Kids' sights soar in bird count

Students, teachers and families participated in a New Year's Bird Count on Saturday. Adapted from a century-old Audubon Society tradition, the count is the one and only bird count event for elementary school students.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 8, 2011; 8:34 PM

Bundled up in a pink snowsuit and equipped with a pair of binoculars, Brent Elementary School second-grader Evelyn Hanson didn't let Saturday's early morning snow and bitter temperatures stop her from participating in a bird-watching adventure with her classmates.

For a few hours, Evelyn and about 150 other students and parents ventured to East Potomac Park, Kenilworth Park Aquatic Gardens and the National Arboretum for the second annual New Year's Bird Count for Kids.

"I really like birds because they can fly and I like how the decorations on them look," Evelyn, 7, said. "I saw a Mr. and Mrs. Mallard. I knew it was a Mr. and Mrs. because the boy had the green head."

Saturday's event is a spin-off of the National Audubon Society's century-old Christmas Bird Count where volunteers across the country gather for a few weeks each winter to count and identify birds. The data they gather help wildlife officials determine the health of bird populations and how to protect birds and their habitats, according to the National Audubon Society's Web site.

Brent was the first public school to hold a bird count for children last year and now there are about 30 student-oriented bird counts across the country, said science teacher Mike Mangiaracina. He initiated the local event, which also included "binocular boot camp" and a lesson from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts.

"This is a way for students and parents to see the world around them in a very different way," he said. "The nice thing about birds is they are always there, but you may not always notice them. I want people to see there are interesting things right in their own yard."

Second-grader Luca Smith already counts himself as a pro bird watcher. He went on last year's count and does so in his own back yard as well.

"It's fun to see a lot of birds and ones I have never seen before," Luca said. "I've learned birds like to perch on ice. I also learned today [a classmate] has super cold feet."

Mangiaracina said the students recorded seeing just over 1,100 individual birds Saturday, which represented 29 species. The data collected will be sent to the online database ebird and passed on to the local or national Audubon society.

Students saw geese, ring-billed gulls, mallards and more rare birds.

"I saw a bald eagle, I saw a bald eagle," third-grader Torrenz Ward said. "It was cool, but I really wanted to see a robin because I like their red belly."

By lunchtime, students were happy to get back to their school to eat and drink hot chocolate. "We all got so cold, but it was so fun," fourth-grader Bethan Townsend said. "I love birds and would do it again, even if I have to suffer in the coldness."

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