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It's a Bird, It's a Plane…No, Wait, It's Actually a Bird

Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's a Bird, It's a Plane…No, Wait, It's Actually a Bird

Harris’s Hawk

There was poop on the floor and everyone was thrilled.  A conservationist from the Earth Conservation Corps held a Harris’s Hawk who was doing his business all over the place while children and parents looked on in awe. 

It was just another New Year’s Bird Count for kids at Brent Elementary on Capitol Hill.  Held on Saturday, January 25, the 5th Annual New Year’s Bird Count brought together over a hundred parents and students to learn about, count, and enjoy the avian residents of the District. The event is based on the 114 year-old tradition of the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Counts and is part of the Christmas Bird Count for Kids movement started in Sonoma, CA in 2007.

The morning started off with breakfast, donated by Brent parent Jason Townsend’s Capitol Community Properties, followed by a quick how-to-identify-birds presentation from U.S Fish and Wildlife employee Alicia King. Next, 1st-5th graders and their parents got ready to leave for their sites. Meanwhile, Pre-K and kindergarten students stayed behind and participated in bird-related art activities.

With temperatures hovering in the low 20s, scores of bundled up students dawdled around one of four selected sites:  Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Kingman Island, Haines Point, and downtown (where the rare snowy owl had been spotted, before its unfortunate incident!).  Students clutched binoculars, stalked birds quietly in the snow, and took note of the Golden-crowned Kinglets, Carolina Chickadees, Hermit Thrushes, and Cedar Waxwings hiding in the trees.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Bird Conservancy, the District Department of the Environment, and the National Park Service were all represented by bird experts to help the kids identify their feathered friends.

After the count, everyone headed back to the school for lunch and a birds of prey show. The day ended with the final tally rally, when all the bird counts were added up. [In all 34 species were tallied, with 858 total birds seen.]

The New Year’s Bird Count for Kids is just one part of Brent Elementary’s programs in environmental, science, and conservation. Organized by science teacher Mike Mangiaracina, the bird count is the effort of dozens of volunteers. The school also participates in Smithsonian’s “Bridging the Americas” program, sharing research and artwork about migrating birds with a sister school in Nicaragua.  In addition, Brent’s 1st, 2nd and 4th graders partner with the Anacostia Watershed Society in wetland restoration projects, while the school’s 3rd graders work with the Earth Conservation Corps, which works to connect youth with the Anacostia River. 

Michael Wilson’s two daughters at Brent couldn’t get enough of the bird count.  Actually, neither could Wilson. “We’re in an urban environment, but just a half mile away, it’s a natural environment,” he said. His daughter smiled but ran away. The conservationist had just brought out another bird of prey. There was a Eurasian eagle owl to be seen.