Michigan Kids Get Kirtland's Warbler Conservation Lesson
By Megan Cross
East Lansing Ecological Services Field Office
Last spring, the East Lansing Field Office piloted a program aimed at teaching northern Michigan elementary students about endangered species and conservation of the endangered Kirtland's warbler. This year, that initiative has expanded to include six different schools, 20 teachers and over 550 students.
Throughout the course of the semester, visiting biologists met with students in the classroom and led them on field trips to the warblers’ jack pine habitat, offering repeated exposure to key concepts such as habitat management, natural resource use, and helpful versus harmful effects of humans on the environment. Hands-on activities and collaborative learning were highlighted.
During the classroom visit, students engaged in an interactive presentation on bird identification, the jack pine ecosystem and management, and brown-headed cowbirds. They also participated in a game that simulates the relationship between Kirtland's warbler chick survival and cowbird nest parasitism.
On the field trips, students visited jack pine habitat and spent the day as wildlife biologists, searching for the Kirtland's warbler and documenting with cameras and on data sheets the various species they encountered. Students were able to integrate the information they had learned earlier in the year during the classroom visit with the experience of being in warbler habitat and searching for birds.
During the field trips, students also visited a cowbird trap and learned about the life cycle of a Kirtland's warbler, specifically as it relates to their migration and breeding, stopover and wintering habitat. New to the program this year were enough digital cameras and binoculars for each student to use, which helped them focus on the surrounding landscape throughout the day.
The second year of the East Lansing Field Office’s Kirtland's warbler outreach was very well received by students and teachers, and all of the schools expressed an interest in being involved in the program again next year. The continuation of this outreach has helped to solidify the relationship between the Service and northern Michigan youth through a recurring presence in the school system, and is a positive step towards strengthening awareness of modern day environmental challenges.