Birds are Disappearing, How Can You Help?

Artwork from Saving Kate's Flowers, illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein
Artwork from Saving Kate’s Flowers, illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein

A recent study revealed that one-in-three birds have vanished since 1970, meaning that in North American, we have 3 billion fewer birds today. This study was a major undertaking by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and couldn’t have been done without the work of citizen scientists.

The numbers are most grim for grassland birds losing 50% of their population, shorebirds are down 37%, and western forest birds have lost 29% of their population. These results show that birds are not adapting well as buildings go up in place of forests and grasslands.

Can you imagine opening your window and not hearing the song of a sparrow ever again? Or seeing a red-winged blackbird on the side of the highway? These common birds are some of the species that have lost a large portion of its population.

Image from Animal Helpers: Raptor Centers by Jennifer Keats Curtis
Image from Animal Helpers: Raptor Centers by Jennifer Keats Curtis

There are successes in this story, conservation efforts to save waterfowl, raptors, and turkeys show an increase in populations. Special interest groups and governments have invested in conservation. High-rise buildings give peregrine falcons a nest box and a camera so people can check in on their favorite local raptor. Conservation groups give a bird’s eye view into an eagle nest or a duck pond, and this exposure helps create public awareness.

What else can we do?

Cut down on reflective windows. Nearly 1 billion birds die each year by mistaking reflections for flying space and crash into windows.

People can also keep their purrfect bird hunters inside to chase faux birds. Cats are estimated to kill 2.6 billion birds a year!

Give birds a place to rest or nest by planting native flowers and trees. Flower beds spruce up a yard and give birds a place to rest safely during long flights.

A few things that are not only good for birds, but good for your health too – reduce pesticides, plastics, and drink shade-grown coffee.

And last but not least, join the bird count and become a citizen scientist! Observations are a very important part of science. Join the effort to accurately count the population and give scientists a much better understanding of where conservation efforts are needed. Here are some projects to check out:

Share citizen science with your kids, here are two books that show how fun joining a project can be!

Bat Count: A Citizen Science Story

Bat Count: A Citizen Science Story

Jojo is prepping for an exciting night; it’s time for the bat count! Bats have always been a welcome presence during the summers in the family barn. But over the years, the numbers have dwindled as many bats in the area caught white-nose syndrome. Jojo and her family count the bats and send the numbers to scientists who study bats, to see if the bat population can recover. On a summer evening, the family quietly makes their way to the lawn to watch the sky and count the visitors to their farm.

Moonlight Crab Count

Even kids can get involved in science! Ecologist Dr. Neeti Bathala and Jennifer Keats Curtis collaborate to bring us the story of these adventurous citizen scientists. Leena and her mom volunteer each summer to count the horseshoe crabs that visit their beach. With their dog Bobie at their sides, the duo spends a night on the shore surveying horseshoe crabs who have come to mate and lay eggs. Readers will learn valuable facts about these ancient animals and how they can get involved in the effort to conserve horseshoe crabs.

And, learn a litte about birds in these books!

The Best Nest

Long ago, when the world was young, the magpies’ nests were the envy of all other birds. To help the other birds, Maggie Magpie patiently explained how to build a nest. But some birds were impatient and flew off without listening to all the directions, which is why, to this day, birds’ nests come in all different shapes and sizes. This clever retelling of an old English folktale teaches the importance of careful listening.

Whistling Wings

Can a swan survive without winter migration? Marcel, a young tundra swan, is tired from the first half of a winter migration. One thousand miles is a long way to fly—too long for Marcel, so he hides in the rushes to stay behind while his parents and the flock continue south. But with the lake nearly frozen over, he soon realizes that he is not cut out for life on ice. Other animals offer advice about how to survive the winter, but their ways of living aren’t right for the swan. Hungry and scared, he falls asleep – only to be awakened by a big surprise!

Otis the Owl

In beautifully detailed photographs, Mary Holland captures the first few months of a baby barred owl’s life. The huge eyes and fluffy feathers will steal the hearts of readers as they learn how barred owl parents ready their young owlets for the big world outside the nest. Follow along as Otis learns to eat, fights with his sister, and prepares for flight.

Find these titles and many more bird books on You can also request them from your favorite library or bookstore!

Summer Travel: Animal Migrations

In the summer, most of us pack up and hit the road for summer vacation. Animals are also “on the move” during the summer, though I don’t think they are heading to the nearest amusement park. Scott Cohn’s On the Move: Mass Migrations, illustrated by Susan Detwiler, released this past spring talks about the different reasons why animals all across the world to migrate throughout the year. The spring and summer months are a great time to witness some of these migratory behaviors. OnTheMove_128

For example, on the northwest coast, whale enthusiasts flock to catch a glimpse of some of these nomadic species. Watchers may see any species from orcas to humpback, minke, and gray whales. Whales are strict seasonal travelers who migrate south to warm waters for breeding in the late fall and winter months, while traveling back up north in the spring and summer for feeding in cooler waters. For those of us who can’t make the trip west to see this migration, National Geographic has posted a short clip of a gray whale and her calf on their migratory journey. map_whales

On the east coast, especially in our backyard, beach goers have a chance to witness another migratory species, the loggerhead turtle. These turtles are coming ashore to nest during the summer months. Many conservation practices have been included in city ordinances in order to ensure the safety and survival of the baby loggerhead turtles. For example, visitors staying at the Wild Dunes resort in Isle of Palms, South Carolina are asked to turn off any outside lights at night so that the baby turtles aren’t confused about which way leads to the ocean. You can keep up with reported nest counters, observe video feed from a nest, and more on the “SC Marine Turtle Conservation Program” page on the website of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

CrawlingOutMaTurtleTracksTo&FroAlso, pick up a copy of Scott Cohn’s On the Move, beautifully illustrated by Susan Detwiler, to find out more about animal migratory habits and check out the US Department of Interior’s National Park Service website for more on migration basics. Other suggested titles on this subject from Sylvan Dell include: Carolina’s Story, Turtle Summer, Ocean Seasons, and Turtles in My Sandbox.

In Awe of Nature: One Mom Reveals Her Family’s Secret Spot

There are approximately 18,000 children under the age of 5 in Howard County, Maryland. And another 50,000 older children in school here. Yet when my family takes advantage of a treasure in the heart of the county, we never see another soul! The Howard County Nature Conservancy is a peaceful and beautiful sanctuary full of rolling nc5hills, safe hiking trails, clear running streams, gorgeous gardens, interesting animals and picnic areas begging to be filled with families looking for a fun, easy, cheap way to spend an evening. Locals say it’s the place to be for bird watching, geocaching or growing your own organic vegetables in the lush community garden.

Part of the reason many don’t know about this area is that from 1692-1992 one family, the Brown’s, was fortunate enough to call The Conservancy their private residence. But in 1992, Howard County schoolteachers Ruth and Frances Brown passed away without an heir. The 232 acre farm has since been held in its natural state and glory. With some additions and improvements, you can come visit and see many buildings that have been a part of the pastoral setting for three centuries.

When I say that we never see another soul on our weekend hikes, that is not to say the spectacular landscape is not put to good use. There are summer camps for the kids, regular nature walks and talks, “Wine in the Garden” for the adults, “School is Out” programs for local students, and too many more exciting events to name. (Check here for a full list:

These programs, and this place, have helped my boys, (Will age 6, Luke age 4 and Sam age 23 months) to be better little men. I take them there as a part of our unofficialHPIM3580 family plan. I want my sons to grow up valuing a day in the dirt with their brothers more than a computer. I want them to seek out places to think and find serenity more than places to blend in with the crowd. I want them to know that it is sometimes better to walk quietly holding my hand than it is to scream in the chaos of an amusement park (although we’ll be heading off to Dutch Wonderland in 10 short days and I can’t wait). I want my boys to have a place to take a date in a decade or two and really get to know her. Somewhere safe where they can walk hand-in-hand (God help me) and find out if they are lucky enough to build what we are lucky enough to have.

I just read the last paragraph aloud my opinionated family. According to my husband and the boys, everything I said is true…but way too girly. They just like to be able to run and play ninjas with sticks. I guess that is a part of our official family plan.

So my real question is this, why aren’t more young families joining us on a beautiful day? No matter what the season?  Right now the tadpoles are changing week-to-week and day-to-day! The goats are climbing onto the roof of their habitat and the chickens are laying eggs. Ranger, the owl, is eating his mice and the crayfish and salamanders 2013-03-10_12-16-52_112are hiding from eager little fingers looking to snatch them up. Log bridges with rope sidebars are waiting to be crossed by young explorers and the trees and logs give our young Luke Skywalker lots of convenient hiding places when bounty hunter Boba Fett (aka daddy) comes searching. Maybe you’ll luck out and see a snake while you skip rocks along the creek. If you’re quiet, you’re sure to see some deer and a fox or two. The children’s log garden allows the kids to jump and climb and play in an unusual and safe environment. The indoor playground at the mall is teaming with kids (and germs) every night of the week. Yet we are the only ones at the Conservancy! After seeing the animals, playing or checking out the simple indoor nature room, go for a hike. There is no need to hold hands! Let the kids run on the safe, grassy paths and lead the way as they leave their energy behind to light a trail for you.

Just this weekend I spoke to a young mom who lives within a half mile of the Conservancy. She had never been! What!?!? Why?!?!? Come on! I’ll meet you there on Friday night! We’ll bring sandwiches, juice boxes and kids ready to squeal with delight and satisfy the natural, scientific curiosity that fills their ever-expanding brains….and play ninjas with sticks. Honestly, what could be better?

For more information about the Howard County Nature Conservancy, check out their website at


Erin Schade is a wife, a mother to three fantastic boys, a teacher in Howard County, Maryland, a freelance writer and an aspiring children’s author. Questions or comments?  Please contact her directly at

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Celebrate World Turtle Day

It’s no secret that Sylvan Dell loves turtles. From Carolina that started it all to those turtles in our sandbox and Tudley we have written and educated young minds about the turtles living in the sea and on land. Today we celebrate World Turtle Day, started 12 years ago by the American Tortoise Rescue to bring awareness to the problems that the world’s turtles are facing.

Turtles are one of the world’s oldest species, and they are disappearing due to several factors.

  • Turtle habitats are shrinking.
  • The pet market has increased demand and taken turtles out of the wild.
  • Turtles are being poached and sold on the food market. In some countries, their eggs, considered a delicacy are plucked out of nests before they have a chance to hatch.
  • Turtle shells are highly sought after to make fashion, and decorative pieces.
  • Sea turtles nests are very vulnerable to predators and human interference, as well as a shrinking population.
  • Fishing nets are a major threat to the sea turtle population in many parts of the world.

These are only a few factors that threaten turtles, and many of these problems are preventable. Today is a day to learn more about our slow and steady creatures, and do what we can to help keep all our turtles around for 200 million more years.