Birds in Your Community Scavenger Hunt

Birds at a feeder at the Los Alamos Nature Center. (Photo by Bob Walker)

Go outside and get to know the birds in your neighborhood! Can you find:

A Steller’s Jay eats a peanut. (Photo by Bob Walker)

Birds eating, drinking, and taking shelter

  • A bird eating seeds
  • A bird eating insects or worms
  • A bird drinking water
  • A bird hiding in a tree or a bush

A habitat has food, water, shelter, and space for animals. You can help create bird habitat near your house by providing a dish of water, or planting flowers with seeds that birds can eat.

Birds interacting with people

  • A bird near your house
  • A bird using man-made features (eating from a garden, resting on a telephone wire, drinking from a bird bath, etc.)
  • A bird helping you (pollinating flowers, eating insect pests, etc.)
  • A cultural representation of a bird (painting, sign, petroglyph, constellation, etc.)
Brown-headed Cowbirds enjoy water from the White Rock Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Photo by Bob Walker)

Birds can be helped and harmed by human behavior. Cats and window strikes kill lots of birds every year. You can help by keeping your cats inside, and by placing stickers or hanging strings on the outside of your windows to block reflections.

Birds of the Season

Watch for these birds running or hopping along the ground, looking for insects and worms. (Photo by Bob Walker)

These tiny, quick birds can be seen hovering near flowers or feeders. (Photo by Deborah Halter)

These thick-beaked birds tend to be seen in flocks. They often visit seed feeders. (Photo by Bob Walker)

Look for a flash of yellow hopping from branch to branch, as this bird looks for insects. (Photo by Bob Walker)

Some birds live in your neighborhood year-round, and others migrate, or move from place to place with the seasons. As the season advances, keep looking for these birds. Which birds seem to stick around, and which ones do you see more or less as the seasons change? Some of our birds spend their winters in Mexico or Central America and return to breed in summer, some winter here and fly north to breed, and some use our area as a rest stop during the migration season on their way further north or south!

Tell us what birds you saw in your neighborhood by sending us an email to takeitoutside@peecnature.org! Ready for more? Try looking for the 20 most common birds of Los Alamos! If you see a bird outside, PEEC’s bird guide can help you identify it.

Build and Band a Bird!

Part 1: Build Your Bird

Our apple bird is stuck together with matchsticks and has band #2048.

You’ll need:

  • 1 fruit or vegetable
  • 2 sticks/forks
  • Other items to decorate your bird
  • A strip of paper, scissors, and tape

Directions:

  1. Start with a fruit or vegetable of your choice. You can also use a ball of mud.
  2. Insert two sticks, forks, or other objects to be the legs.
  3. Attach a head, wings, and a tail to your bird. Be creative!
  4. Cut a strip of paper to fit around the bird’s leg. Write a number on the band and tape it around a leg.

Part 2: Make a Simple Balance Scale

Try counterbalancing your bird with pennies or other small objects!

You’ll need:

  • A clothes hanger with notches
  • 2 recycled containers of similar size
  • A hole punch or something sharp
  • String and scissors
  • Small objects: pennies, dried beans, pebbles, etc.

Directions:

  1. Use the hole punch to make holes on either side of the recycled containers, or ask an adult to help you use something sharp to poke holes.
  2. Cut two equal lengths of string, and tie them through the holes. Allow enough string for a nice handle.
  3. Hang the containers on either side of the clothes hanger, and hang the balance scale from a doorknob or another bar or hook in your home.
  4. Place your bird gently in one of the buckets. What happens? Try to balance it by putting small objects in the other bucket! How many pennies/beans/pebbles does it take to balance your bird?

Challenge: Find the Mass of Your Bird in Grams!

Our bird has a mass of about 250 grams, the same as 250 ml of water or 100 pennies!

You’ll need:

  • Water
  • Measuring cup

Directions:

  1. Place your bird gently in one of the buckets. Slowly pour water into the other bucket until it exactly balances your bird.
  2. Pour the water into a measuring cup and read off the volume in milliliters (ml). Because each milliliter of water has a mass of 1 gram, this volume reading equals the mass of your bird in grams!
  3. Report your data on our online bird banding data sheet! See how the mass of your bird compares to other people’s birds, and to real birds in the wild! Report your data using the form below, then click here to see everyone’s results!

We’d love to see pictures of your birds! Please send them to educator@peecnature.org.

Did you know …

An average Wilson’s Warbler has a mass of about 8 grams, about the same as three pennies! How many Wilson’s Warblers would it take to balance the bird you made? Read more here about the adaptations that allow birds to fly.

Week 2, Day 2: Sounds and Smells of Spring

A purple crocus flower in the Los Alamos Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Garden. (Photo by Bob Walker)

Today’s Take It Outside post is all about the sounds and smells of springtime. Explore the season using your five senses today!

Upcoming Event:

Learn about Jean Dewart’s trip to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada — the Polar Bear Capital of the World — tonight! This livestreamed presentation will start at 7 PM. Learn more about this talk and how to watch it here.

Blog Post:

Eleven-year-old Aditya Viswanathan shares the wonder of discovering nature in the sensory garden that his grandmother planted for him when he was in kindergarten. Read his blog post here.

Craft:

Make a Spring Sensory Soup today! Have fun experiencing the texture and smells of spring by making spring “soup”. Start by collecting all the different signs of spring around you and then use any containers, ladles, spoons, or strainers to mix your soup. Be creative and turn yours into a magic potion!

Additional instructions here.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Take a walk in your neighborhood or on a favorite trail. Describe what you see, hear, smell and feel. Try to think of adjectives to describe what you notice, or say what they remind you of. For instance, a leaf might feel “fuzzy” or “like a soft blanket.” The bird sound is “screechy” or “sounds like an angry cat.” If you can, find a quiet spot, lie on the ground, and listen for at least 10 seconds. What sounds do you hear?

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Members of our Forest Explorers club journal in Acid Canyon. (Photo by Denise Matthews)

Find a “sit spot,” a quiet spot in a favorite natural area, and start paying attention to your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, and feel? PEEC’s Gentle Walkers report that it takes about 10 minutes for the birds to get used to your presence and start carrying out their normal behavior again.

Bring your nature journal and record your observations. The point isn’t to make a beautiful drawing, but to focus on your observations. The longer you sit, the more you notice! It’s especially worthwhile to come back to this spot once a week and observe how it changes through the season. Let us know what you noticed.

Other Resources:

  • Visit a garden in your neighborhood, like the Los Alamos Master Gardeners’ Demo Garden in downtown Los Alamos for inspiration on how to incorporate the five senses into your garden.
  • Fascinated by those bird sounds you heard outside? Check out xeno-canto, a database of bird sounds from around the world. Search by bird type or region, or try your luck with the random bird sound feature.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what signs of spring you notice this week! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Join us tomorrow to learn about early-blooming wildflowers!

Week 2, Day 1: Trees Budding

These lambs at Los Luceros Historic Site want to say “Happy spring!” Learn more about Los Luceros here.

Welcome to week two of Take It Outside! This week, we are exploring the signs of spring. We are starting off the week by taking a closer look at budding trees.

We loved hearing your stories during week one! Check out some of our favorite quotes, pictures, and drawings from the week. Please continue to share your experiences with us!

If you haven’t already, please share your feedback on week one of Take It Outside by filling out this evaluation form.

Upcoming Event:

Join Jean Dewart of the Los Alamos Mountaineers tomorrow (Tuesday, March 24) at 7 PM for a live streamed talk! She will be speaking about visiting Churchill, Manitoba, Canada — the “Polar Bear Capital of the World.” Hear about highlights from her trip, see her polar bear pictures, and more at this virtual event. Learn more and find out how to join the livestream here.

Blog Post:

Arborist Chris Michel shares what’s going on with fruit trees as winter turns to spring. Learn why fruit trees flower in today’s blog post.

Craft:

Trees are beginning to blossom at Los Luceros Historic Site! (Photo by Carly Stewart)

Make a nature journal to keep track of the changes you see throughout the spring. This is a great way to combine art, science, and written language. You can use an old or new notebook, or pieces of looseleaf paper folded in half and bound with string. Make a sturdy cover and decorate it with a collage of cut-out pictures from magazines, rubbings of leaves or other natural items, or your own drawings.

Here are some other journal ideas to experiment with:

A multimedia paper bag journal appropriate for kids who like to collect, and even for the youngest children. Instead of the four seasons, make a page for each day of this week of Take It Outside.

For adults and students, check out some pages from the nature journals of John Muir Laws. Notice how he combines sketches and notes, and includes questions and connections to extend his observations.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Go outside for a Signs of Spring scavenger hunt. Here’s our version. Make your own scavenger hunt using our ideas or yours, and see how many of these signs you can find today. Draw your favorite item in your nature journal.

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Find a tree or bush in your neighborhood and monitor how it changes every day this week. Take photos or sketch its branches or leaves every day, and note what wildlife visits it. Start a nature journal to record your observations, and share your journaling tips with us.

Other Resources:

  • John Muir Laws has made his book, How to Teach Nature Journaling, available as a free download to support teachers and parents during the COVID-19 closures.
  • Are you starting to think about your garden as spring begins? Check out the Los Alamos Cooperative Extension Service page for lots of helpful hints about gardening in our climate. Their office is still answering questions by phone at (505) 662-2656 or by email at valdez@nmsu.edu.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what signs of spring you notice this week! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Join us tomorrow to explore the sounds and smells of spring!

Take It Outside Week One Highlights

Thanks to everyone that followed along for week one of Take It Outside! We hope you enjoyed learning more about our feathered friends and will have fun exploring signs of spring in week two.

We wanted to share some of our favorite stories, drawings, and photos that our community shared with us this week. We’d love to hear more from you, so please keep sharing your experiences with PEEC by filling out the Google Form at the end of our daily posts, emailing takeitoutside@peecnature.org, or by tagging us on Facebook or Instagram.

Axel N. drew this picture of a Spotted Towhee after learning to identify these birds this week!


“We loved building a nest and talking about how our yard could better support birds. We got our hummingbird feeder out and decided we should make a bird seed feeder since our yard lacks plants.”
— A family after exploring the resources for wildlife in their backyard


Ellen S. shared her daughter’s birding checklist with us on Facebook after our Common Birds of Los Alamos post.


Jonathan C.’s cat, Chile, really enjoyed watching Bob Walker’s livestream last Wednesday morning!


“We had fun looking for a Spotted Towhee these past 3 days. We found it tricky to find one. We see a lot of finches at our feeder, but not many towhees. We were out on a family walk today and spotted one in a short tree! My 3 year-old was excited and commented that it was very colorful and dotty. He’s been calling them Tow Tows.”
— A story from a mom after learning to identify more of our local birds


Denise and Jasper M. had fun building a nest in their backyard, complete with mud ball eggs!

Why Are Birds Worth Protecting?

Male Western Bluebird. In recent decades, their populations have declined over much of their range. (Photo by Bob Walker)

By Bob Loy

Some of you listened with interest to Bob Walker’s live broadcast from the wildlife observation room at the Los Alamos Nature Center earlier this week. Bob briefly discussed some of the ongoing threats to birds (outdoor cats, window strikes, habitat loss, etc.) and a recent publication in Science which estimated the loss of nearly 3 billion birds in North America in the last 50 years. This equates to a net loss of about 29 percent of the breeding bird population. Much of the data used to reach this conclusion came from everyday community scientists like Bob Walker and other PEEC volunteers, who participate in events like the North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

The best way to reverse this trend is through education and that is why I believe PEEC plays such a crucial role in our community’s future. My generation failed, so we need to do a better job of getting today’s youth connected to nature.

That is why I would like to remind everyone of a few of the reasons why protecting birds matters:

  • Important Pollinators: Birds are very important pollinators of wildflowers throughout the world. In the continental United States, hummingbirds are a key part of wildflower pollination.
  • Pest Control: Birds provide valuable ecosystem services in defending crops, such as grapes and coffee, from insects.
  • Disease Control: As discussed earlier this week, by consuming the carcasses of diseased animals, Turkey Vultures help prevent the spread of life-threatening diseases such as cholera, rabies, and anthrax among animals and humans.
  • Seed Dispersal: Some plants need their seeds to pass through the digestive tract of a bird to soften the coats of a seed to help the seed germinate. A great portion of Los Alamos County and the Pajarito Plateau consists of pinyon–juniper woodland. Pinyons and junipers rely heavily on birds for seed distribution, a dependence that makes the pinyon- juniper woodland unique.
  • Indicator Species: An indicator species is one whose status provides information on the overall condition of the ecosystem and of other species in that ecosystem. We learned on Friday that because American Robins frequently eat from lawns, changes to their populations can be an indicator for the overuse of chemicals in a community.
  • Cultural Significance: Bird symbolism is found across all cultures and dates to the most ancient of civilizations. Birds serve as national symbols and are seen in so many aspects of art, mythology, and religion all around the world.

Explore a few more reasons why protecting birds is important here.

A male Evening Grosbeak at the nature center. These birds could lose 78% of their summer habitat in New Mexico if the climate warms by 3 degrees Celsius. (Photo by Bob Walker)

What can you do to protect birds? I’m so glad you asked. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology lists the following seven simple actions that you can take today to protect birds:

  1. Make windows safe
  2. Keep cats indoors
  3. Reduce your lawn, plant native species
  4. Avoid pesticides
  5. Drink shade-grown coffee
  6. Use less plastic 
  7. Watch birds, and share what you see

Visit this webpage to learn more about why each of these steps matter and how you can practice them in your own home.

Learn more about the #BringBirdsBack campaign here and explore Audubon’s Survival by Degrees project here to see how climate change could impact birds in your area.