The Young Bird Detectives


As the summer gathers up its strength, school is out – and across Jamaica the summer camps get started.

Beautiful Hope Gardens, dreaming on a hot summer's day. (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)
Beautiful Hope Gardens, dreaming on a hot summer’s day. (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)

This week, a one-of-a-kind summer camp is taking place at the beautifully landscaped Hope Zoo, adjoining Hope Gardens. It’s a first for the regional non-profit conservation organization BirdsCaribbean, which is holding its 20th International Meeting at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston this coming weekend. The camp focuses on birds – Jamaican birds, specifically. A group of about thirty children aged nine to fourteen years are busy – very busy; but enjoying themselves also, in the Treehouse at the Zoo. It’s a peaceful natural setting, with the sound of squawking parrots and various other animal cries as “noises off” – barely intrusive background noises, really.

A different bird: This young man smiles as a budgerigar lands to feed from his hand. (Photo: Kento Morishima, JICA volunteer/NEPA).
A different kind of bird: This young man smiles as a budgerigar lands to feed from his hand. (Photo: Kenta Morishima, JICA volunteer/NEPA).

How did this children’s camp come about? With the support of the Zoo and the Royal Botanical Gardens (Hope Gardens for short) and with generous financial support from the Sandals Foundation, BirdsCaribbean decided to put together a free bird camp for young urban kids, using the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdSleuth curriculum. Most of these children would likely never have the opportunity to spend a week in the gardens, learning about nature and the environment – and most importantly, experiencing and observing.

The children really enjoy the creative side of the program. After all, Jamaican birds are so beautiful. We must do them justice! (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)
The children really enjoy the creative side of the program. After all, Jamaican birds are so beautiful. We must do them justice! (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)

So exactly how do they learn, and what skills does the BirdSleuth program seek to impart? BirdSleuth, which was established some eleven years ago with funding from the National Science Foundation in the United States, says it offers an “inquiry-based science curriculum that engages kids in scientific study and real data collection through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s exciting citizen science projects.” The program seeks to support educators as well as students to hone their science teaching skills through birds. It is also, of course, intended to spark that spirit of curiosity in the children that is an important facet of learning.

Recording data is an important part of science learning, and this is reflected in the BirdSleuth program. (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)
Recording data is an important part of science learning, and this is reflected in the BirdSleuth program. (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)

BirdSleuth, as the name implies, is about investigating, enquiring and taking notes – essential traits for any student of science. The children do their sleuthing outside – peering through their binoculars, poring over bird identification cards and carefully recording what they see. There is no “chalk and talk” – all the activities are participatory, involving role play, games and more. The children are learning about diversity, habitats, food, life cycles, adaptation, and migration (we have so many birds flying to and fro, or sometimes just passing through, in the Americas).

Serious work: Studying the bird identification cards. (
Serious work: Studying the bird identification cards. (Photo: Kenta Morishima, JICA Volunteer/NEPA).

Moreover, they are not simply soaking up knowledge. BirdSleuth is designed to encourage critical thinking, asking questions. This is what hands-on learning is all about.

So much to discover in nature. (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)
So much to discover in nature. (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)

After visiting the camp today, I felt a twinge of envy. I wanted to join the young people, explore and learn with them. That is what being a child is really all about.

A young birder in training, quietly observing. (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)
A young birder in training, quietly observing. (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)

Congratulations to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for designing this brilliant program, that can be adapted to the Caribbean islands; to the dedicated teachers – who are also having fun, by the way; and most of all, to the children themselves, who are giving so much of themselves and having an unforgettable week.

I hope they can do it all over again next year. Wouldn’t that be nice? Meanwhile, remember… There are Young Bird Detectives at large, possibly coming to a neighborhood near you!

Binoculars aloft… (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)
Binoculars aloft… (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)

Footnote:

The BirdSleuth program has been adapted to the Caribbean by BirdsCaribbean and its members, with all the materials specifically geared towards Caribbean birds and conservation issues. BirdsCaribbean conducted two years of testing, then came up with the final curriculum and materials and translated it to Spanish. It is also being translated to French. Funding for this came from a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) grant to BirdsCaribbean for the pilot project (2011-2013) and with another two years of funding remaining to implement the program in sixteen Caribbean countries. Educators were trained in an International Training Workshop last October in Nassau, Bahamas, and are delivering the curriculum locally now. Three of the teachers working in the camp were trained in the pilot program: Ava, Dilip and Sharlene.

The curriculum and supporting materials are available for download here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/uvqmh7x6wzuhhd2/AAB8BFgy6kK41zH5ZRJDMNjza?dl=0

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You can find more information on the BirdSleuth program at http://www.birdsleuth.org and on Facebook and Twitter (@BirdSleuth). The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a fantastic website  at http://www.cornell.birds.edu. Its site at http://www.allaboutbirds.org is filled with facts, figures, identification guides, bird cams and birdsong! Enjoy.

Teachers and students pose for their photo. (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)
Teachers and students pose for their photo. (Photo: Doris Gross/BirdsCaribbean)

One thought on “The Young Bird Detectives

  1. What a lovely Summer Camp this is, in such a wonderful setting. Wish I was a youth and eligible!!! Wish I could join you at the Seminar also, but can’t, so I thank you for sharing information about all the birding activities. I know you will give us full reports and pictures. THANKS AGAIN!

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