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If You Build It, They Will Nest

Students Construct Birdhouses for Outdoor Learning Lab

Purple martins like to live in “huge condominiums” and downy woodpeckers prefer their birdhouses to be 6 to 20 feet off the ground.

Those are just a couple details Countryside Elementary Schools fourth-graders kept in mind recently as they built 18 bird and bat houses. The wooden habitats will soon dot the wilderness outside the Byron Center Public Schools building, inviting many species of feathered friends to nest.

Creating houses perfect for feathered friends required more than just winging it. The 90 students have worked in groups to research native birds and bats. They’ve walked the new nature trail outside the school, observed and studied how to build structures that best accommodate birds’ whims including what colors they are attracted to, if they like comfy shreddings and whether they like to live in tall trees or open spaces.

“There’s lots we learned. We learned where the birds live, what they like to eat and what will eat them,” said student Mason Peters. “I really want to see the downy woodpecker. It would be cool to see a bat in a bat house.”

Morgan Kaiser uses a nail gun with volunteer Jason Curtis
Morgan Kaiser uses a nail gun with volunteer Jason Curtis

For the Birds

With help from volunteers, students measured, nailed and glued recycled wood to construct the houses, following scale drawings they also drew. The birdhouses are designed for martins, bats, wrens, chickadees, woodpeckers, bluebirds, owls, swallows and wood ducks.

Countryside has the perfect setting for students to discover nature. Staff built a one-mile wildlife trail on the land last year where students can study what lives, grows and blossoms in the meandering creek, woods and apple orchard. It is part of an outdoor learning lab, of which the birdhouses will be a part.

The bird project will also include a display case with examples of houses, posters of birds and facts about adaptation and migration patterns.“ In their birdhouse, downy woodpeckers like to have wood shreddings because that attracts them,” explained student Josh Thull.

“Kids are seeing how what they do in school relates to real life,” said fourth-grade teacher Allison Abbott, as birdhouses took shape in the science lab.

“We’re trying to make the wetlands more interactive,” added teacher Dan Volkers.

Teachers and students use the land for all subjects and can observe pheasants, deer and foxes. They study stream erosion, wetlands and plant identification .

Also planned are raised garden beds, an outdoor pavilion and a greenhouse.

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SNN article on Nature Trail

Students work on a purple martin house
Students work on a purple martin house

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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