitism, and the impacts it has on the Kirtland’s warbler with a cowbird game, in which students played the roles of warbler or cowbird during a mock breeding season.

 

Biologists later took students on walking field trips of nearby jack pine forest stands in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the Kirtland’s warbler nesting habitat and management efforts that benefit the species. Students practiced identifying Kirtland’s warblers and other birds by sight and sound, while using binoculars and spotting scopes. During these field trips, biologists explained why large stands of young jack pine forest are important to Kirtland’s warblers and why fire is critical to the regeneration of this habitat type. Students were then asked to discuss some of the challenges that humans experience living in a fire-prone environment, and learned how land managers are able to artificially regenerate Kirtland’s warbler nesting habitat in the absence of wild fires, so that humans and Kirtland’s warblers can successfully co-exist.

After a tour of the nesting habitat, students learned about migration and the Kirtland’s warbler annual cycle through a game in which students had to “migrate” to their winter grounds and back. In addition to avoiding the common hazards of migration, such as poor weather and predation, students also had to respond to human-caused changes to habitat (both positive and negative). In this way, students were better able to understand how the breeding, migratory and winter phases of the species were connected, and how events happening in one place at one time were linked across the species’ annual cycle, to the survival of individual birds, and to population trends.

The education program will continue on an annual basis, in order to build a more educated public, whose lives intersect most directly with that of the Kirtland’s warbler.

Contact Info: Daniel Elbert, 517-351-7261, daniel_elbert@fws.gov