Village Charter School

Birding continues at the Village Charter School on Orchard his year.  Sixth grade is making a study of birds in science this year, and middle math students take daily birding breaks.  House finches, lesser gold finches, sparrows, and doves make living in our classroom a delight, and binoculars are ready to be pulled out in seconds.  I love this way to being with kids; oh and we do learn math too.  

What's New

Digging into e-bird

May 8, 2016 - 5:37pm -- helenfisher

Seventh graders at the Village recently explored the amazing maps and graphs of   Each student was trying to discover the movement patterns of an Idaho bird, using observation data.  We discovered a treasure trove of information to dig into, barely touching the possibilities.  Our main explorations utilized Species Maps and Line Graphs.  Students learned what e-map means by "frequency" and "abundance".  With the species maps, students could look for seasonal differences in frequency data, inferring long distance migration patterns when high frequency patterns moved from regions in Central and South America to regions in North America, including Canada and Alaska.  We asked more particular questions with the Line Graphs.  We could search up to 5 birds at a time in this tool, then choose a state, and narrow down to county level.  We wanted to know how Ada County birds moved between seasons in Ada County.  Using these tools we discovered some species were frequently observed by birders, but only in small abundance, or low numbers.  Although American robin seemed like a ubiquitous U.S. bird when looking at species maps, we found that the peak counts (abundance) of birds in Ada county were in the winter months, and the birds all but left the valley after breeding, for the month of August.  We inferred a short-distance migration to the higher elevations where berries were ripening, before robins returned again in fall. Students were challenged to ask deeper questions with these tools, then to try to write their own paragraph, describing the migration patterns of their bird.  This was an engaging activity, coupled with a paper collage project for service learning.  Thanks Heidi for challenging us to explore this database!

Tracking the Long-Billed Curlew Migration

April 6, 2016 - 6:19pm -- helenfisher

Thanks to Heidi Ware's last email, seventh grade is relieved to know that some of our eastern Idaho, Wyoming and Montana bound curlews are not dead in Mexico as we thought.  Zooming in to the map closely we found that E.T. and Goldi are happily moving around wetlands in Baja California, AJ, Lady and Zarapita are over the border and moving well into Arizona, although not yet at their high elevation breeding grounds.  Today the class investigated the different sites and responded to Heidi's question, "What is different about the eastern breeding grounds compared to the ACEC, near Emmett.  Some responses:


"The birds who spend their breeding and summers here have made their way home because it is warm.  The Wyoming and Montana birds aren't home yet because their home is cold.  A few days ago my friend was in Wyoming, and while I was here (Boise), outside, I was hot and she was watching snow fall out of the window.  Curlews eat bugs; bugs come out in 60 degree F weather, but not in the snow.  Emmett (ACEC) is about 2,500 feet elevation above sea level, but the Montana and Wyoming breeding grounds are nearly 7000 feet elevation."

Ainsley:  "I've noticed , based on the weather forcast for yesterday, that Montana is quite chilly right now.  There was even a chance of snow!  Spring hasn't exactly started in Wyoming yet.  So I can infer that the curlews from Montana and Wyoming haven't left Mexico and Arizona because it's not warm enough to find food once they get to their north destination.  Today (Wed 4/6), some birds are moving north (finally), like Dave, A.J. and Zarapita, and Goldie were all still in Mexico and Arizona.  Today Mexicali, Mexico, had a high temperature of  93F, but in Montana near the MPG Ranch the high temperature was 47 F , and in Wyoming and eastern Idaho, it was cold, windy and snowfalls predicted with high temperatures of 46F.  Emmett Idaho, where our local curlews are already home and "flirting", it was 58 to 60 degrees F and getting warmer.  Montana's and Wyomings breeding grounds are 3,365 feet to 7,087 feet elevation compared to Emmett's 2431ft.  Since MT and WY are so much high up, then it will take longer for everything to melt and the breeding grounds to be ready" 

House Sparrow Song

January 29, 2016 - 9:52am -- helenfisher

On Thursday afternoon as the rain clouds rolled in, The Village Middle School Birding Club explored our Orchard/Latah neighborhood.  We followed kid-pathways along dry branches of the Ridenbough canal.  Binoculars in hand, we also used our ears to seek out the birds.  Well, there was a lot of kid-chatter too, but the listening explorers hushed the chatter when bird sounds alerted us.  Students reported that they really did try to listen.  Small flocks of lesser goldfinch called as they moved through the branches of elm and locust trees.  We watched them move quickly from branch to branch.  But the soundscape of the high trees was clearly dominated by the song of house finch.  One red bibbed male perched high in the trees singing continuously for many minutes.  He or another competing housefinch was still in the same area singing when we walked back 30 minutes later.  Busy dark-eyed juncos flicked flashes of white tail feathers through the hedge rows of shorter shrubs.  We did not hear their chipping calls, probably because the Explorers  are not yet quiet enough.  We watched goldfinch drinking from small leafy puddles in the bottom of the canal.  In one shadowy section of the canal, about 20 mallard ducks were quietly resting in a large puddle.  We watched through binoculars, but did not disturb their quiet.  There were many more males than females, maybe a ratio 15 to 5.  

Merlin's Lunch

January 23, 2016 - 10:27am -- helenfisher

What makes fifteen finches suddenly take flight from the feeder?  Sudden flight is a common event and not because of children.  Back in December a Coopers Hawk perched in a small tree 10 feet from the feeders, making us fairly sure that predators scare away the nervous finches.  Yesterday, the TVCS Bird Club  watched a culprit in action!  On a telephone pole within 60 feet of our classroom feeders was a falcon-like bird, eating a bird!  Through binoculars, we could see the headless meal, but without binoculars, we saw light-colored flight feathers or perhaps tail feathers, fluttering down from the pole, and stringy sinews that the bird pulled from its prey.  We were surprised at how long the predator took to thoroughly complete its meal.  The whole process was at least 20 minutes.  The predator was so intent on eating that we were able to observe from school, then walk around the block and observe with a different background sky.  

The predator was a small dark falconlike bird.  Against a bright grey sky it was difficult to see characteristic colors and patterns of the American Kestrel, but they did not seem to be there.  Careful binocular observations by first-time fifth grade birders noted that the back of the bird was a solid dark color, but that there were white and brown bars or dots on the breast feathers near the legs.  One observer noted faint light bars on the tail feathers.  Sorting through suggestions that the bird was an American kestrel, a peregrine falcon, and a merlin, our novice group decided that we were looking at a small merlin (Falco columbarius).  If this was a merlin, then we can expect that it caught its meal on wing, not at the feeder.  But wouldn't you be scared if you saw the shadow of a vicious killer fly above you!  We think the birds at the feeders look skywards constantly.


What we've seen this school year


Species Count Disposition Date and Time Link

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
5 Ground 02/27/2017 - 3:30pm Details

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
2 Ground 02/27/2017 - 3:30pm Details

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)
2 Feeder 02/16/2017 - 10:00am Details

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
3 Feeder 02/16/2017 - 10:00am Details

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
3 Ground 02/16/2017 - 10:00am Details

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
1 Ground 02/16/2017 - 10:00am Details

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
7 Ground 02/16/2017 - 10:00am Details

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
1 Perched 02/16/2017 - 10:00am Details

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)
5 Perched 02/15/2017 - 11:15am Details

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
4 Perched 02/15/2017 - 11:15am Details


Helen Fisher, Grade 5
Boise, Idaho USA


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