Bird Sleuth, chapter one

Bird Sleuth is a program designed by Cornell's Lab of Ornithology (  Blue Ridge Discovery Center decided to offer a first run of this investigative and hands-on citizen science project to two classes at Grayson County High School.  Through the able assistance of Rebecca Absher, Deborah Greif and Kathy Davis, we launched Bird Sleuth on the 13th of January.  As all teachers in the Blue Ridge understand, weather events conflict with continuity and focus, but we have persevered to the best of our abilities. 

Bird Sleuth is based on birds, naturally, and begins by giving the students some investigative tools, including a basic understanding of how data is collected and documented.  For our work at GCHS, we studied narratives of real scientists, what excited them, and how they went about their work.  Inside of these first steps, we learned about creating a hypothesis based upon targeted curiosity, various forms of graphs and other data assimilation devices, and how to walk through the mounting accumulation of evidence.

Then the students must devise their own questions, hypotheses and methods of investigation.  Documentation and end-products will eventually be shared with the community as well as the Lab of Ornithology.

An important aspect of any BRDC sponsored program is to spend as much time outdoors as possible.  Our other philosophical advocacy is to give kids/students/audience a stake in the learning process. To that end, Bird Sleuth seemed a perfect fit.  Scientific investigations require a combination of skills, including components of observation, experiment, and research. Depending on what each group of kids decides, their investigation might weigh heavily on one or two aspects, but rarely on all three.

Each class divided itself into these smaller groups, in order to remain both intimate and manageable.  As classes, we explored the school campus with an eye to the habitats that might be more productive bird-wise, while scoping out relatively good places to hang bird feeders for closer examination of what species were readily available for closer study. 

Behind the school, a small branch runs the entire length, and along the edges on one side are scrubby vines, small bushes and trees, thickets of brambles such as blackberry, and on the other side, a decent wood lot rises up the hill.  We labeled the branch 'Stinky Creek' for good reason, and that is where the avian action was happening and where we placed our first and most productive feeder.  Nearby we hung another feeder behind the nurses' station in a more open area.  Since initially choosing these feeder spots we have added some behind the ball stadium and further up the hill in a more defined wooded area.  It was gratifying to witness how quickly the feeders were discovered.  Keeping them full of seed has become another good reason for a walk outside, and while we walk along the trails, parking lots and ball field, we always keep an eye to the skies for soaring birds. 

At this time, all of our groups have decided upon an hypothesis and will soon begin their chosen investigations.  Stay tuned for chapter two.  And lest we forget, this is supposed to be fun!

We wish to thank our volunteers and guides Carol Broderson, Sarah Osborne and Sheila Jones...and a special thanks goes to our sponsors through the Jack M. Matthews Foundation.