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Kenmare's youngest citizen scientists take part in Christmas Bird Count 4 Kids

Sunrise on a Saturday morning in December is an event most children sleep through, but eight kids were up and out for the Christmas Bird Count 4 Kids held at the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge December 17th.

12/21/11 (Wed)


Christmas Bird Count 4 Kids . . . Jennifer Jewett, education and outreach coordinator
at the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, instructs a young birder in the use of
his binoculars during an early morning hike. The refuge hosted its first-ever
CBC 4 Kids Saturday morning, in conjunction with Christmas Bird Count events held
by the National Audubon Society each December. Eight children from Kenmare,
plus three parents, attended the event which was filmed for an upcoming

North Dakota Outdoors television segment.


By Caroline Downs

Sunrise on a Saturday morning in December is an event most children sleep through, but eight kids were up and out for the Christmas Bird Count 4 Kids held at the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge December 17th.

Jennifer Jewett, education and outreach coordinator, organized the event, which was the first time the refuge hosted the CBC 4 Kids. She told the kids about the National Audubon Society and the tradition of annual Christmas bird counts held across the nation.

“The National Audubon Society is a group of people just like you who love to look at birds,” she said. “Now, you’re citizen scientists!”

Kenmare’s youngest “citizen scientists” began the morning with a lesson on binocular use, then bundled up for a hike around refuge headquarters. The group stopped at feeders set up on the lawn south of the building, filled with corn, sunflower seeds, and other grains to attract hungry birds.

They moved on to clusters of trees and shrubs and walked through mixed grass habitat, attempting to follow the birding rules about being quiet and listening as well as watching. They paused several times to peer through binoculars to study trees and bushes for signs of birds, and they showed great enthusiasm when one was spotted.

“That’s a bird!” someone shouted as a pheasant burst into flight from the clump of grass where it was hiding. “A big bird!”

Birds of any size were scarce that morning, much to Jewett’s dismay, but a group of four common redpolls waited patiently in the branches at the top of a spruce tree until the kids could approach and view them through binoculars. Two chickadees also made an appearance.

The group warmed up back at refuge headquarters with cups of hot chocolate and handfuls of cookies. They listed their findings for the morning--the redpolls, chickadees and two pheasants--and discussed the fact they had seen eight total birds, with three species, or types of birds, represented.

Jewett talked about types of habitat with the kids and showed a poster featuring several bird species that winter in North Dakota. “I want to see a blue jay!” Abbey Kohler said as she studied the poster.

Bird identification guides proved popular with the kids, too, with brightly colored illustrations to help the young citizen scientists identify what they saw in the field. “I found the chickadee,” said Arand Bartlett, paging through the book as soon as Jewett handed one to him. “It’s on page 225.”

“That’s a black-capped chickadee,” added Kohler. “We saw a black-capped chickadee.”

Jewett explained she would enter all the observations for the morning into the database, an online checklist started by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. The database, which provides information about bird abundance and distribution, can be viewed by other interested bird watchers.

Treats for birds and kids
Once their observations and identification were completed, the kids worked with Jewett to create treats for birds, starting with a base of hydrogenated shortening and peanut butter. “Do you guys get a lot of energy from peanut butter, too?” Jewett asked.

They added scoops of cornmeal and flour, then stirred in a generous portion of birdseed and filled large paper cups with the mixture. A small branch was added to each cup, with a string attached to hang the treat later. The cups were set outside to start freezing before the kids took them to their own yards.

“Do you see all the ingredients on the table that we’re using?” Jewett asked. “You can make this at home.”

She cautioned the group to wait patiently, maybe even for two weeks, for birds to find the energy-packed food. “But once one bird finds the treat, others will follow,” she said. “They’re good communicators.”

The young birders finished the morning by answering questions about birdwatching to win a variety of doorprizes provided for the event, including bird houses, several types of feeders, and field guides. Other kids who enjoyed the morning included Dustin, Matthew, Hannah and Jayda West, Elizabeth Moldenhauer and Tommy Jewett.

North Dakota Outdoors
to show the CBC 4 Kids
segment Sunday night
The CBC 4 Kids at the Des Lacs refuge was attended by Tom Jensen, producer, and Mike Anderson, videographer, to film for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s North Dakota Outdoors television program. “We cover anything that has to do with the outdoors,” Jensen said, “especially if it has an educational focus.”

The two followed the young birders, recording both the outdoors hike and creation of the bird treats and taping some of the kids’ comments. The segment will run on eleven commercial TV stations throughout North Dakota.

According to Jensen, the CBC 4 Kids segment is scheduled during the 10 pm newscast on KXMC Channel 13 in Minot on Sunday, December 25th, unless programming changes because of the Christmas holiday. KMOT also aired the story earlier in the week.

Look for another
CBC 4 Kids next year
Jewett was assisted Saturday by USFWS staff member Jennifer Zorn and parents who accompanied their children for the morning. Jewett wants to see the CBC 4 Kids become an annual event, with a “hometown” team of birders and conservationists developed for Kenmare. Another goal for the morning was to encourage families to enjoy and respect nature together, even if the birds weren’t the most cooperative.

“We want to have people come out and visit the refuge more often,” Jewett said, “and this is one way to do that. The CBC 4 Kids is a wonderfully simple, healthy holiday celebration for any group.”

For more information about the CBC 4 Kids or other activities at the refuge, contact Jewett at 701-385-4046 ext. 221 Monday through Friday between 7:30 am and 4:00 pm, or visit the Facebook page for the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge.