Breathing New (Wild) Life into the Back Courtyard!

By: Gerry Bird
As LCS students returned to in-person classes this week, they may have noticed an unusual number of birds flitting about the school’s back courtyard. Some feathered friends have been drawn to feeders that were set up this winter on the small patch of lawn between Grove House and the Dining Hall. The centerpiece of the new feeding station is a Squirrel-Stopper pole system. This system has a spring-loaded baffle designed to prevent even the most acrobatic of bushy-tailed interlopers from reaching the feeders suspended from its outstretched arms. But the squirrels haven’t been totally excluded, as Eastern Grey Squirrels and Red Squirrels have hungrily accepted the invitation to dine on the mixed wild bird seed that is scattered on the ground under the feeders each morning. 
About a dozen bird species have also been regular visitors at the feeders since they were first installed last month, including: Black-Capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, both Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, American Goldfinches, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, European Starlings, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, and Mourning Doves.  This season has also seen an influx of finch species that normally reside farther north but which have moved southward due to a poor winter seed crop in the boreal forests.   Irruption years of this sort occur periodically and this winter, the phenomenon has resulted in the observation of northern species, like Bohemian Waxwings, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, and both Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, feeding on or under the courtyard feeders, or in the surrounding trees. 

Providing opportunities for students to observe native birds at close range, in the heart of the LCS campus, aligns well with the school's Environmental Stewardship Value. Lakefield College School is committed to "deepening our connections with, and responsibility to, nature and the outdoors", as well as getting students outdoors every day, as outlined in the current Strategic Plan: Vision, Direction, Focus. There is also a well-documented body of evidence attesting to the health and wellness benefits of birding and engaging with nature in general. For example, in the 2019 Audubon Magazine article, Birding with Benefits:  How Nature Improves our Mental Mindset, environmental psychologist, Gregory Bratman notes: “Evidence is there to support the conclusion that contact with nature benefits our mood, our psychological well-being, our mental health, and our cognitive functioning".  
In addition to the mental health benefits, the new bird feeding program offers some meaningful curricular connections. For example, we’re hopeful of enrolling some LCS Science and Outdoor Education classes in Project Feederwatch, a citizen science research and education project sponsored by Birds Canada and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Participation in this project will allow our students to contribute to a continent-wide data-set that will help support bird research and conservation efforts by monitoring their distribution and abundance. 
In the meantime, students and staff passing through the back courtyard are being treated to glimpses of colour, fluttering wings, and the sound of birdsong – a welcome antidote for a covid-weary world!
Editor’s Note:  The accompanying photos were taken by Gerry Bird and Simon Spivey (LCS Photographer). Will Callaghan - who along with being the school’s Content Creator is also a keen birder - captured the striking photo of a Female Pine Grosbeak. This species is a northern finch that has moved southward this winter, foraging in a berry tree from which some of the LCS feeders are suspended. Readers who enjoy watching winter birds, but lack access to feeders, might consider monitoring one of the live, online feeder cams, like the Cornell FeederWatch Cam in Ithaca, New York.
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4391 County Road 29, Lakefield Ontario K0L 2H0   705.652.3324


Lakefield College School is a private, coeducational boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12, located in Lakefield, Ontario, Canada.

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