Bird was the word Monday at the Superior School Forest.
Third graders from Four Corners Elementary School spent the day learning to identify different birds and preparing treats for them at the district’s outdoor classroom.
“Birds are kind of just birds until you see them out here in the wild,” said teacher Stacy Burfield. “And you see ‘Wow, I can really get this close,’ and learn to tell them apart.”
Trail camera pictures and video allowed kids to spy on some of the forest’s winged visitors. The children gave a barred owl call when they saw one in a video, pointed out the camouflaged eagles in a picture and mimicked the dance-like moves of a wild turkey caught on camera.
Thanks to the efforts of the students and retired pipefitter Dave Rikkola, future classes could get a closer look.
They assembled two human-shaped mannequins, known as buddy feeders, during their visit Monday. At the end of each mannequin arm is a wooden platform to put bird seed on. The surfaces can be replaced with smaller and smaller ones until they are hand-sized. The mannequins will be posted at the bird feeder station to acclimate wild birds to human figures.
“The goal is if the kids come out, we place them around our feeders, the birds will actually land on them and eat out of their hand,” said School Forest Coordinator Lori Danz.
Rikkola, whose wife Angie is a regular volunteer in Burfield’s class, offered to make the feeder frames — one sitting, one standing. Students hung clothes on the frames, stuffed them with plastic bags and fashioned heads with pillowcases.
“Do you think he needs eyebrows?” asked Ariel Raschke, 9, as she drew a face.
The third-grader said she’s gotten pretty close to hand-feeding one type of bird.
“I had some seagulls come to my hand,” she said. “They’re not scary — they’re just looking for food.”
Raschke said they ate the food as it fell out of her hand.
Her classmate Beau Brzezinski has also had success coaxing wild birds to take treats.
“We have chickadee seeds and they come onto our hands sometimes,” he said.
But you have to stand very still, “like a tree,” Brzezinski said.
The students learned interesting facts about common birds, like the fact that a grosbeak’s beak molts and that an eagle’s beak is curved. A nuthatch will face downward on a tree while feeding while a chickadee stands upright.
The students also cooked up some treats for their feathered friends, from woodpecker waffles decorated with peanut butter and sunflower seeds to peanut butter parfaits and bird popsicles made mostly out of suet. Burfield pointed out that many of the ingredients — eggs, milk, oatmeal, cornmeal, peanut butter — are things kids eat, too.
“They need high-quality food, just like us,” she told the class.
Between 2,000 and 2,500 students visit the school forest annually, Danz said. She tailors lessons to teacher requests, incorporating the forest’s trails, flora and fauna. Even though Four Corners has a nature trail of its own, Burfield makes it a point to visit the district’s outdoor classroom every year.
“The school forest is a phenomenal place, and Lori Danz is just dynamite in making it a magical location for learning,” she said.
Danz said continued support from the Hoff Foundation and Superior School District funding for transportation helps keep the school forest open and accessible to classes.