Enjoying wildlife should not be exclusive to those have devoted their careers to the fields of biology and conservation. After all, who is going to make sure wildlife remains alive if we do not transfer that knowledge to the future generation? It is for such reasons that environmental education plays a crucial role in the field of conservation. The US Fish and Wildlife Service promotes the implementation of a program called “Shorebird Sister School Program (SSSP).” This environmental education program brings the understanding of shorebird ecology and conservation to the classroom.
This year as an EFTA intern I was able to be part of SSSP, and it proved to be an experience that is going to be worthy of remembrance through the development of my career. One of the biggest components of the program were the outdoor activities that successfully integrate the curricula into the schools we visited in the form of in-class visits and a field trip. The field trip activities consisted of teaching the children about the habitat where shorebirds can be found, the types of behaviors one can expect when watching these animals, their food and where they can find it, and also the obstacles they encounter during migration. The best way to show students the threats that shorebirds encounter during their migration is by providing them the opportunity to be shorebirds for a day and survive a “migration obstacle course.” In this obstacle course the kids pretended to be shorebirds on their migration route. We picked volunteers from the group to be cats, dogs, and falcons and play the role of predators. A blue sailcloth symbolized a polluted lake and hula-hoops within the lake were the only safe spots where the birds could step. Survivors of the polluted lake could only briefly see themselves lucky, because a set of ropes symbolizing power lines followed after the lake. The children have to either jump over the ropes or crawl under them without touching them in order to advance to the next stage. The final stage symbolizes an open prairie infested with predators and the shorebirds can only survive and make it to the final line if they do not get caught by the predators. It was interesting to observe the way the kids reorganized their strategy in order to survive. During the first two attempts about 70% of them did not make it to the final line. It did not take long for them to realize that real shorebirds employ a strategy commonly known as safety in numbers, and they quickly started using it. Larger groups of students “flew”, and more were able to run to the finish line, as the kids pretending to be predators were distracted trying to catch other students.
In addition to the migration obstacle game, we taught the students how to use binoculars and took them on a bird watch around the Yaquina Head Estuary. This was the first bird-watching experience for most of the kids, and I was quite content with how receptive they were. The final activity of the day was to find what shorebirds eat by digging in the mud and identifying invertebrates.