Binoculars and guidebooks in hand, Lincoln Elementary students learn while raising money for birds May 25

Fourth graders spend the day searching for birds as part of the Great Wisconsin Birdathon

For immediate release:
May 24, 2016

Most of the students in Laurie Solchenberger’s 4th grade class at Lincoln Elementary School in Madison do not come from families that bird nor have they used binoculars before they set foot in her class.

But this week, her 9- and 10-year-old students celebrate the culmination of a year spent learning about their backyard birds by helping raise money for projects to conserve birds. The Lincoln Birders – 4th grade! are one of dozens of Wisconsin teams participating in the Great Wisconsin Birdathon.

A birdathon is like a walk-a-thon for birds. Participants generally collect pledges and donations for finding as many bird species as possible any day from April 15 – June 15 with a goal of raising money for the Wisconsin Bird Protection Fund and nine priority bird projects designated by a partnership that includes the Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.

For their birdathon on May 25, Solchenberger’s team of 12 to 16 students will walk through the neighborhood as a group with binoculars, notebooks and bird guides. They’ll tally the species they see, with a goal of identifying 30 bird species and raising $50 in pledges.

They already taught the 300 other students (and teachers!) at their school about backyard birds, how to use binoculars and how to collect data during a May 6 school-wide event.

“The Birdathon lets children meaningfully give back to their local and global community by leading the teaching for the day and by raising funds for local and international conservation projects.”

Solchenberger’s student birders have been preparing for their May 25 birdathon all year and are dedicated birders. Solchenberger uses neighborhood birds as a platform for teaching her students science, social studies, math, and literacy and helping connect them to the natural world.

The class engages in Cornell University’s “Project FeederWatch” citizen science project, with students identifying and counting the birds they see at feeders outside their classroom from November through April. They send their counts to Project FeederWatch, which provides scientists data that help them track broad-scale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. The class also reports its sightings on eBird, a popular web-based reporting platform.

Students use Peterson and Sibley guidebooks, bird posters, and the Cornell University All About Birds website to identify their most common feeder birds: house sparrows, house finches, goldfinches and mourning doves. From there, students begin to use body shape and field marks to identify birds on their own.

“Last year our exciting new bird was the great crested flycatcher! This year, a female rose-breasted grosbeak and a white-crowned sparrow, both of which students independently recognized as being a “new bird” and needed to look up to identify,” Solchenberger says.

In addition to collecting daily data and entering the data and filling the bird feeders, the students also have been learning from Madison Audubon Society education specialist Carolyn Byers and taking field trips to bird havens like Goose Pond. All year-long they’ve been contributing pennies to a jar and will give the contents as well to the Birdathon.

“Identifying birds and learning more about them is an easy and engaging way to get all students involved in learning complex topics,” she says. “Academically, students understand noticing our backyard “friends” and recording science data is valuable. Socially and emotionally, children use time at the window watching birds to calm down when stressed out, to take a break from hard work, and to talk about what they are seeing, which actively expands their vocabulary.”

As well, students’ year-long study of birds sparks a lasting enthusiasm for, and connection to, the natural world. “Students who move away from my classroom during the year, or who move on to middle school, often continue to send me emails about the birds they see,” she says. “In fact, students who often move frequently seem to find reassurance in seeing familiar “friends” (backyard birds) where-ever they go.”

The Birdathon is truly a wonderful way to end our school year, Solchenberger says. “My hope is that it empowers my students and connects them even further to nature. And on a larger scale, I hope the 300-plus students who participate in our schoolwide event gain an appreciation for how challenging life is for birds (or other wild animals), the impact humans have on our environment/habitats, and how interconnected all lives are.”

Donate to the Lincoln Birders, 4th grade! via their page on the Great Wisconsin Birdathon website.

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Photo credit: Lisa Gaumnitz

Diane Packett
Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin
[email protected]
920-219-2587 (cell)

Laurie Solchenberger
Lincoln Elementary School
608-204-4953 (classroom)