Bird Feeders in your Schoolyard

Getting students engaged with wildlife isn’t always easy. Coming across evidence of wild animals (i.e. tracks, scat, rubs, fur) while out exploring can be few and far between so it can be difficult to keep student attention and excitement. You can use trail cameras to capture photos of animals in or around your schoolyard but this endeavor costs on average over $100 per camera and requires upkeep of the equipment. The easiest, most efficient and cost effective way to experience wildlife is to set up bird feeders in your school yard. December through March is the best time of year to use feeders to attract a variety of bird species to your schoolyard. By drawing the birds directly to you, your students will be able to record data on these animals in the comfort of the classroom or schoolyard over a substantial amount of time thus providing a large sample size of data that can be compared year after year.
Your students will become familiarized with various species of birds that frequent the feeders and eventually be able to identify them without assistance. For 3rd-6th grade classrooms, part of the lesson can be learning to use a field guide unaided to correctly identify species. Younger grades can learn to identify species from pictures of common feeder birds prepared by the teacher. For all ages, listening to and learning bird songs is an extremely helpful tool when identifying birds; playing and practicing bird calls will aid in memory and engagement around each species.

Good bird songs to learn:
Black-capped chickadee
Northern cardinal
Tufted titmouse
White-breasted nuthatch

Mourning dove

By using various feed types, you can also begin attracting birds from different genus’ such as finches, woodpeckers, titmice and chickadees, doves, and jays. Students can count the number of each species of bird that use the feeders and can also count how many different genus’ of bird use the feeder. Discussion of genus’ can also be used to begin education around phylogeny and how organisms are separated into kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. The discussion of evolution is an easy jump after this by discussing the evolution of dinosaurs to birds and eventually discussing natural selection as a driving force behind evolution and speciation. 


Project Feederwatch by Cornell Lab of Ornithology is an extremely valuable resource that you can utilize in your classroom. This ongoing study is completely participant driven and it is a great way to introduce citizen science to your students. Citizen science is an important aspect of scientific studies today,, it allows biologists to add data to their studies that will help the sample size of their study, giving it more statistical significance. There are many ongoing citizen science projects that everyone is welcome to participate in and Project Feederwatch is a great way to begin.

Lastly, you can encourage your students to participate in a Christmas Bird Count on their own time. They can submit their findings and data collection to a the National Audubon Society who will consolidate the data from across the country and then remit findings to participants.

However you choose to use bird feeders, one thing is certain, your students will become more engaged with the natural world and the wildlife around them.

Composed by Emily Johnson

Contact with questions or comments.