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Teacher, the Ovenbird

I had never even heard about Ovenbirds before we read “The Burgess Bird Book for Children.” Burgess names the Oven Bird in his book Teacher because of the way it mimics his call, “Teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher!” And he explains why he is called the Ovenbird:

It is because of the way Mrs. Teacher and I build our nest. Some people think it is like an oven and so they call us Oven Birds. I think that is a silly name myself, quite as silly as Golden Crowned Thrush, which is what some people call me. I’m not a Thrush. I’m not even related to the Thrush family. I’m a Warbler, a Wood Warbler.”

Teacher in The Burgess Bird Book, Living Press Edition, p. 89-90

I believe that people may mistake North American Ovenbirds for Thrushes because of their coloring. Thrushes are usually rusty brown with black spots trailing down their white tummies. However, the Ovenbird’s size is much too small. They are closer the size of Sparrows or smaller, clearly in line with other Warblers. Let’s take a look at this Wood Warbler’s nest:

Nature of New England

I loved this find from Nature of New England because he also taught us a bit about the Ovenbird’s behavior, which we can use to identify them on the trails. He was on a hike in the woods and saw a little bird dart out from the forest floor in front of him, typical behavior for an Ovenbird.

The Cornell Lab also writes something helpful in identifying this bird in the woods, “The Ovenbird’s rapid-fire teacher-teacher-teacher song rings out in summer hardwood forests from the Mid-Atlantic states to northeastern British Columbia. It’s so loud that it may come as a surprise to find this inconspicuous warbler strutting like a tiny chicken across the dim forest floor. Its olive-brown back and spotted breast are excellent disguise as it gleans invertebrates from the leaf litter.” (Source: allaboutbirds.org)

It’s amazing to be a part of passing down this kind of knowledge to the next generation. We often think that we are all-knowing, but everything we know, especially about the natural world around us, is gleaned from the work of countless generations. Their curiosity and hunt for understanding is what we benefit from today, and that certainly is true of Thornton W. Burgess and his work!

Here is what we gleaned about Teacher the Ovenbird in our study:

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Until next time, keep on birding! <3 Kate

The Burgess Bird Book Coloring & Writing Pages

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Sammy, the Blue Jay

We live in the midst of many trees and often hear the call “Jay Jay Jay.” I love that this is one call that everyone in my family can identify, from our 2 year old to my husband. You might have heard Sammy in the trees and not realized it before. Listen in on the call:

My Backyard Birding

Thornton W. Burgess actually gives Sammy Jay a big role in many of his books. This makes sense because they are prominent and well-known birds. They are very easily identified, however, you may not know that they are actually very intelligent.

Burgess writes about Sammy and Blacky the Crow in a chapter labeling them both robbers. But he picks up on the intelligence and even help Blue Jays can give to other birds.

There are no sharper eyes anywhere than those of Sammy Jay, and I’ll have to say this for him, that whenever he discovers any danger he always gives us warning. He has saved the lives of a good many of us feathered folks in this way. If it wasn’t for this habit of stealing our eggs I wouldn’t have a word to say against him, but at that, he isn’t as bad as Blacky the Crow….

Burgess speaking through the character of Jenny Wren p. 85, Living Books Press Edition

Even allaboutbird.org identifies that “Blue Jays are known to take and eat eggs and nestlings of other birds, (adding) but we don’t know how common this is. In an extensive study of Blue Jay feeding habits, only 1% of jays had evidence of eggs or birds in their stomachs. Most of their diet was composed of insects and nuts.” (source)

Here are the other things we gleaned from our resources about Sammy Jay:

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Blue Jays are smaller than a crow, but surprisingly, they are still quite big. It’s amazing to see their sharp demeanors and strength as they go about their day around the spinney. Until the next time, keep on birding <3 Kate

Burgess Coloring Writing & Coloring Pages

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Blacky, the American Crow

“Caw, caw, caw” is a ringing call that many people would recognize by sound. Crows are large birds and very intelligent. Allaboutbirds mentions:

“Crows sometimes make and use tools. Examples include a captive crow using a cup to carry water over to a bowl of dry mash; shaping a piece of wood and then sticking it into a hole in a fence post in search of food; and breaking off pieces of pine cone to drop on tree climbers near a nest.”

The Intelligence of Crows- Hawaiian Crows “Alala”

Burgess captures a scene where a distressed Mr. and Mrs. Robin have come to their nest expecting to find their eggs, only to find the eggs have been broken and eaten by Blacky the Crow. Crows are omnivores and will eat almost anything. You may have been on a road trip in a secluded area and have seen them indulging in some carrion, which is the fancy term for roadkill. Did you know that they cannot break open the skin of an animal with their beak? They have to wait for another animal to break open the carcass and then they can eat some of it. Allaboutbirds adds that while you may see this sometimes, carrion is not a large part of a crow’s diet. Maybe you can find some information on other things they eat using your resources!

Here is another helpful thing because in the field it can be difficult to recognize whether you are seeing a Raven or an American Crow:

Carnegie Museum of Natural History

It is so interesting to learn a little bit more about birds, isn’t it?! Here is what we gathered from using Cornell Lab’s Allaboutbirds and our Burgess reading:

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Until next time, keep birding! <3 Kate

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Glue Batik

I’m not really sure how I stumbled upon this idea, but I’m certainly glad that I did. If you are looking for something that you can do with all ages, that requires very few supplies, and that you can do over and over again- this is a great activity. We have done it twice. We did it the first time by ourselves and then invited friends to do it with us.

Giving credit where it is due, I found this idea and all the supplies and tutorial from Artsy Karma.

We had the Craft paint already. I bought White Linen Fabric napkins, square and already hemmed, which were perfect for what we wanted to do. I bought Elmers washable gel glue and the Textile Medium using Artsy Karma’s suggestions.

I set up one of our tables outside and put our art tablecloth out there, which we reuse. Then we set to work!

My 7 year old’s design

First, we used a fabric pen (which erases itself after a bit) to draw our designs onto the linen napkins. After drawing our designs, we traced over them with the gel glue and used the wrong end of a paint brush to make sure that the glue didn’t dry in glops but instead spread over the lines of our designs. You may need to add a bit more glue to accomplish this. We let them dry all the way.

Best part? Everyone’s design and skill was at different levels, but they all could do it! Even my two year-old. She skipped the drawing part and just started adding glue to her napkin.

After the glue was dry, it was time to paint. I prepared the paint mixing our acrylic paints with the textile medium using the directions at the back of my textile medium.

In a genius move, which was only truly realized later, I decided to use one plate and one paint brush for each color that we wanted to use. That way the kids did not need to clean their brushes in between using different colors and none of our colors got muddled up or mixed. I would definitely recommend doing it that way and then passing the plates between each other. It was also a great practice in patience and sharing for the kids.

The great thing about this technique is that there is no skill required, but they can grow in technique and skill as they go. The dried glue can be painted over because just like batik, it’s a process that uses a resistant to create the design. In this case, the resistant is the glue. When you wash it later, the paint over the glue washes away with the glue.

After everyone painted, we let the fabric and paint dry all the way. We waited until the next day to complete the next step.

After everything is dry, you can wash away the glue.

I made a hot tub of water and put all of our artwork into the tub to soak for about 30 minutes. Then, we used our fingers to wash away the glue from each of the napkins. We worked it with our fingers until we couldn’t feel any of the slimey glue left, one by one. I let each of the bigger kids wash off the glue from their artwork. I did the others.

Then we let them dry in the sun!

You can see the globs of glue and mixed paint on my little 2 year-old’s artwork. It turned out beautifully! The caterpillar and butterfly combo my 4 year-old made is so sweet! Everybody loved the results of the technique and couldn’t wait to do it again.

I gave my 7 and 8 year-olds some yarn and a large tapestry sewing needle to make two strands of our artwork to hang together in our front window:

The finished product!

We are so happy with the results! Until next time, keep creating!

<3 Kate

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Year 6 of Homeschooling

Last year flew by for us. We settled into a new house, and all of us went through developmental stages in between the seasons, terms, lessons and experiences. We enjoyed the nature around us and loved settling into a place that we can call our own. We are so grateful for all that last year brought, but it was also hard.

I had two little ones, a 3 year old and a 1 year old, and they were unsettled most of the time. Our new-to-us house felt very hot in the warmer months and very cold in the colder months, which is always hard to adjust to for everyone in the family. We did most of our school time on the floor in their room to accommodate for the littles and that was fun, but it was also harder to be intentional and make sure that we were doing all the learning that we could together.

During our summer slow-down I realized how tired I was of schooling on the floor and decided to plan ahead to use our dining room table again for this school year. I set up a space downstairs for all of our books, and got out our age appropriate games and hands-on learning items for our now 4 and 2 year old. I felt relief as we started this sixth year of home education not on the floor, but instead sitting around the table together to learn. I think my kids feel just as much relief as I did, which is sweet.

We have also entered into a new stage for the older two and they are no longer in the same Form. I now have a Form 1 student, age 7, and a Form 2 student, age 9. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out, but I realized as I thought on the end of our last year how eager my 9 year-old was to dive deeper into his subjects and learn more. It’s been a joy to add the Form 2 books into our Morning Routine. We also started Family Science together and a course from Waldorfish for Art, which the kids are all very excited about. This year we’ll also pick up where we left off with Amazing Africa from Heritage Mom. We hope to deepen our love for the Lord, cook, explore nature, and find some new things to make as well.

It’s with happiness in my heart that we start this school year. After a wonderful summer, we are so excited to wet our appetites with the wonderful things to learn around us!

Until next time, <3 Kate

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Forktail, the Barn Swallow

Barn Swallows are one of my favorite birds to watch as they fly over fields catching insects and really perform remarkable aerial acrobatics in the process. It always calming to watch and enjoy their flight for food.

Often, you will find Barn Swallows far away from any barns, which are a common place for them to build their homes, but not the only place! They will use many different kinds of human made structures to build their nests. We often see them nesting underneath the bridges of the forest preserves we visit. This is a very popular place for them because they like to dart over the water underneath to catch their meals.

The need for structure is an important one because of the way that Forktail builds his nest with mud and straw. This is an absolutely amazing video of how they build their nest step by step staring Forktail himself:

Isn’t that cool, what a feat of engineering and meticulous care!

I love the description that the Cornell Lab gives Barn Swallows:

Glistening cobalt blue above and tawny below… Look for the long, deeply forked tail that streams out behind this agile flyer and sets it apart from all other North American swallows.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Swallow/

Here is what we learned about Forktail:

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Have you seen a Barn Swallow before?

Until next time, keep birding! <3 Kate

Burgess Bird Coloring & Writing Pages

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Twitter the Purple Martin

As the largest of the Swallow family, Purple Martins are very social birds. Take it from Skimmer the Tree Swallow who explains to Johnny Chuck:

“I like a home by myself, such as I’ve got here, but Twitter loves company. He likes to live in an apartment house with a lot of his own kind. That is why he always looks for one of those houses with a lot of rooms in it, such as Farmer Brown’s boy has put up on the top of that tall pole out in his backyard. He pays for all the trouble Farmer Brown’s boy took to put that house up. If there is anybody who catches more flies and winged insects than Twitter, I don’t know who it is.” The Burgess Bird Book for Children

Here in the Chicagoland area, there is a really fun Cook County Forest Preserve called River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook, IL, which has colony housing that you can go and see. They also have an amazing bird exhibit inside and some larger birds of prey to see outside.

Allaboutbirds.org mentions that Native Americans hung up dried, empty gourds for Purple Martins to nest in long before European settlers arrived in North America. Isn’t that amazing? We also found out about The Purple Martin Conservation Association as we researched more about Twitter.

Here are all of the things we noted in our Burgess Writing section for Twitter:

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Twitter is really a handsome bird when you look at his blue-black feathers and the sun catches him just right to become iridescent. And now we know how useful he is as well!

Until next time, keep birding <3 Kate

Burgess Bird Coloring & Writing Pages

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Sweetvoice, The Vesper Sparrow

Our final sparrow is Sweetvoice, the Vesper Sparrow. The name that Burgess gave this bird, Sweetvoice, and even Vesper have labeled this Sparrow perfectly and here’s why:

Vesper Sparrows sing a sweet tinkling song during the day and well into the evening hours—the twilight of vespers, prompting its name… a sweet series of musical slurs and trills.

Allaboutbirds.org

Listen to a part of their song:

Cornell Lab- Vesper Sparrow Singing

Here is what we found through our gathering search on Sweetvoice:

Sweetvoice: Vesper Sparrow

Size & Shape: Vesper Sparrows are fairly large sparrows.

Color Pattern: Brown overall with crisp streaks.

Diet: Insects

Behavior: Spends most of its time on the ground.

Something you didn’t know: The Vesper Sparrow responds quickly to changes in habitat.

I found it very encouraging that Vesper Sparrows are resilient and creative birds, “often the first bird species to occupy reclaimed mine sites and abandon old farm fields as they revert to forest.” (allaboutbirds.org) With so much habitat destruction made by humans, it is a wonder that birds can reclaim what was once lost and make a home in places where reforestation can occur. While these little birds spend most of their time on the ground, they are one of the easier sparrows to identify with their song, the time of day they love to sing (twilight), and the fact that when they sing they like to perch high above the grass to let their song be heard.

Sweetvoice, Form 1 Student, Grade 3

Until next time, keep singing with Sweetvoice and birding! <3 Kate

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Attracting Hummingbirds

We absolutely love hummingbirds. In our area there are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that migrate up for breeding season during Spring and Summer.

A Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at our feeder

Last year, we started trying to attract them a little late, but by the end of Summer and definitely by early Fall, we started to have consistent visits from a pair of hummingbirds. This is how we did it.

First, we went to our local greenhouse and got some red flowers. They were called Salvia Coccinea, or Scarlet Sage wildflowers. They looked perfect for hummingbirds, who love bright colors, because they had long tubular flowers lining the stems. We had the flowers out all summer and eventually they caught the hummingbird’s attention.

We also got a hummingbird feeder and found a recipe for homemade Hummingbird nectar on the Audubon website. I made sure to use the recommended sugar because, as Audubon warns, other sugars can cause problems for the hummingbirds and honey can result in dangerous fungal growth. Hummingbird nectar should be changed out regularly in order to ensure that there isn’t anything growing that will harm the birds.

Homemade Nectar

We love making our own nectar because the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds love it, it’s so easy to make, and it’s cost-effective. First thing this Spring, the Hummingbirds came straight to us!

Until next time, keep on birding <3 Kate

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Sooty, the Chimney Swift

So, the big question is…. Is a Chimney Swift a swallow? Even Peter thinks that Sooty, the Chimney Swift, is a swallow, but he isn’t! Burgess lets Jenny Wren answers our question, “He hasn’t any one nearer than some sort of second cousins, Boomer the Nighthawk, Whippoorwill, and Hummer the Hummingbird” (Burgess Bird Book, Living Press Edition, p.75). Wow, that’s really interesting!


Cornell Lab’s Allaboutbirds calls the Chimney Swift “a bird best identified by silohette.” With a short body and tail and curved wings, the Chimney Swift flies high above gliding it’s way through the air.

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Chimney Swifts use small sticks and saliva to build their nests onto the side of chimneys or in hollow trees. They gather the sticks for their nest while in flight, bathe in flight, and rarely rest. Most birds will perch on a tree branch, the chimney swift uses his tail feathers to hold onto the side of a chimney or tree in order to rest.

Let’s hear a little more about Chimney Swifts from this awesome video from Birds Canada:

I love finding and sharing such wonderful birding resources. Until next time, keep birding! <3 Kate

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