As we near the Christmas holidays, we’re busy wrapping up one of our many schools’ programmes for the year. One such programme, Global Action Plan Ireland’s 10-week Park Stewardship Programme, aims to engage local young people in supporting the long-term care, ownership, and protection of local parks. This increases appreciation for the parks and ensures that young people have a sense of ownership of these areas. They are then educated on the value of ecosystems and how everything is connected.
As a result, students are exposed to outdoor skills that they can take with them throughout their lives. Once complete, students’ biodiversity identification skills are enhanced along with their drive for local conservation efforts. Most of all, they learn how much fun being park stewards can be!
One Bird, Two Bird, Big Bird, Small Bird
One of the programme modules is on the value birds have in our ecosystem. Our Education Officer, Will Mitchell, loves this module as it “encapsulates the GAP mission as it encourages a much finer knowledge and appreciation of some of our common biodiversity by bringing students up close to it.” This week, students went to Poppintree Park to learn how to identify birds, their adaptations and diets, and their habitats/shelters. There was a ‘full house’ with 46 3rd class pupils from Gaelscoil Bhaile Munna and Virgin Mary Girls’ School participating.
Luckily, the fun started before they even got to the park! On the walk over from the schools, the groups came across different crows, gulls, sparrows, and pied wagtails. Mid-workshop, one student screamed out “What’s that dinosaur-bird?!” when he saw a heron! This lovely bird was found around the pond in Poppintree Park and spurred a conversation on various water-based birds like moorhens, coots, gulls, and mallard ducks.
Students quickly began filling out their worksheets where they identified various parts of birds to see how they are different. They each picked a particular bird to study for the day and the features to focus on. Students were able to choose from beak, colours, feet, legs, and wings. One of the easiest to identify differences was the beak shapes and sizes. Did they have a long-thin beak or a short stubby beak, etc?
Once students learned about the different features of each bird, their scientific analyses grew more in-depth: why are they different? After some quick hypothesising, the group learned that each feature has a purpose. They contribute to movement, camouflage, or even hunting! For example, webbed feet would not be good for perching on trees but are excellent for paddling through water. The webbed feet, on the other hand, would not be good for walking on land. As a result, birds with webbed feet, such as ducks, waddle around on land.
How Can You Help Birds?
Birds don’t just adapt their features; they also adapt their habitats. For example, Seagulls now use flat rooftops instead of cliffs, blackbirds need dense hedges and herons mature trees to roost/nest. Without proper habitats, they won’t be able to play a role in our ecosystem. Birds are important for pest control, seed spreading, and overall ecosystem balance.
Now that it’s winter it’s especially important to help out local birds. You can do this by putting out sunflower seeds or peanuts in bird feeders or having birdhouses in your gardens. Without this, we might soon lose many of the birds we enjoy seeing every day.
Global Action Plan Ireland is very proud of our Park Stewards this year. As always, their interest and passion shone through their excellent work. After the workshop, these students are now aware of some of the plights facing our birds like lack of places to nest, less food availability and even poisons! However, they also know the easy steps they can take to help!
The Park Stewardship Programme in Ballymun is supported by Dublin City Council