After a lot of preparation and weeks of anticipation, lower-school students at Mount Paran Christian School (MPCS) can hear the charming call of dozens of baby bird hatchlings across the school’s 68-acre campus.
February was bluebird month in Georgia, when the Eastern bluebird began the process of seeking nesting spots and crafting its signature cup-shaped nest, in anticipation of warmer weather. This spring, MPCS students were front-and-center, supporting the bluebirds and witnessing the entire hatching process.
After years of development causing habitat loss, pesticide use and the introduction of non-native species, the bluebird population had been on the decline. Thankfully, due to conservation efforts; restrictions on harmful chemicals, such as DDT; and increased public awareness, the number of bluebirds no longer is declining.
MPCS deployed its own nesting boxes on campus during the 2018-2019 school year. This past school year, the bluebird nesting program grew, with seven nesting boxes on campus — one for each grade level from pre-K3 through fifth grade. The boxes are placed in various locations on the MPCS Bluebird Trail. The goal is for each grade level to monitor its own nesting box, with third-graders overseeing a nesting box outfitted with a webcam.
“The MPCS Bluebird Trail creates an awareness that allows our students to be purposeful in caring for God’s precious creatures and the environment, while gaining an understanding that all of us have the ability and responsibility to make contributions in caring for this world,” said Tina Baker, lower-school administrator and lower-school academic technology specialist.
The goal for the nesting boxes is to attract bluebird pairs — monogamous during the mating season — to the campus. Students in the lower school are able to observe the birds, gaining awareness of the declining bluebird population, while learning more about nature and how ecological impacts affect the environment.
One challenge included finding ideal nesting box locations for the sometimes picky bird pairs. House sparrows and European starlings are fierce competitors for nesting spaces, and are much more aggressive than bluebirds. Despite these challenges, the first year of the nesting boxes on campus was successful. In addition to four Carolina chickadee hatchlings, 12 baby bluebirds hatched during the inaugural year. For the 2020-2021 year, lower-school students welcomed 11 baby bluebirds, five Carolina chickadees and two Carolina wrens.
A new addition to the program in the spring of 2020 allowed interested fifth-graders the opportunity to serve as mentors to students in the other lower-school grades. Students were chosen via an application process managed by fifth-grade teacher Shannon Howard. However, the fifth-grade bluebird mentor program temporarily was halted this season, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
As the program gains momentum each school year, the goal is to integrate the nesting boxes further into the lower-school curriculum. Students will continue contributing to scientific research on bluebird populations as they report their observations and data to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s nationwide NestWatch program, which tracks trends in the reproductive biology of birds. Observations will be added to those of thousands of other NestWatchers in a continually growing database used by researchers to understand and study birds.
The MPCS program has managed to help increase the local bluebird population, bring awareness of the plight facing the environment, and demonstrate that everyone can make a difference. Families can start by adding a nesting box to their yard. To learn more about the bluebird program at Mount Paran Christian School, or how to build a nesting box, visit mtparanschool.com/bluebirds.
– By Amber Irizarry