Birding at Conner Prairie
What motivates you to spend time outside? Perhaps it’s a sunny day and you want to take a walk with friends or family. It could be that you’ve been spending time on your computer and are granting yourself a screen time break. Maybe you are drawn to fresh air and consider yourself the “outdoorsy” type. Time spent outside and in nature is unique and personal, just like each of us. For me, it’s the birds who draw me outside.
Sparking a Love of Nature
Like many of us, I spent the spring of 2020 indoors, gazing out the window wondering what the “new normal” meant as I was navigating the pandemic. At the time I was a classroom teacher for Denver Public Schools, spending my days on Google Meets and attempting to create lesson plans to motivate and support my elementary school students. On one of my lingering gazes out the window of my home “office” (imagine a table, computer, and an interrupting cat) I noticed a small, hopping, feathered creature exploring the tree branch outside of my window. My curious cat and I were intrigued, took time to watch this feathered friend and appreciate the break from screen time. I watched this small black and white bird furiously explore the branch. A colleague had told me about an app to help identify birds, so I gave it a try. Opening “Merlin” on my phone, I followed the simple steps to input my observations: Where did I see the bird? (Denver), When? (April), What size? (smaller than a robin), What were the main colors? (black, white), What was the bird doing? (sitting in a tree). Equipped with answers to these five simple questions, the app helped me identify the bird as a Black-capped Chickadee. I learned that it’s a common bird in the northern U.S., it hammers open seeds with its stubby bill, and flocks with other songbirds. Also, it’s an adorable looking bird. It flew away, much to the chagrin of both me and my curious cat. Yet a few hours later the bird was back, and I was able to recognize it. And when the bird visited the branch the next day I instantly identified it as a Black-capped Chickadee. Armed with this knowledge I began to wonder, “What other birds live in my neighborhood?” And thus…my love for birding began.
Find Your Spark
The Black-Capped Chickadee that I observed almost three years ago in Denver was my “spark bird.” The Audubon Society clarifies that a “spark bird” is “a species that triggers a lifelong passion for birding.” I bring my passion for birding to my work at Conner Prairie as the Nature Engagement Specialist. I love spending time at our Treetop Outpost experience area. We have a 4-story treehouse and invite guests of all ages to explore, observe, wonder, and play. The Outpost has a variety of experience areas providing guests the opportunity to dig, build, create, make music, run, climb, and follow their curiosity. I follow my curiosity at Conner Prairie when I spend time outdoors observing the birds that call our museum home. I’ve had the joy of observing White-breasted Nuthatches flitting from branch to branch, Blue Jays noisily announcing their presence, Red-shouldered Hawks soundlessly roving the treetops, various woodpeckers excavating trees for food, House Sparrows stealthily collecting crumbs from under the picnic tables, and the occasional warbler passing through during spring or fall migration. Conner Prairie, with our 1000+ acres of outdoor space, is a wonderful place to observe birds and I’m often seen wandering the grounds with my binoculars.
Adventure is Calling
We welcome all guests to enjoy time outside at Conner Prairie, and we’d love to support you as you spark your curiosity for nature (and perhaps birds!). Maybe you’d like to venture out to Treetop Outpost and borrow an Adventure Backpack. Each backpack contains a variety of tools to support your nature explorations, as well as some suggestions and tips for using the tools. Additionally, a Nature Exploration Guide in each backpack provides invitations for you to connect with nature in ways that work for you. Time spent in nature is unique, personal, and enhances well-being and we are excited to support your journey.
About the Author
Michelle Morton is the Nature Engagement Specialist at Conner Prairie. She works with the Education Team to facilitate and lead nature-based play and learning activities for guests. Before joining the Conner Prairie team in 2022, Michelle taught elementary school for 17 years in Germany, Singapore, Czech Republic, and Denver, Colorado. She values process over product learning and is passionate about facilitating curiosity and discovery. She loves riding her bike, cooking, reading, playing board games with her family, the color green, and (of course) birding.