Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Seagull

One of the most ubiquitous birds found in urban centers is the seagull, specifically the herring gull; so, not surprisingly, this very graceful bird is oftentimes seen as a pest rather than the beautiful creature that it is.
As I continue the process of developing an educational resource package for early childhood educators, I am exploring ways in which to introduce young children to urban critters.  Birds are fairly easy to spot in cities, and are therefore a good place to begin when introducing children to local wildlife.

We can become blind or uninterested in more pervasive species such as sparrows, pigeons, crows and seagulls; maybe just because they are so common.  But for a child, a living creature can be a thing of wonder so drawing their attention to the smallest of our feathered friends can lay the foundation for a lifetime love of nature.

The book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull remains one of my favorite reads for I think that it contains great wisdom.  I once rescued a seagull that had been hurt by some kids at a park in Montreal.  My children, who were with me at the time,  found a cardboard box,  and we placed the injured bird inside and took it back to the country with us.  Of course we named him (we presumed it was a he) Jonathan! 

Jonathan stayed with us for a few weeks while his wing healed.  He wasn’t the friendliest fellow, but given the painful experience of his attack one could certainly forgive his ornery beahavior!  One day I just knew that it was time for him to go, so we took him outside and he lifted off into the air and disappeared.  We felt a little sad, since he had become a familiar presence in our kitchen, where he held court from his box.  
Later that morning, as I was cleaning upstairs, I heard Sam, our goose, making a huge kerfuffle outside.  I ran down to see what was going on, and there was Jonathan circling low over the house.  I called the kids and we waved, calling, “goodbye, be well”; after one more circle he took off and we never saw him again.  For us it was a beautiful gift because it seemed that he had actually returned to let us know he appreciated what we had done for him.
There is good information available on herring gulls at the Hinterland Website

Herring gulls usually lay their eggs in mid-late April, depending on their location and the young chicks leave the nest around the end of June, early July.
I found an interesting tidbit about gulls: biologists recently observed that herring and ring-billed gulls not only watch their neighbors,  they mimic their behavior to assure their survival.  A University of Montreal study found that when their immediate neighbors were alert, the gulls closest to them were less relaxed, and when the neighbors were relaxed, so too were the others. 

Lesson Plans:
1.     How many bird species can the children see in one day around your class or your home.  Create Bird-watching journals so they can note down which species they see; what kinds of behavior do they observe in the common species such as gulls, sparrows and crows.
2.      What do the birds in your neighborhood eat?  What about in winter, how do the seagulls survive?  Do they migrate south, or do they stay in the cities?
3.     Get the children involved in a local or national :  Bird Count
4.     Here is a good lesson plan from National Geographic about Arctic terns; these incredible birds travel over 22,000 miles each year from the Arctic to the Antarctic!  
5.     Many people have bird feeders, and there are plenty of small birds that benefit from the food they receive, especially in cold climates.  So why should we not feed birds like seagulls?  One reason is that they can become quite aggressive and have been known to dive-bomb people.  What do your students think? 

Unfortunately seagulls have become adept at dumpster diving meaning that they have become accustomed to feeding in landfills and dumpsters.  This has resulted in an explosion in their populations causing them to be seen in many areas as pests.   One of the more dangerous aspects of this habit is the fact that many dumps are located close to airports since people do not want to be close to either smell or noise!  The Federal Aviation Administration is concerned about this and they have funded a number of studies, which have shown some interesting results.  You can read more about this here:  Loafing at the Landfill

Song: I have uploaded The Seagull song onto my MySpace page.
I wrote this song after Jonathan’s visit, and it is still one of my favorite songs.

Story: I could not find a story about a seagull, apart from Jonathan Livingston Seagull! But I discovered a sweet story about another common urban bird, the sparrow; this one is a Cherokee Legend called: Why The Trees Lose Their Leaves

My father was a birder, and while I don’t go out specifically to bird watch, I am very connected to birds and can immediately hear a new call in my neighborhood, or feel joy at the sound of a cardinal calling in the morning.  A friend used to laugh at me because I could spot a hawk in a tree on the side of the highway from afar (while I was driving)!  If you are not already inspired by these feathered creatures, I hope that this Blog might encourage you to discover more about them with kids.

In joy and gratitude for the beauty of this earth,

Photo of Herring Gull: Kurt Kulac Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Herring Gull chick – John Haslam, Wikimedia Commons

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