Science, nature and fun at the Estuaire Center Ecological Camp


OLD LYME – With pliers, toothpicks, tweezers, chopsticks, sieves and tongue depressors, a group of campers called the Fledglings worked Wednesday morning, testing which tool was most effective at picking up grains of rice the size of ants, small sponges representing fish, and plant leaves floating in the water.

Insects, fish and plants are three types of food that birds eat, and the tools depicted bird beaks of different shapes and sizes.

Which beak has the advantage over the others for each food source? What types of beaks belong to the birds that eat each type of food?

These were the questions the Fledglings, a group of 5- to 7-year-old children from the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center eco-camp, asked as they experimented with how each tool works and how much food they eat. he might or might not pick up.

Camp counselor Morgan Allen called the group together to ask which tools matched the beaks of three birds – a warbler, a duck and a blue heron – displayed as pictures on an easel.

For the warbler, she held the sieve, then the tongs, then the wand — all three were rejected by campers. When she raised the tweezers, the Fledglings gave a thumbs up.

“It’s our black and white warbler and what are they eating?” Allen asked. “What was on the tray on the table?”

“Insects!” replied the novices.

“Yeah, that bird eats bugs with that beak,” Allen said, hanging the tweezers next to the photo of the warbler.

The campers identified the pliers as the best tool for catching fish and adapted the shape of the pliers to the beak of the blue heron, which eats fish. They discovered that the sieve was the most effective tool for collecting aquatic plants and adapted it to the beak of the duck, which feeds on aquatic plants.

Campers try out different tools during a beak adaptation activity at Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center Eco Camp (CT Examiner)

Across the lawn, camp counselor Sophia Alano spoke with the Falcons, a group of 8- to 10-year-old campers, about how birds’ beaks are adapted to eat different foods.

For example, she says, hummingbirds have thin, straw-like beaks so they can extract nectar from flowers.

“But, a hummingbird definitely can’t eat a fish,” she said.

The Falcons worked on experiments with the same types of tools as the Fledglings, but added timed experiments showing how many pieces of food each tool could pick up in 30 seconds, and noted their data for later discussion.

A camper records data from a bird’s beak activity at Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center Eco Camp (CT Examiner)

“Think big and ask questions often”

Heather Kordula, education program manager for the estuary center, said eco-camp activities were designed to be tactile and visual – in this case, with the tool easily matched to the type of beak. bird.

She said this week’s theme was “Super Scientists!” and explored the “ologies” of biology, ecology, ornithology, hydrology, etc., with campers examining the adaptations of plants and animals as well as water and soil quality.

Activities are designed to be student-centered, said Kordula, who creates the program.

“It’s based on where I see campers’ interests are heading. As if I see friends really like insects, we try to do something about insects. If the kids are really into birds, we try to steer the activities towards that,” she said. “Because if they’re excited to learn about it, they’ll be more engaged and happy compared to us saying, ‘this is what we think you should learn.'”

Alisha Milardo, director of the Estuary Center, which is part of the Connecticut Audubon Society, said all activities are created to give children the opportunity to explore and try new ideas.

“Our students come from all over southeast Connecticut with diverse backgrounds, cultures and dreams,” Milardo said. “Campers have the opportunity to maybe learn a new skill, find a different purpose, something they’re passionate about that they might not have during the school year – and here during the summer, they have that opportunity and that ability.”

Milardo said the estuary center also offers year-round activities and programs — in school, after school, and out of school.

“Heather makes sure that in every activity they reflect, they have fun, but they think twice, they question, as they learn. This is a very important part of our camp – thinking big and often question,” Milardo said.

Campers experiment with tools that can catch fish during a bird beak adaptation activity at Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center Eco Camp (CT Examiner)

Bird Beaks, Foods, and Habitats

At the end of the activity, it was time for lunch. The students grabbed their lunch boxes and stretched out in the shade of a tree.

Teddy, a nine-year-old Falcon, summed up the morning’s experience.

“We learned that a different bird has different bird beaks for many different foods,” she said. “Like, say a hummingbird tries to catch a fish, it won’t be able to catch it because its [beak] is for nectar.

Austin, also a nine-year-old hawk, said he learned that birds need certain beaks to live in particular habitats.

“You also need a certain beak to catch fish, you also need a certain beak to pick up leaves, and sometimes you need a certain beak to catch grubs like a woodpecker.”

To catch fish, Austin said a bird needs a “long pointed mouth” type beak, with a wide action similar to how pincers open and close.

“And for the leaves, you would need something like the [sieve] to get them out. You can just pick it up under the leaves.

For insects and larvae, he said a skinny beak — like tweezers — is best, so the bird can “peck into the wood and grab it.”


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