Connecting Kids with Migratory Birds

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On a warm sunny afternoon in early November, 2008, members of NiCHE’s Transnational Ecologies group worked with a Grade 4/5 class at Mulberry School in Kingston, Ontario, to try out a new unit on migratory birds. Led by Astrid Michels and assisted by Laura Cameron, the children walked to City Park where the class was divided into four groups. Each group took on the name of a local migratory bird: the children became the Red-tailed Hawks, the Chimney Swifts, the American Robins and the Canada Geese. Although familiar, each of these species has its own fascinating geography and history. For instance, the Chimney Swifts, whose group namesake travels to Peru yearly, learned how Queen’s University once had a large population before their chimney home on Fleming Hall was screened off. The species as a whole is now listed as ‘threatened’ and efforts now are being made at Queen’s and elsewhere to re-create welcoming nesting sites.

After learning more about their particular species in four different hands-on activities involving nesting, migratory patterns, predators/dangers and food, each group of students wrote a message on a postcard decorated with an image of their bird. Each stamped and self-addressed postcard was attached to a helium balloon and then released, with much ceremony and excitement. Two initially were caught up in the trees but the others managed to fly out over the city, heading west. The postcards included a request to the finder to return the card to the School. So far, two postcards have returned. The Robin postcard (see photo of the reverse side) traveled over 300 km to the shore of Lake Simcoe, not far from Orillia, the home town of Stephen Leacock. The finder, June Reimer, wrote the class a letter of encouragement and included a postcard of Leacock’ home. She said, “I was so excited to find your balloons with the attached note….Congratulations on a very imaginative project….”

Transnational Ecologies is working on other ideas and projects that will connect communities along migratory routes in the Americas. For instance, two members will be travelling to Costa Rica over the December break and will meet with communities that share with southern Ontario migratory species like the Wood Thrush. If you have a related project and/or would like to be involved, please contact us via Kirsten Greer,


Featured image: Canada Goose Fight. Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

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Laura Jean Cameron is a Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen’s University, Kingston, and coordinates the Sonic Arts of Place Lab. As a Canada Research Chair in Historical Geographies of Nature (2003-2012), her work has investigated a range of field sciences as place-based practices and as cultural encounters. Before arriving at Queen’s, she held a Junior Research Fellowship in Historical Geography at Churchill College, Cambridge (1999-2002). She is the author of Openings: A Meditation on History, Method and Sumas Lake, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997 and co-author with John Forrester of Freud in Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017. She also co-edited Emotion, Place and Culture, Ashgate, 2009 and Rethinking the Great White North: Race, Nature and the Historical Geographies of Whiteness, UBC Press, 2011. Currently she enjoys writing in various genres about fieldwork, emotions and nature, collaborating on sound installations, and hosting the Fireplace Series: Interdisciplinary Conversations, a podcast series you can listen to here:

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