Case Study

Birding in the Garden

Katherine Studey

Junior High School ScienceMaryland Elementary School


Bird watching connects kids (and adults) with local wildlife. In this case, students make observations of birds in and around the school garden. As an initial activity, birding in the garden can create opportunities for students to engage in citizen science, habitat restoration, designing investigations, and other environmental education projects. Because birds are readily accessible wildlife, this activity can be easily adapted to any ecoregion.

Case Narrative

This lesson was initially used with 3rd-6th grade students in an urban school setting (Central Phoenix). It was part of the curriculum taught during the regular school day and with an after school nature club. I have used modified versions of this lesson for students as low as 2nd grade and as high as 8th. For lower grades, I focus more on the bird identification with easy to identify birds, and I provide pictures as guides for students. For higher grades, we can get more in depth with discussions about biodiversity as we look at the number and types of birds present. This has also led to interesting discussions about non-native species (European starlings and house sparrows, for example) and what can be done about them.

Although I have always been interested in birds, I was not what you would call an expert when I started teaching this lesson. Over the years, I have learned more about birds alongside my students. It can seem intimidating at first if you are not a birder, but apps like Merlin and traditional printed field guides can really help with identification.

Lesson: Birding in the Garden

Connection to Science Standards

Arizona Science Standards (AzSS):

  • 5.L4U3.11: Obtain, evaluate, and communicate evidence about how natural and human-caused changes to habitats or climate can impact populations.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS):

  • 3-LS4-3: Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

  • 3-LS4-4: Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change.

This lesson was initially created as an assignment for a biodiversity course I was taking in graduate school. As I was developing the lesson for my class, I wanted to connect it with local wildlife that students could relate to. I was also looking for ways to get my students engaged in learning outside because I had recently learned about the benefits of outdoor learning for kids. I frequently observed birds on my school campus, and I knew that they would be easily accessible for students.

This lesson can lead to additional questions from students about how we can best support the various bird species on our campus. It opens up many possible avenues for inquiry and investigation. By introducing students to the local birds, I hoped that some of them would become more interested in bird watching on their own time, too. It has the potential to build a lifelong interest in birds which can then extend to other local wildlife.

When you implement this lesson consider...

  • Weather conditions (have a backup plan)

  • Outside interferences (teachable moment - human effect on the environment)

  • Unknown species (use ID tools - Merlin, eBird, field guides) - let kids know that you’re learning along with them

  • Invest in good binoculars for students. You get what you pay for.

Birding in the Garden

Birding in the Garden Lesson Plan

Optional Extensions

  • Participate in citizen science projects related to birds & bird watching (Project Feederwatch, Project Nestwatch)

  • Host or participate in a bioblitz or City Nature Challenge on iNaturalist

  • Identify ways to improve the school garden or campus to support more bird species - campus improvement project

  • Learn about migration & what species your school garden could help to support

  • Identify problems birds face & develop solutions (feral cat predation, window collisions, habitat loss)

  • Create investigations related to birds in the garden - food/feeder preference, behavior, etc. (Cornell’s Investigating Evidence is a great resource for this)

  • Learn about the field of ornithology or other related sciences

  • Contact local chapter of Audubon Society for additional activities, guest speakers, or field trips

  • Create a Kahoot! or other quiz game to help students learn bird ID’s (click on image to the left to take the Arizona Bird Watching Kahoot! quiz)

Ecoregion School Garden Site

Who are the students?

K-8, Title I school in Phoenix. Grades 2-8.

Who are the garden leaders?

Cathy Kim (community volunteer), Katherine Studey (teacher leader)

The community the school serves and its history.Maryland Elementary School, built in the 1950s, is in the Washington Elementary School District. The school is located at 21st Ave and Glendale in central Phoenix, Arizona. Our school community is very diverse, and we support students from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. Maryland is a Title I school with over 95% of students receiving free or reduced lunch.

Connections to Ecoregion Topics

Place-based Learning: This activity will connect students with the environment and wildlife of their school garden space. This connection to place may extend to other areas on campus or in the local neighborhood.
Designing for Science Teaching: This lesson also sparks students’ interest in the natural world through observation, and it gives an opportunity for real-world examples of science in action. It encourages students to ask questions that may develop into additional investigations.

Conference Video Archive

Demo 3A: Birding in the Garden

Conference Demo Notes