Nature Scavenger Hunt
I wrote a while ago about the benefits of noticing and reflecting on the natural world around us. When we explore our surroundings, making intentional observations, we begin to see how we all impact one another, whether we are human, animal, or plant. We start making connections, which leads to compassion and understanding.
Often times, children don't need any reason to explore and discover. They are naturally curious and inquisitive. However, it doesn't hurt to give them a little nudge if they seem to need it. One of my favorite ways to encourage outdoor observations is to make it into a game! Just like the Bird Bingo Game (which you can find here if you missed it), this Nature Scavenger Hunt gets your kids looking for specific things, all in the name of science!
Click on the picture to download the Scavenger Hunt card!
More details and tips to help you spot these:
A raptor is also known as a "bird of prey". There are many types of raptors we see in Utah, but most of them fall within one of these families: buteo hawks, accipiter hawks, falcons, eagles, and owls.
You can tell a raptor apart from other birds by observing their three "sharps": sharp eyes, sharp beaks, and sharp talons.
Look for raptors soaring high in the sky or perched on telephone poles or wires. Be careful not to disturb raptors if they are close by, as they are likely hunting for a meal or protecting their young.
For more information on how to identify raptors, see this article.
A fledgling is a baby bird who is fully feathered and flighted (or nearly flighted), yet still depends on its parents for food and protection. You can spot fledglings because they will be around adult birds and begging for food (by gaping their mouthes wide open, making a peeping noise, and sometimes fluttering their wings). They may look subtly different from their parents, with a few fluffy, downy feathers sticking out in weird places, duller colors, and a wider muppet-looking beak.
If you see a fledgling, don't approach it just for the sake of this hunt. Fledglings are at a higher risk from predators because of their lack of experience and sloppy flying. Parents are also at higher risk because of the added stress and distraction that comes with raising young. Give them space and you may be lucky enough to watch the little ones grow and revisit your area!
See my previous blog, Attracting Birds, to learn more about how to attract birds to your yard and keep them safe.
2 Different Pollinators
Search for pollinators! This step is not completed until you spot two different kinds! Pollinators include: bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, and more!
Search for pollinators around flowers and any remaining blossoms on trees. Although you may not like to see one, wasps also pollinate and would count!
As with any creature you are observing, keep your distance and try not to disturb them, even if you're looking at a harmless butterfly. Pollinating species have an important job to do and are busy at work, especially in the spring!
For more information on pollinators, see my previous blog, The Birds and the Bees.
Nests can be found throughout the year because most will continue to stay in place long after the birds have left. Some nests are used year after year, with minor remodeling in the springtime.
Nests can be fascinating things to study! Some birds migrate early and steal nests that were made by other birds (Great Horned Owl). Some birds, like hummingbirds, collect and weave spiderwebs through their nest fibers for elasticity and strength. Cowbirds don't even make nests, but lay their eggs in other birds' nests and leave them to be raised by the unknowing foster parent!
Look for nests in trees and shrubs, or even on the ground. Unfortunately, strong winds can knock nests out of place, as was the case of the nest pictured here. Collecting and keeping nests, even fallen nests, is against the law, so leave nests where you find them! If you have found a nest in a tree, be careful not to disturb nesting birds who may have eggs or nestlings in the nest.
If you do happen to find fallen babies, contact your local wildlife rescue to be advised on the steps to take. They may advise you to return the nestlings to their nest and secure it back in the tree or deliver the babies to their facility.
A Favorite Flower
This one should be easy! All you need to do is walk around and find your favorite flower. This can be your most favorite flower of all, or your favorite flower in the neighborhood. If you can't find your favorite flower, draw a picture of it! One of my favorites is the alstroemeria, a type of lily.
Take this activity one step further by learning everything you can about that flower! Is it a blossom on a tree that you'll only see for about one week out of a whole year? Does it sprout from a bulb year after year like tulips? How does it smell? Is it edible??
I love looking at any plant, but flowers truly add to the natural rainbow of colors we can see in the world around us. And they're not just gorgeous! They are also good for the wildlife, especially native flowers.
Take a look at this page to learn more about wildflowers in Utah.
A Deciduous Tree
A deciduous tree should be easy to spot, probably right from your home! Deciduous trees are those that shed their leaves in the fall and grow new leaves in the spring.
Deciduous trees are not only beautiful, with or without leaves, they are wonderful trees to have around your house! In the summertime, they provide shade and can help to keep your house cooler. In the wintertime when their leaves have fallen, the bare branches allow sun to shine through onto your house, helping to warm it up.
For more information about why deciduous trees are important, click here.
Native trees are best as they are well adapted for that specific climate and ecosystems. Native plants and animals depend on each other for ideal balance of their populations. Invasive species can out-compete native plants on limited resources and space, lowering their numbers and therefore effecting other animals within that ecosystem. For more on why native plants are important, read here. There is a video on this page that explains native plants in further detail.
Bonus points if you can find a native deciduous tree in your yard or neighborhood. See here for a list of trees native to Utah!
Food for a Bird
For this step, simply find any kind of food for a bird! Birds eat a variety of foods, so be creative! Watch the birds around your yard and see what they eat. A great time to do this is in the morning or evening when temperatures aren't as high. However, birds will snack here and there all day long.
Some examples of things birds eat are: birdseed or other seeds, hummingbird feeder liquid, bugs, worms, and berries. Many carnivorous or omnivorous birds also eat other birds! While it may seem cruel, they all have a part to play in the circle of life. Raptors help control the population of other birds and rodents. They are also great indicator species, telling scientists a great deal about the health of ecosystems.
One thing that's not food for birds is bread! If you're like me, you may have pleasant memories of going to a pond with the family and feeding stale bread to ducks. Although our intentions may have been pure, the consequences are unhealthy waterfowl and birds that lose their natural fear of humans. This often leads them to becoming a nuisance and potentially increasing their numbers to a greater population than the pond can support. For more information on how poor nutrition affects ducks, see this article. While there are healthier options for feeding waterfowl, it is better, for them and for the pond visitors, to avoid feeding them all together. This article explains how many ponds prohibit duck feeding and why.
A Spider Web
Your next task is to find a spider web (hopefully outside!). Spiders also have an important role to play in a healthy environment. As predators, they help control the population of other, more bothersome bugs. Read this article for more on the benefits of spiders!
Take a picture of the web you find, but try not to disturb it, especially if it is outside! There are tens of thousands of spider species around the world, but most are not harmful to humans. If you have an interest in all things creepy-crawly, read about the 5 Most Common Spiders in Utah.
Danger to Wildlife
While many of us care a deal about birds and other wildlife, we still unintentionally pose many dangers to the plants and animals we share an environment with. Our houses are built on what used to be wild land, full of hundreds of thousands of plants and creatures living in perfect harmony. Our windows pose danger to flying birds. Outdoor cats kill more than the windows. We spray our yards with pesticides and plow down meadows to put in lawns and parking lots.
As with many things, the first step to making a change is becoming aware of the problem. Take note of something man-made that could be harmful to wildlife. Examples of this could be: windows that birds might fly into, a dirty bird fountain (that could carry disease and bacteria and make birds sick), a container of a pesticides (these can be toxic to humans as well! Please don't approach without a parent), litter on the ground or in a nest, an outdoor cat, and so much more!
The second step comes next!
For this challenge, consider ways you can make a positive change to the natural world around you. I encourage you to include your whole family on this project! Talk together about things you see around you that could negatively impact wildlife and how you can help.
Examples of projects that can positively impact nature may include:
collecting and properly disposing of litter along a sidewalk or trail
researching ways to keep birds from flying into your windows and making those alterations at your home
planting a pollinator garden
making a family pact to use only eco and animal-friendly methods for weed-removal
committing to recycling more effectively.
The options are limitless! I recommend beginning with something your family is passionate about. This will make it easy and exciting to work toward together. If your family loves birds, focus on making your yard more bird-friendly. For tips on things you can do to help the birds, see this article. You can also begin by reading one of my previous blog posts on safely attracting birds to your yard. If your family loves hiking or camping, make small changes to your adventuring routines that will leave less waste. This page describes how to make your hiking excursions more eco-friendly.
One of the easiest ways you can make a positive change is by talking about positive change. Talk, talk, talk about your passion for the environment. Share your love of nature. Brag about the ways in which you are teaching your children to be compassionate and aware of the natural world around them. Eventually, your friends and family will start to notice and appreciate the wildlife around them too.