Friday, March 8, 2013

WILD School Sites-Part 3--Brush Piles, Birds on a Wire, and Blinds

This is the third article in a series on WILD School Sites, or outdoor classrooms. WILD School Sites are locations that can be used by students, teachers, and the school community as places to learn about wildlife and the environment. The first thing to do when developing a site is to formulate a plan. You can contact your district Wildlife Communication Specialist, who can walk you through the process to help ensure success.

So what type of project should you do?

Remember, no two sites are the same, so each site will consist of different projects. Available resources, such as time, money, space, and labor, will also play a role in what projects are chosen. Last month’s article focused on bird feeders as an inexpensive and quick way to get your site up and running. This month we will look at a few more projects which can be completed at any time of the year and at very little expense.

Brush Piles or an Unkempt Mess?

Constructing brush piles is another low cost way of adding habitat to almost any site. Properly constructed brush piles are a great source of cover and protection for a myriad of wildlife species, including rabbits and songbirds. However, the line between a habitat project and a pile of yard waste is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. A little neighborly courtesy can go a long way toward preventing complaints. Before constructing brush piles, have the students write cards or letters to the neighbors explaining what you are doing, and how it will benefit local wildlife.
Legget Street Elementary, Wauseon, OH

When constructing a brush pile, begin by building a foundation by crisscrossing logs in a log cabin fashion. This frame will support limbs and branches which will provide protection from predators, and still maintain useful cavities for wildlife to hide in. If no logs are available, an artificial base can be constructed using cement blocks. Continue to add branches and limbs until the pile is 5-10 feet high. Brush piles will usually last 3 to 5 years, before they will need to be rebuilt.

Birds on a Wire

Perching wires are a great low cost project for your WILD School Site. They are cheap to construct, can be done at any time of the year, and provide a lot of learning opportunities for kids. Have you ever discovered an errant plant growing in an unexpected spot? Ever wonder how all those trees get started along fencerows? The answer: birds. Many species of plants have adapted a unique way to spread their seeds. They provide birds with a tasty fruit which contains seeds. Those seeds, however, cannot be digested by the bird. When the seeds pass through the birds, they get deposited in new locations, fertilizer included.

To construct a perching wire, simply stretch a cable or wire between posts that are around 10 feet apart. Sometimes old cable or wire can be found lying around and reused. Care should be taken to ensure that the cable is in an area where kids won’t unknowingly run into it. Another option is to place the wire high enough off the ground so kids can’t become entangled. Next, simply clear a strip of vegetation three feet wide underneath the length of the wire. A rototiller works great, but isn’t necessary. Have the students keep records on what species of birds they see on the wire. Then have them record what types of plants begin growing underneath the wire to learn what foods those birds prefer.

Observation Blinds

Cloverleaf Elem. School, Lodi, Ohio
Observation blinds, or bird blinds, are a way for kids to become “invisible” to the wildlife using your site. Blinds can be more costly than the other projects we have discussed so far, but can easily be constructed at any time of the year and during any phase of the plan. Observation blinds are more crucial for sites that are located in wide open areas far from classrooms. Also, let’s face it, sometimes kids can have a little trouble keeping still for longer periods of time. Blinds offer a solution for kids to observe and record wildlife.

Blinds can be located anywhere wildlife frequent: bird feeders, brush piles, around ponds, and gardens. Observation blinds can be temporary or permanent, large or small, cheap or expensive. For a blind that younger kids can help construct, first erect a wooden frame and cover it with chicken wire. Have the kids help attach leaves, sticks, and grasses to the wire. More elaborate blinds can be constructed using lumber for the side. Whatever type of blind you choose to construct be sure to leave a small open area for observation. A small bench or chairs add a nice finishing touch. 

A Final Thought

Although most WILD School Sites contain multiple projects that can take years to develop from start to finish, brush piles, perching wires, and observation blinds offer an opportunity to start educating youth about Ohio’s wildlife at any time of the year. They are relatively inexpensive, easily constructed, and can be used at virtually any site. For more information about these projects or other WILD School Site projects, contact your district’s Wildlife Communications Specialist.