Bird Brains – Geese Lessons

Bird Brains – Geese Lessons

Lately, the nights have been loud with katydids and I’ve been grabbing a sweatshirt for my morning walks. Fall is definitely in the air. The geese flocks in our nearby ponds are getting restless, somehow sensing the southward journey. As the days become shorter, instinctively they’ll know it’s time to migrate.

We’re all familiar with the breathtaking sight of a flock of geese winging overhead in that “V” formation but did you know that it is a pretty perfect example of teamwork?

Scroll through for a complete look.

Go out to an area where geese are present. Typically a wide-open space near a body of water. Observe the geese and their behavior. When you see a flock flying in the “V” formation, think of these lessons and the questions you can ask your kids as you watch and observe.

Fact:

As each goose flaps its wings it creates an “uplift” for the other birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock creates 70% less drag than if each bird flew alone.

Lesson: Teamwork

By working together at a problem or towards a goal we can pool our energies and talents and accomplish more than if we were on our own. Ask your child about an activity they could get done faster when working as a team.

Fact:

When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow down to help protect it. They stay with the goose until it is able to fly again, or dies. Then together they find another formation, or they catch up with their flock.

Lesson: Empathy

It is important to stand by and support one another in both good and difficult times. Ask your child about a time they helped someone else who was having a tough time.

Fact:

When the goose in the front position gets tired, it rotates all the way to the back of the formation and another goose flies to the front to lead the flock.

Lesson: Sharing

It helps when we all share the position of leading. We all have different skills and attributes and taking turns is the best way to highlight every person’s unique qualities. Ask your child what qualities they possess that are unique to them.

Fact:

A flock of geese can be a noisy bunch. They all honk to encourage the geese ahead of them to keep up their speed. They are constantly supporting one another by their calls.

Lesson: Encouragement

Everyone can benefit from a little encouragement! It feels good to hear someone say, “nice job” or “keep it up” when we’re working hard at something. Ask your child about a time they felt proud of something they accomplished and if someone recognized their hard work.


This article is adapted from Lessons From the Geese, written by Dr. Robert McNeish.

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Bird Brains – Bird Behavior Bingo

Bird Brains – Bird Behavior Bingo

The bird world is full of some wacky stuff. From Anting to Drumming, there are so many things to discover when you take a moment and observe.

Read a bit about some of these behaviors and then take it outside! Print out the Bird Behavior Bingo worksheet and see how many of these behaviors you can spot on a walk around your neighborhood, local park, or wildlife sanctuary.

If you snap any pictures or videos, we’d love to see! Tag @berkshirefamilyhikes on Instagram or Facebook and use the hashtags #birdbehaviorbingo and #berkshirebirds

  • Flocking – Many species find safety in numbers in a flock. A flock can consist of one species, like Canada geese, or several; birds like grackle will tolerate many other species in their group. In a flock, many eyes and ears keep the group aware of any dangers present, as well as where to find food. Sometimes a flock will even band together to scare away predators.
  • Alarm Call – Birds also sound alarm calls to warn the flock. Most calls are short and simple, and are usually similar from species to species
  • Bathing – Whether it’s courtin’ time or not, almost all birds try to keep themselves clean. Most do so by bathing in water, while others roll around in dirt for a dust bath.
  • Foraging – This includes scratching at the dirt to loosen up seeds, bugs or other food or gleaning/picking food from a surface like a tree, branch, or leaves.
  • Preening – When they bathe, birds often get rid of feather parasites. By preening their feathers with their beaks and feet, they remove more parasites, arrange feathers, and remove dirt.
  • Flying – Some birds, like vultures, can catch air currents with their wings outspread and travel by soaring. Others fly by flapping their wings.
  • Anting – Birds sometimes sit atop an anthill and let the ants crawl over their wings, or pick them up in their beaks, crush them and rub them over their feathers. See this post for more info: Bird Brains – Anting Antics Activity
  • Feeding – Common feeding behaviors include ground feeding, canopy feeding, bark feeding, predatorial feeding, and aerial feeding.
  • Singing – Bird songs are often very complex, and are so distinct a number of species can be identified from their songs. Normally, only adult males sing, and typically only during mating season.

Go on a bird behavior walk in your neighborhood or at a local park. Look for birds foraging, preening, moving in a flock, or sounding the alarm for predators.

For a free printable bingo sheet, click here or the image below!

Share your finds with @berkshirefamilyhikes on Instagram or Facebook. Use the hashtags #birdbehaviorbingo and #berkshirebirds

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Bird Brains – Anting Antics Activity

Bird Brains – Anting Antics Activity

Bird behaviors can be curious and fascinating when we take the time to watch and observe them.

One of the stranger behaviors our feathered friends get up to is called “Anting.”

Basically, anting occurs when a bird rubs ants on themselves. Pretty self-explanatory right? Methods vary, some birds sit directly on an anthill and let the ant colony swarm all over their bodies ::shudder:: Others pick them up in their beaks and rub them over each of their feathers.

Regardless of the method, over 200 different species of birds have been observed engaging in these “anting” antics.

So what gives? Why do they do this?

Since the 1930’s, scientists have been trying to figure out the why behind this wacky behavior, and it’s still unknown! There are many theories, and the most popular hypothesis has to do with formic acid, a substance contained by most ants. When an ant is crushed, it secretes formic acid. Once in contact with a bird’s skin, the acid kills the mites and other parasites that have taken up host on the bird’s body. Formic acid may also soothe irritated skin that occurs during molting. Other scientists think that maybe it just feels good!

The best time to try and catch sight of “anting” behavior is during hot and humid weather, when parasitic pests are most bothersome. This is also the time when molting happens, so although “anting” can be tough to observe out in nature, you’ll have a better opportunity during the summer months. Keep your eyes peeled for Blue Jays and Crows, as they are common birds who practice “anting.”

Bird beaks are perfect for nabbing ants, crushing them and rubbing them on their wings. Investigate how this adaptation works with this fun activity you can do at home:

Put a few different dried foods (we used sunflower seeds), in a bowl and gather some common items to mimic a beak. Dried pasta and cereals also work great!

Tweezers, Straws, Chopsticks, and Pliers can act like a bird beak in action.

Experiment with moving the items from one bowl to another.

Ask questions like, “How easy/difficult is it to pick up?”, “Can you crush the item like a bird would with an ant?”, “Why do you think birds need sharp beaks?”, “Can they eat a little or a lot with this type of mouth?”

Next time you head out for a walk, keep a sharp eye out for birds and their “anting” antics!


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