Tag Archives: students

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches high school girls about bird conservation techniquest at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge.

Students Meet Birds: Curiosity Takes Flight

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been working on conservation of neotropical migrant bird populations for 20 years. Several times a year, Dettmers and Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist, teach youth and adults about wildlife techniques to conserve bird populations. Last month, they led nine girls on an hour-long workshop teaching avian wildlife conservation skills including “mist-netting” birds to capture and band them, in support of research and monitoring efforts.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute's Young Women in Science program.

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute’s Young Women in Science program. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

The ninth through eleventh graders were attending a week-long science camp themed “Young Women in Science” through Flying Cloud Institute. The students came from schools in Massachusetts and New York including: Great Barrington (Monument Mountain Regional High School), Sheffield (Mount Everett Regional High School), Lee (Lee Middle and High School), Pittsfield (Miss Hall’s, a private school)and one from Hawthorne Valley, a private Waldorf school in Hillsdale, New York. Here are Dettmers’ field notes from the training experience:

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches young high school students avian conservation techniques at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge this past summer.

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (pictured far right), teaches young high school students about bird conservation techniques at Conte Refuge this past summer. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

On a sunny summer day at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge along the Fort River in Hadley, Massachusetts, myself and fellow wildlife biologist Mitch Hartley led nine girls from the Flying Cloud Institute under instructor Susan Cooper into the 260 acres of grasslands and forest of a former dairy farm. Our goal was to introduce these curious students to the skills of safely capturing birds to record data that will be used later to understand bird movements, survival rates, and life histories. Fortunately, we were able to lure and capture two birds in the nets by playing a series of bird calls by portable speaker nearby — which attracted a mature female yellow warbler and black-capped chickadee, common species native to the area. We then showed the girls how to measure and record necessary data on each bird, attaching bands to their legs, and allowed the students to release them back into their natural habitat.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers shows bird age identification techniques to high school girls from the Flying Cloud Institute at Conte Refuge.

Dr. Randy Dettmers demonstrates bird monitoring techniques to high school girls at Conte Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Within the Service, the Migratory Bird Program works to track the status of migratory birds, identify species in need of conservation attention, and coordinate actions to protect and restore those species.  Banding and other monitoring techniques are important tools for understanding the population trends and status of migratory birds.  It is always valuable to share this part of our work with young biologists so that they can see, first-hand, what this work entails and have opportunities for direct interaction with some of the wildlife we strive to conserve for the benefit of the American people.  Making those connections is an important part of what we do, and we are always looking for opportunities to provide demonstrations or talk about what we do, whether it be talking to early elementary school groups about how birds build nests and why robins eat worms, to banding demonstrations such as with this high school group, or teaching bird monitoring techniques as part of college courses.  Reaching out to these different groups of young people to share the work we do and why we do it helps the next generation to understand that there are science-based career options in wildlife biology and conservation.

It’s exciting to share the field of wildlife biology with young minds, especially curious high school girls, showing them the tools we as biologists use for bird conservation such as mist netting, banding, taking measurements, and monitoring.  It’s rewarding to see the interest and enthusiasm they show when we take them into the field, handle equipment like mist nests, and give them an opportunity to hold a live bird.  It is a great experience for all of us.  – Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

An entertaining way to learn!

If you’ve been meaning to brush up on those archery skills or your knowledge about wildlife trafficking, today might serve as some inspiration. Hear from a volunteer at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, Denny J. Padilla Rivera, about how an archery program and a lesson about endangered species at the refuge inspired youth.

While volunteering, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with birders, tourists, scientists, wildlife aficionados and students. We offer a variety of programs for people to enjoy the outdoors such as environmental education, hunting, fishing, summer camps, public programs and more.

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Students learning archery at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia.

Warmer temperatures can always translate to outdoor activities and there are some students who have already started to take advantage. The first group I worked with this year were students from Pocomoke Middle School. Aubrey Hall, a park ranger at the refuge, and I worked with 10 kids and four adults, learning about endangered species and archery during our fun and educational afternoon.

Aubrey taught the basics of archery, which includes posture, safety measurements, and the benefits of the sport. I discussed endangered species, the human impact on those animals and what we can do to reduce our impact. Students were able to see and touch several endangered species trafficking items that were confiscated, such as zebra hide, African elephant ivory carving, cobra’s skin wallet, black coral necklace, sea turtle bracelets and more.

Learn more about what we do to stop wildlife trafficking

They learned about the work the Service does to warn travelers about buying these objects abroad and how the agency works to stop illegal wildlife trade. I could tell it was an eye-opening experience for the students to see the effects of wildlife trafficking. “I always wanted to see a zebra, but not like this,” one student said.

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The target after a few practice rounds.

Meanwhile, the archery group was positively competitive against their teachers and each other, but still cheered each other on every time someone got close to the bull’s eye. The lesson for this group: the importance of strength and exercise! The students quickly realized how much strength and focus the sport of archery takes.

At the end of the day, I knew the students learned some great lessons and better understood the work of the Service. That is enough for me to continue to lead useful and meaningful activities for visitors, connect people with the outdoors and get more people involved with wildlife conservation.

That's me, Bethany, giving the Great Migration Challenge activity instructions. Credit: USFWS

Migration — It’s risky business!

I'm Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You'll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York. USFWS photo with Bethany holding a bog turtle

I’m Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You’ll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York.

Have you ever wished you were a bird, just to know what it would be like to truly fly? Do you like to “migrate” from the cold New York winters to warmer southern weather?

If you answered yes, then you would have enjoyed spending the day with me and over 270 sixth graders who learned about bird migration at the Cortland Conservation Field Days at the end of September.

The event pulled in 15 different conservation educators to prepare 20-minute programs for student groups at the 4H Camp Owahta in McGraw, N.Y.

Students from 10 Cortland County schools spent the day cycling through stations listening to presentations about topics like wetlands, food, wildlife, forests, orienteering, composting, and much more.

At our New York Field Office station, students learned about the “helps and hazards” associated with migration in an activity called the Great Migration Challenge.

Students thought and acted like birds by following a series of cards that took them on a migration route of their own.

That's me, Bethany, giving the Great Migration Challenge activity instructions. Credit: USFWS

That’s me, Bethany, giving the Great Migration Challenge activity instructions. Credit: USFWS

Here’s how it worked:

The Great Migration Challenge activity instructions. Photo credit: USFWS

The Great Migration Challenge activity instructions. Photo credit: USFWS

  • Each student selects a partner and a bird as which they’ll act.
  • Students start their migration journey by rolling a die to direct them to one of the 24 stations set up around the room, each with a different activity card. Each card explains a scenario, and then directs students to the next stop on their migration journey. One card read, “You get tangled in fishing line and can’t eat. You are weak from hunger. A wildlife rehabilitator cuts the line and feeds you. Hop on 1 leg in a circle, count to 40, then move ahead 4 stations.”
  • Students continue selecting cards and moving to the appropriate station until they reach a station that either kills the bird (disease, guns, cats, etc.) or sends it to the finish after reaching the migration destination.
  • After, students rejoin the rest of the class and discuss the factors that helped them on their migration journeys, as well as others that were hazardous to their journeys.

The kids enjoyed the program because they were able to jump, run, and act silly, while the teachers enjoyed the program because it provided students with a hands-on way to learn (and get their energy out!).

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Students picked one of the bird cards, and when they were finished with their journey, an instructor helped fill in the results chart shown here.

Interested in the activity? Find the instructions and all necessary materials in the attached PDFs from the Flying Wild Educator’s Guide. Visit the Flying Wild website to find additional resources.

Great Migration Challenge materials: