Written by FOMR volunteer Eileen Loerch/Photos by FOMR volunteers Patty MacInnis and Steve Loerch

When Janelle asked me to help with a first and third grade field trips to the Refuge, I happily accepted the offer. In the past, I worked with children to help them discover the wonders of birds and I missed the experience. 

Approximately 135 first- and third-grade children from Slater Elementary in Burns participated in a field trip over two days. 

Our first day was spent with the 1st graders. In addition to myself, Carey Goss, Alexa Martinez (Biologist) and Brett Dean (Refuge Law Enforcement) lead groups of students at four separate stations. I chose to help the children understand the differences between mammals and birds, and we congregated under the pavilion near the gift shop. With a ready supply of Belding’s ground squirrels and a variety of birds, the children and I had an opportunity to observe birds and mammals going about their lives.

Additionally, we shared hands-on activities that allowed us to touch bobcat pelts, look at replicas of eggs, observe several types of recovered bird nests, and hold and compare feathers of different types and from different types. To help work off excess energy we waved the feathers in the air and felt how they moved the air and practiced soaring like a vulture.

A highlight of the visit for the children was observing the resident adult and juvenile great horned owls through spotting scopes. The owls cooperated by roosting in trees near the gift shop, allowing a view through the scope that filled the field of view. I loved the children’s delight at seeing the owls so close. A frequent comment was “He’s right in there!”

When the third graders came a week later, it was myself with Carey Goss, and Janelle. I met my student groups over three rotations and took them on a bird walk around the David Marshall Trail. The students were fascinated with the bird blind, and quite adept at finding and identifying birds using field guides. All things wild caught their eye, including ants and other insects. They had fun looking at spider webs blowing through the silver maples along the trail. 

Watching the children reminded me to be aware of all the life that surrounds us at Malheur. Magic lives at Malheur. You only need see through the eyes of a child to notice it.

Field Days Addendum

Written by FOMR Director Janelle Wicks

It was such a joy to reach into my old bag of tricks and pull out some of my favorite activities for the Slater 3rd Grade students earlier this month. We began our time with a discussion about the role of a National Wildlife Refuge to conserve and manage the landscape to support healthy populations of native and migratory species that depend on it. Logically, this lead to a wonderful conversation about common carp and their impact on Malheur Lake which was originally protected for resident and migratory birds. 

From there we engaged in an activity I like to call Feed the Birds. Students pair off and are given a realistic image of a bird and asked to discuss that bird with their partner. Do you know what bird it is? What do you think it might eat? Why might it eat seeds versus small mammals? This discussion goes on for a bit of time before I show off my table of bird skulls where they try to find and stand by the skull that they believe belongs to their bird. This part is always fun – listening to them debate over the merit of one choice or another before settling and raising their bird in the air to let me know they’ve come to a decision. At that point it is up to each team to defend their choice. We talk about beak structure, eye location, size, etc until everyone has had a chance to speak. Helping the students articulate their observations and encouraging them to actively listen to one another is so much fun.

After that the students had the chance to do one more activity with me before we rotate. We discuss the needs that all wildlife have but then focus specifically on birds. When we learn about birds – what do we learn about? What do they eat? Where do they live? What kind of nest do they make? Answers to these questions are found in special books all about birds! Asking themselves these questions about their favorite bird, the students get to choose different colored yarn that represent their answers and braid a “Fingerwoven Field Guide”. 

Exclamations of “Mine is a hummingbird!” “Mine is a bald eagle!” “Mine is a flamingo!!!” all start to ring out all around me as we settle down to braid our bracelets. As we prepare to say goodbye and rotate to the next station, I share a little secret with them. 

“Today, every one of you is going to go home with a very special bird identification guidebook of your own!” Due to the generosity of author, naturalist, conservationist and Friends of Malheur NWR Board Member Kenn Kaufman, we passed out 68 of his Field Guide to Birds of North America books to 68 very keen young birders!

The Friends of Malheur NWR are so grateful to Kenn for his priceless gift to these local students. Thank you Kenn and thank you to all of you who in supporting our organization make things like this possible.