Why start a bird club?
Get your students interested in science: form a bird club at your school. These clubs engage kids in science by applying concepts learned in class to the outdoors. Members watch and feed birds, study bird biology, and improve habitat. They also reap the benefits of outdoor time. With a bird club, you can spark curiosity about nature, inspire a passion for scientific investigation, or simply introduce a lifelong hobby.
Don’t worry if you’re not a seasoned birder. You can learn with the rest of the club! Knowing how to find answers is more beneficial to students than being able to answer every question. This inquiry-based learning allows students to explore, discover and find the answers themselves.
Planning for Success
First, consider your goals for the club and how you might achieve them. What activities will you do? What are your central themes? What will members learn? For example, your club might wish to focus on activities like:
- Citizen science
- Improving your schoolyard habitat
- Bird biology
- Practicing birding
- Art, sketching, nature journaling
- Field trips
Set goals to build interest. Our K-12 Education Resident Teacher Adviser, Barbara Jacobs-Smith, has advice for teachers just starting out:
“Make sure that the kids are actively involved in the club from the beginning. Let them give it a snappy title. Include kids when establishing the initial goals, rules, and expectations of the club. What do the students want to learn? What would they like to do? Establish clear expectations and consequences for the students involved that comply with school rules and student interest.”
Meeting Challenges Head-on
One of the biggest challenges instructors face when forming their bird club is finding the funds. You don’t need to have deep pockets to start a successful club. Donations are a great way to get your club off the ground. Parent groups, local stores, and supply vendors are often willing to provide donations of materials (unsellable wood or feed), funding, or in-person assistance.
For instance, using salvaged materials and donations, Phil Khaler of Oregon constructed a sheltered area, bird-blind, where up to 30 students can observe their feeder without disturbing birds. His students have been collecting eBird data for twenty years. They’ve even done scientific reports using their observations at this very spot.
Grants and partnerships are other ways to get support. Here are some grant opportunities we recommend.
Not all activities even need money. You can go on bird walks or watch birds from a window. You don’t need to have binoculars and field guides for everyone in your club. Your school or public library may have some field guides you can borrow. If you have access to technology, look into downloading a birding app, like Merlin Bird ID, that the entire club can use. Establish a method of sharing materials that works for your group.
If your options outside are limited, consider doing some indoor activities like hatching chicken eggs or dissecting owl pellets, feathers, or pigeons. Members can do bird-related art projects or make homemade bird feeders from everyday materials.
It may seem more difficult to get older students excited about birds, but Gilroy High School teacher Jeff Manker disagrees:
“Young people are very anxious about the future of the planet, but don’t see much of a way to make a difference. I show them that their contributions to Citizen Science are a way to start that process. I link the birding we are doing, especially absence of species… [as] key indicators of climate change… They take great pride and satisfaction in adding pieces of the puzzle if they think it reveals some information that is useful.”
Jeff worked with his principal, school board, and even the University of California to develop a year-long high school ornithology class where his students receive college credit. Reaching out to sponsors and local agencies, Jeff acquired funds and materials to get his class running. Since no high-school level ornithology textbook exists, Jeff often used K-12 Education lessons and other Cornell Lab resources to teach his students.
Schoolyard bird habitats introduce students to scientific awareness and civic engagement. They can be watched from indoors and provide a valuable creative outlet. Janet Bass from Twelve Bridges Elementary School started her bird club by hanging a feeder outside her classroom window. The next year, Janet added a bluebird box. The club began to evolve organically as curious students built more feeders and improved the schoolyard habitat. Kids began meeting before school and during recess to learn about birds, maintain the feeders, and make posters. Once a year, they take a hike to a local pond and have guests like the California Waterfowl Association and the Falconry Club visit to their school.
K-12 Education’s Recommendations
- Reach out to local businesses and community members for possible donations and funding.
- Apply for grants.
- Get reference guides from your school/local library and online.
- If your school has a garden, grow bird-friendly plants.
- Other teachers and classes might want to contribute. Your school’s woodshop can build bird houses or feeders; the art program can create bird-themed art.
- Add a bird habitat in the schoolyard. Some of our educators have great success turning their schoolyard into bird-friendly paradises!
Important Steps Before Starting
- Be sure to check liability and supervision rules about having kids at school outside of classroom hours.
- If you plan to bring in outsiders like local bird experts or Audubon members, make sure you know the process and permissions required by your school or district.
Helpful resources & activities
- Our friends at Pennington Wild Birds have collaborated with us to develop the Feathered Friends curriculum, a free download resource to engage students and families in fun bird-themed activities.
- Our Explorer’s Guidebook is free lesson guide for teaching middle to high-school students about bird diversity, habitat and observation.
- Attract breeding birds to your schoolyard by installing nest boxes.
- Inside Birding is a wonderful series for beginners. These fun videos teach the basics of birding and offer helpful tips on identification by size and shape, behavior, color patterns, and habitat.
- All About Birds is an online field guide to birds of North America. It is the go-to reference for many birders wanting to know more about the species they encounter.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology BirdCams are a great resource to give your club members an up-close look at birds.
- eBird is a terrific world-wide citizen-science project and bird database sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- Merlin Bird ID is an application to help easily identify that mystery bird.
- For more lessons and resources check out our K-12 Education site.
Good luck forming your bird club. You can do it!