The Thing With Feathers

This summer 826DC students learned all about our feathered friends who inhabit the District, as well as those who pass through during migration. They studied: bird evolutionary origins, bird identification tips and techniques, migration, hazards to migratory birds, non-native North American species, habitats (including nest building) and even how birds warn us about the effects of climate change. With this in mind, our students studied birds in art– both their representation and inspiration in artists’ illustrations and poetry.

To further enhance their understanding of the topic, our students had the opportunity to go on field trips, including: Smithsonian Zoo, Smithsonian Natural History Museum, Rock Creek Park and the Constitution Gardens. By the end of the workshop, our young ornithologists developed a field guide based on their discoveries.

Here are some of their findings:

Q: “Why do birds have wings?” (Janyja)
A: “Because of evolution. Wings have developed for each species through natural selection to provide qualities needed to survive in a particular habitat, find mates, migrate, fight with competition, and seek out food.”

Q: “Do birds pee?” (Andreas)
A: “According to my research the answer is no and yes. In birds both liquid and solid waste leave the cloaca, located on the butt. Birds have a urinary tract, but it is combined with solid waste before being released. So birds urinate, but it is mixed with solid waste and removed at the same time. Having only one system for releasing weight may make birds lighter and flying easier.”

Q: “Are birds cannibals?” (Moisés)
A: “With regards to birds used as livestock, the practice of eating the flesh of one’s own species, cannibalism, can cause large deaths within the flock. Cannibalism is considered to be a different from cannibalistic pecking, as this occurs in well-feathered birds of different species.”

Q: “How do birds communicate?” (Bruno)
A: “There’s a lot of ways birds communicate. A song is often a multi-noted phrase that is repeated over and over. Birds also use call notes to communicate. Birds use calls to alert other birds of danger and to locate other birds in their flock. Birds also communicate with their behavior. Some examples of bird behaviors are dance, strut, fake an injury, and behave aggressively.”