CHAPEL HILL — With a stuffed toy bird in one hand, Elisha Taylor made her way across the room while children and adults alike scrambled to view its distinct field marks.
Is the beak short and stubby or long and with a sharp point? What does its feet and legs look like? And was that red patch behind its eye a stripe or dot?
Identifying field marks was one of the key takeaways during the Winter Backyard Birds for Kids event at the North Carolina Botanical Garden last month.
“The goal of the youth and family programs here is to connect kids and families to plants and nature,” said Taylor, the youth and family educator manager. “So getting them comfortable with being outdoors and introducing them to plants and wildlife in their own backyard. Things native to N.C. is really important to us. So hopefully they will walk away with better observation skills and had a great time (and) really enjoyed being outdoors. And promoting science learning. That's what we are really all about.”
The group of children, with accompanying parents and grandparents, learned about different distinguishing field marks and used examples like the toy birds and printout of birds on walls before they were given binoculars to try and find real-life examples of native winter birds at the garden's bird feeding station and bird blind. At the end, they were able to make two birdfeeders from recyclable materials.
Paul Dayton brought his 7-year-old son Alex — who was rightfully more interested in making homemade bird feeders than being interviewed — to the event because Alex enjoys watching birds at their bird feeder at home.
“I think it's good for kids to learn about the natural world to learn more about the environment,” Dayon said.
Haung-He Yang brought his 8-year-old daughter Olivia because they spend time listening and spotting birds at their home, but can't always identify them. Hadley DeMarco, 6, came along with her grandpa Jeremy Wise, and said her favorite bird was the cardinal and she learned that the female cardinals are brownish while it's the males who are bright red.
“There's a really important connection between native plant and native habitats and birds, so (not just) providing the food and cover they need to survive, but we've also seen sharp declines in bird populations in North Carolina and worldwide and a lot of that is habitat loss. So educating people about birds so they fall in love with them and value them, and hopefully folks will plant native plant gardens. It's building awareness about the problem and giving them the tools to do something about that.”
The construction bird feeding station and blind, with financial assistance from the New Hope Audubon Society, was actually a final project for Taylor completing her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program.
Jerilyn Maclean brought her four daughters Lauren and Madelenie, both 14, Catherine, 11, and Caroline, 8, to the class and said she's been bringing her daughters to the garden for years.
“I enroll them in as many classes here as possible because I think it's very important for kids to learn about our environment and natural world because we are all interconnected,” she said.
Nature and nature conservation has been a particular interest to her and her sisters, Lauren said, adding the actual bird watching part was her favorite because it shows “how diverse even just the small category of the animal kingdom can be.”
“Native nature is extremely diverse and should be protected and humans should do more to protect native species,” she said.