March 20 may be the official start of spring, but some early birds are already gearing up for egg-laying season. Bluebirds are among the first to build neat, cup-like nests of fine grass and pine needles for their powder-blue eggs. Different species of birds build different types of nests: for example, house sparrow nests are a jumble of odds and
ends (I can relate), made up of coarse grass, cloth, white feathers, and twigs. Their speckled eggs are creamy, white, or gray. Black-capped chickadees build downy nests of soft plant fibers, moss, and fur where they will lay white eggs with brown speckles.
Children can help birds gather nest materials by hanging colored yarn, ribbon, or even hair cuttings from low tree branches. It’s always fun to spy a personalized nest in the backyard. Children can also try to build their own nests from grass and twigs; doing so provides instant insight into why robins line their nests with sticky mud.
For a different spin on Easter egg dyeing, mix up a batch of natural hues. Onion skins produce a lovely orange, and pomegranate juice a purple-scarlet hue. Click here for directions on how to brew natural dyes.
What to do when your child finds a baby bird on the ground? Make sure the family dog (or cat) is safely inside, and then let nature be. Mother birds are likely nearby and will continue to care for fallen fledglings.
Chocolate bird nests are an annual spring treat for the Arboretum’s preschoolers. To make your own, mix two cups of either unsweetened shredded wheat cereal or chow mein noodles with one cup of melted butterscotch chips and one cup of melted chocolate chips. Let children shape the gooey mixture into nests (plastic gloves advised!) and fill cooled nests with a few malted eggs.
by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator