Learning Together: Madison Audubon's Nature Education

Photo by Carolyn Byers/Madison Audubon

Did you know that blue jays can mimic the sounds of other birds, including red-tailed hawks? Or that queens are the only bumblebees that live through the winter? Or that the roots of a prairie plant can be 40 feet deep?

Nature has always been an important source of inspiration and learning for humankind, from inventors and scientists to poets and writers. A key part of Madison Audubon’s mission is to get people of all ages outside, engaged, and curious about the amazing world around us because when we care about something, we tend to care for it.

Photograph by Kaitlin Svabek/Madison Audubon

Explore, Enjoy, and Discover
Madison Audubon partners with local schools and community centers for nature-based education programs that connect kids from all backgrounds to the natural world in their own communities. Our educators might be outside with students on a scavenger hunt, dodging imaginary dangers on a bird-migration-themed obstacle course, or tromping through mud to identify bugs and animal tracks. Many of our lesson plans are available to teachers and classrooms for free on our website at madisonaudubon.org/free-lessons . Our education team is constantly coming up with new ideas for games and programs.

For older students, our Conservation Academy, done in partnership with Operation Fresh Start, seeks to inspire young folks and help them acquire the skills needed to take part in conservation work. These career-oriented sessions, supported by generous grants from the Alliant Energy Foundation, the Evjue Foundation, and the Friends of MacKenzie Education Center, might involve local conservation leaders discussing topics as wide-ranging as urban canid tracking or electrofishing.

In addition to working with students and young adults, Madison Audubon is involved in creating opportunities for all members of the community to learn and grow. Beyond classes about birding and learning how to identify birds, you can find classes on art and drawing, photography, and crafting collision-prevention curtains for windows. New this fall, we’re offering a class called All About Hummingbirds, where participants will learn about these beautiful birds and even how to attract them by providing robust hummingbird habitat.

For a quick burst of information in a friendly format, pop in for one of our Evenings with Audubon, a free series open to the public. These one-hour talks feature fascinating speakers with unique perspectives on nature and the environment, from birders, researchers, writers, and scientists to artists and even game designers.

Photograph by Carolyn Byers/Madison Audubon

Collaborating to Further Conservation Science
For folks who want to deeply experience the world around them, one of the best ways to get involved is to become citizen scientists. Madison Audubon trains community volunteers to participate in a variety of research programs that have local, national, and even global significance.

Imagine watching the entire process of a pair of bald eagles raising young: from nest construction to egg laying to feeding chicks to the youngsters eventually flying from the nest. Volunteers in our Bald Eagle Nest Watch document nest activity at over 100 eagle nests in 26 Wisconsin counties to help the Wisconsin DNR better understand what the eagle population is like in our state. If eaglets mature and fledge from the nest, the volunteers track how many. If the nest fails, the volunteers hypothesize why.

The Kestrel Nest Box Monitoring Program focuses on supporting the nesting needs of American kestrels, North America’s smallest (and perhaps most fabulous) falcon. Volunteers visit nest boxes regularly in the spring to document if there are kestrels nesting, how many, and get involved in banding the birds later in the summer to study their migration and nest fidelity. The fuzzy white kestrel chicks are a hoot to watch.

Photograph by Arlene Koziol

On the other end of the circle of life, our Bird Collision Corps volunteers survey buildings in the Madison area to document if, when, and where birds fatally collide with windows. It’s an intense but meaningful project aiming to find solutions to this problem, which kills up to a billion birds each year in the United States.

If you like learning through getting your hands dirty, the volunteer opportunities at our sanctuaries offer an incredible experience. Your task may be to plant wild strawberries, but you’ll also learn the context for how and why—this native plant provides pollen and fruit for wildlife, ground cover for plants, and was once so abundant that horses’ hooves and wagon wheels were stained red. You may help study the success rate of these plants and wonder what that northern harrier overhead is hunting. You could also sign up to count butterflies, identify dragonflies, or collect seeds of native plants.

Anyone interested in how to get started with birding is always welcome to join Madison Audubon’s upcoming field trips or get outside with a local club, like the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin or Feminist Bird Club’s Madison Chapter.

In the next issue, we’ll share more ways for everyone to get outside and enjoy the natural world together. Until then, happy learning!

Kaitlin Svabek and Brenna Marsicek make up the Madison Audubon communications team. Connect with them at info@madisonaudubon.org and follow @madisonaudubon. For a full calendar and educational opportunities, visit madisonaudubon.org/events .

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