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October 25, 2010

Fun For Fall

A list of fun to-dos while watching your
wild neighbors this fall

  • Migrating Canada geese are readily recognized by sight and sound. iStockphoto.com

  • It is not uncommon to hear a chipmunk before you see her. Debra Firmani

  • They may be fuzzy; they may be cute; but the truth is that woolly bear caterpillars cannot predict the weather. iStockphoto.com

  • Their brilliant color makes blue jays a stunning photographic subject against fall foliage. iStockphoto.com 

  • Have a fall scavenger hunt—How many seasonal changes can you find in the ways the wildlife and plants in your yard and neighborhood look? Write them in a calendar on the days you notice them. Compare your lists with friends and family. You can even hold onto the calendar for a year to see how closely the changes you saw match what happens next year.

  • Keep your eyes and ears peeled—for other animals on the move. The most familiar: the vees of migrating geese as they wing their way southward for the winter, honking and hinking to encourage their fellow fliers onward. But they aren’t the only ones. Can you spot chipmunks scampering across the yard with nuts? Maybe you can’t see them, but can you hear them rustle the drying leaves?

  • Relax and imagine—Close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the season. Try to figure out what they might mean. Imagine yourself as a woolly bear caterpillar seeking a safe place to hide for winter, a chipmunk caching food in your burrow, a squirrel gathering leaves for a snug nest (called a drey), or a songbird alighting on a branch to rest up for tonight’s flight toward faraway wintering grounds.

Contribute to Science

  • Watch for birds visiting your yard during migration and report them on ebird, a real-time, online checklist program, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society to develop a database of information on the number and location of birds in North America.

  • Sign up for Project FeederWatch, a program in which you periodically count the number and species of birds (you’ll be given a kit to help you identify them) you see at your backyard feeders November through early April and submit your counts to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Bring out Your Inner Artist

  • Photograph your wild neighbors as they enjoy the last warm days of the year and prepare for winter. Remember, though, it’s a busy time for them--be careful not to interfere with their preparations. 

  • Sketch the trees, birds, squirrels, chipmunks, or overall landscape of your yard as the season unfolds. Don’t worry if you haven’t had a class or you aren’t good at it yet--sketching is for everyone, not just artists. You’ll find that simply trying to draw a picture will help you see what you’re looking at more clearly.

Hands-on Helping

  • Build a brush pile—or rebuild a disintegrating one with fresh branches—to provide safe cover and shelter for small wild animals.
  • Transform your nest boxes into cozy winter roosting boxes by lining them with fresh pine needles or cedar shavings.
  • Plant a native tree or bush for your wild neighbors to shelter in, dine on, or just enjoy. Fall is a perfect time to bring new plants into your yard.

Create a Humane Backyard

A place that offers food, shelter, water, refuge from toxic sprays, and safety from mowers—it’s what every creature wants, right? They want a Humane Backyard. By making simple changes, you can create that haven of comfort and security for local wildlife. And you can do it anywhere: in the city, suburbs, or country. So look around--at your backyard, balcony, or the park down the street—then let us teach you how to make your own Humane Backyard. Once you’ve learned how, take our Humane Backyard pledge.

Resources

» All About Birds: Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s guide to identifying birds.
» ebird: Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society sponsor this online checklist program for reporting and tracking bird sightings.
» Project FeederWatch: Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen science project for monitoring birds at feeders through the winter months.
» Journey North: A global study of wildlife migration (both north and south), and seasonal change, featuring science education and activities, photos, maps, and more.
» Monarch Watch: Schoolyards, and parks. Learn all about the biology and conservation of Monarch butterflies.
» Music of Nature: Birds, frogs, insects, mammals, and more in high-definition video and sound recordings. Be sure visit this new and growing website soon and often!
» University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Animal Diversity Web: Natural history, photos, range maps, and other cool facts about birds, insects, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and more.

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