On March 4, 2017, young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered in the Science Building on Iowa State University campus to learn tips for identifying Iowa shorebirds. Young birders were excited to peruse the various teaching specimens on the tables and were enthusiastic to master the skills to distinguish species within this challenging group of birds.
We started the morning by examining the various teaching specimens, taking time to observe and record the unique characteristics of each. It didn’t take us long to develop a list of characteristics for each species, and pick out those similar characteristics listed for all species (e.g., long legs, longer bill, etc.). Next, we learned how to lump the various species into different groups based on overall size and shape, the first step in helping us to identify a given species. We finished this exercise with an activity in which we placed shorebird silhouettes in the appropriate group based only on size and shape.
Next, we talked about how to group the various species based on their foraging methods, “pickers”, “probers”, and “waters”. We discussed these different methods of foraging and how they might affect the bird’s behavior and the location where they are foraging within a specific habitat. We finished with another activity, “Feeding Time”, in which young birders drew a species from a jar and had to forage for a candy bar in the appropriate habitat using the appropriate method. It was quite fun!
We finished the morning learning about colors of shorebirds. Not just color patterns in plumage, but colors of bills, legs, and other markings that are identifying characteristics of some species. For example, we compared leg and bill color of the Least Sandpiper (yellow legs and black bill) to that of the Semipalmated Sandpiper (black legs and black bill), characteristics that can help in identifying these very similar species. Our last activity of the day was to learn the colors of different shorebird species using coloring sheets. Each young birder could color a shorebird species of their choice, helping them observe and learn the different colors of that species.
It was a fun morning, and we’re grateful to the parents and grandparents for allowing their young birders to join us! You can view photos from the workshop here.