By Denise Coffey
Hartford Courant | Nov 04, 2019

Forty third grade students from Mahan Elementary School, in Norwich, were treated to a bird ecology field trip program at the Audubon Center in Pomfret, on Oct. 25.

The program was sponsored by the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut. It’s one thing to learn about birds from a textbook and in a classroom lesson. It’s another thing to learn about birds which you can see mounted and on display.

With their feathers spread out perfectly, students can see the differences in the primary and secondary feathers. They can examine the length of a bird’s beak and the size of its feet. They can spend several minutes studying the taxonomy of a bird they’ve never been able to get close to. It makes the wonder and variety of New England’s native birds accessible.

But when kids get to see wild birds live and up close, it can be a magical experience. That’s what the Mahan students experienced in Pomfret.

The science in nature program is an effort to engage youth in environmental education and activities so they will become good stewards of the environment. This is the second year of a two-year grant from the CFECT to CT Audubon.

The bird ecology program has a partial classroom lesson, albeit with examples of woodpeckers, red tailed hawks, saw whet owls, and other birds on permanent display. So when CT Audubon Northeast Director Sarah Heminway started asking questions about birds and how they have adapted to their environments, the students could look around at the displays in the center’s great room.

What bird could hover in the air over its prey? What kind of food might a bird with a thick beak eat? Why might a bird have a v-shaped tail? Despite their size, how do turkeys escape their predators?

The students completed a workbook on bird identification in small groups, then went out into the fields and trails of the Bafflin Sanctuary. The highlight was seeing wild birds banded by trained Audubon volunteers. A mist net had been set up and the birds caught in it, removed, and banded.

Volunteer Hailey McKeever brought around a purple finch so students could see it up close. McKeever held the bird’s legs carefully between her fingers. The bird might have been unhappy, but it seemed calm as she walked around a group of 10 students sitting outside the center. They were able to get a good look at its triangular bill, its wing bars, the red on its crown and breast.

The students were also able to watch the volunteers weigh, measure, and band the birds. Sanctuary Manager Andy Rzeznikiewicz took the opportunity to ask students about each bird they banded. He asked about the finch’s beak, the female cardinal’s color. The topic was adaptation, so the students were asked why and how birds might adapt to changing climate conditions and habitat loss.

Teacher Matthew Brunetti said students learn about birds and their habitats in different climate zones in the third grade. The field trip tied in neatly with the school curriculum. “We study animal adaptation, and how they survive in different parts of the country,” he said. The difference was the kids were outside, in the natural elements of the animals they were studying. And Brunetti said he would refer back to the experience all year long.

Edith Tudisco, a volunteer with Big Brother/Big Sister, accompanied the Mahan Elementary students.
“Kids need to get outside,” she said. “They spend so much time inside, on their screens, on their computers. They need to see what the world is really like. Who knows where this might lead them?”