Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Andrew Stiles’ Build a Birdhouse Project

I have a fun and educational hands on activity for elementary students, ideally Grades 1, 2 and 3. Building functional nesting boxes for wrens, chickadees, bluebirds and swallows is easier than you think. I have all the pre-cut wood, hammers and nails for everyone to build and take home their own birdhouse for only $10 per student. My hope is to instill in young people a love for the natural world.

This is a great afternoon school project, starting with a slideshow (35 minutes) then 1.5 hours for building. I always find the event well received, no matter what the age. Curriculum fits:
Science 1: Needs of Animals and Plants and Building Things
Science 3: Animal Life Cycles and Building with a Variety of Materials

Topics cover in my talk:
How to be a cool Birdwatcher
Who’s who in your feathered neighbourhood
The life cycle of Bluebirds and Swallows
Hammer and Nail basics, plus filing and sawing
How to build and set up your very own functional birdhouse
Daily actions to be an environmental champion

Andrew Stiles
8840 33rd Ave NW
Calgary, Alberta
T3B 1M5
(403) 288-0733

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Even six year olds can put one together!

Because of many teachers inviting to their classes for a building day, I have helped thousands of grade school students build their very own birdhouse from pre-cut wood that I supply.
Here is a great news clip that tells the story on location!  Thanks to Mr. Janz of CTV

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Stiles Birdhouse Top Ten Functionality Features

1. It has no perch. Tree holes in the wild have no perches, so the birds that use nest boxes do not need them. They can be a disadvantage in that they may attract House Sparrows, an invasive species that often takes over nests from our native hole-nesting birds.
2. Entrance Hole Size is just right. Bluebirds need an entrance hole 1 9/16 inches in diameter. This size also keeps out Starlings (which can get in 1 5/8), another invasive species that takes over nest boxes from native species.

3. Floor Dimensions. The inside dimensions of the box are at 5 inches by 5.5 inches so that there is room for the young to develop.

4. Box Height. The distance from the bottom of the entrance hole to the floor of the box is at least 5 inches. This keeps the developing young well down in the box and away from predators that might approach the entrance hole.

5. Removable Roof. This helps in two ways: to monitor the progress and health of the young; and to clean out the box at the end of the season.

6. Ventilation. There is a gap at the top of the box to let hot air out when the sun beats down on the box in summer.

7. Drainage. The floor of the box is slightly thinner to allow any water to drain out of the box.

8. Attachable to fence posts or trees because the back extends past the floor.

9. Made of sturdy 3/4 inch thick plywood that will insulate the birds from cold and heat.

10. The roof Overhangs and is sloped to shade the entrance hole and keep the rain out.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Birdwatching for kids

May thru July, I love to show young people the birds up close as they nest in my birdhouses.  Big Hill Springs park is perfect for curious kids that want to see the birds right when they hatch.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Feedback from Calgary Teachers

I have had the privilege of presenting my stewardship lesson in over 100 schools.  Helping nurture a bird loving generation is my passion.

"Your presentation was perfect - filled with great photos, personal stories and examples of ways that children can get active about caring for their environment. You held the students' interest and spoke to them so passionately about your experiences both as a child and adult, I know you enthusiasm rubbed off on many." ~Patricia Farley of Coventry Hills School.

Just wanted to say thanks so much for the day...The kids will never forget it. They had so much fun and learned a lot. ~Debbie Briere of West Dalhousie

We were very fortunate to have Andrew come to speak to the students about the importance of birds in our community. His power point presentation about the blue bird and our environment was very informative. The time he has taken to prepare the presentation and the materials for all 42 of our students to participate was incredible. The students were so excited to not only build bird houses, but also rush home and put them up somewhere. They were inspired to make a difference in their world. It was very educational for the students, parents and teachers!
~Laurelle Edmiston of Ecole Sam Livingston School

Andrew is breath of fresh air, an inspiration of the goodness in humankind. He actually cut the wood for all 68 students to make bird houses. ~Arolynn Kitson of Fish Creek School

Andrew! Thanks for coming out to our school every year, going on for over a decade now.  We appreciate your enthusiasm that inspires all our students to care for the birds. ~Melissa Lowther of Ralph McCall School

Andrew! Thanks for an awesome day with my students. You are an inspiration to me and all. For next year, we will begin “OPERATION BLUEBIRD” and have students build 5 birdhouses each.
~Royce Williams of Masters Academy

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My hope is to inspire a generation of young people that will become nature champions.

I love to lead stewardship outings for students, where pulling invasives or tackling litter is woven into exploring the amazing natural areas we have right here in Calgary.
 Listen to these nature-enthused kids:
"Enviro Club is so much fun! We had a lot of crazy adventures. Between walking in the forest and trudging across streams, we got to learn a lot from Mr. Stiles, a real environmentalist."
Building birdhouses was the best day at school ever! Josh in Grade 3

Monday, February 01, 2010

Calgary Parks, Yours to Discover

Nature Calgary has a great guide book by this title. I spend a lot of time exploring Calgary's best wild spaces and love to show others what can be learned in Nature's classroom. All my exeditions are filled with learning and discovery, and compliment the science curriculum. Young people always say they are the best trails to be found.
Grade 4: Plant Growth & Changes
Grade 5: Wetland Ecosystems
Grade 6: Trees and Forests
Grade 7: Interactions & Ecosystems

Friday, June 30, 2006

Breeding weed warriors in and outside of the classroom

When I was a kid, I loved sword fighting. Pretending I was a powerful warrior that could slay the enemies with one swift swipe of my weapon provided endless fun and was sometimes even useful work. At my uncle’s farm just north of Calgary, the enemy was Bull Thistle, a formidable foe with huge spikes and a menacing stature that was displacing edible pasture grass. Destroying the weed was satisfying, good exercise, which set me up to see a major paradigm in the natural world: the invasion of our ecosystem by non-native invasive plants. The story of invasions by foreign plants and animals is a massive topic, equal in significance to climate change or urban sprawl and so widespread that scarcely any ecosystem adjacent to the settled parts of Canada has gone unaffected. To the south, Americans are battling not just weeds but invasive snakes, feral pigs, all sorts of Asian insects and fish, and English birds, including starlings, House sparrows, pigeons, initially brought over to keep immigrants from feeling homesick. How can we as educators break this story down into interesting lessons that will create engaged citizens with a passion for preserving what beautiful biodiversity we still have left? Let me share a few ideas that have been a hit with the young students I have taken on classes in the woods. At first glance, one is struck by how beautiful weeds can be. Ox-eye Daisy, Purple Loosestrife, Blueweed and the like have all found refuge in local flower gardens because of their prolific blossoms and bright display. But it’s not a beauty contest. It’s a matter of neighborliness. Every plant has co-evolved with a community of insects that have figured out over a long period of time how to make a meal out of leaves. Look at a native plant and you will find evidence of some species munching on it. Not so with the foreigners. In fact, one of the reasons the non-natives are doing so well is that they don’t have to deal with insects anymore, having left their pests back in their home country. Scientists who want to control these plants naturally, often go abroad and get these bugs, and after thorough testing to make sure their appetite is not going to switch to something native, will introduce these into the wilderness here. Making a leaf collection is a great way for students to see connections in the ecosystem, noting all the different bugs that depend on the energy and specific chemicals produced by plants. Such as Monarchs munching on the otherwise unpalatable Milkweed. Meanwhile, a sampling of non-native leaves will reveal that they remain perfectly un-touched. The domino effect of losing native plants, then bugs, then birds alludes to a new Silent Spring. We have noticed that once common birds in Calgary like Kingbirds, Orioles, Canada Jays, Vireos, and many others have become scarce. Making these connections with a food web diagram and real leaves, is one place to start. The other collection to be made is flower bouquets from all of the colorful weeds. Take a field trip in the latter half of Spring and bring back a collection of Goatsbeard, Knapweed, Star-thistle, or whatever is growing on your grounds. Use them to decorate the classroom without any guilt. Useful in our region, the book Wayside Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest by Dr. Dee Strickler, has a rating system of what should be picked. In general, you can pick generous amounts of all weeds. But with common native plants like Yarrow or Vetch, you should pick just one or two. For rarer natives like orchids, take only pictures. Have a contest in flower arranging or how big of vase can be filled. If you have a large area with untouched dandelions or chamomile, you can make edible salads or teas and eat your way through a weed lesson. You’d be surprised how many dandelion leaves can be consumed by students when diluted in a fruit juice smoothie, and just how delicious they taste. A personal favorite way to get youth interacting with weeds is to launch a war. You will need just the right area with a lot of plants to work with, preferably a weedy forgotten corner of disturbed land somewhere. Dispense the armor, gloves for a simple pulling operation or some loppers for removal of bushes. We do this in late June (when academic absorption capacity is maxed out) in a small natural area near the school, chopping out the Cotoneasters and making a massive pile of their branches. Pulling down the vine of a giant Yellow Clematis, gives a sense of power. Kids love a challenge that requires some dirtiness and collaboration, and are often more capable than we imagine. Ever heard of Burdock? The sticky plant that inspired Velcro, appeals to primary grade students as a cool hitch-hiker seed (Hound’s Tongue works well too). I once gave a mock flogging to a junior high student with a dried-up burdock, covering him in burrs. The student wore disposable clothes, but one can imagine what a pain it would be to have this plant all over you if you were a wild animal with no groomer. Small birds find their seeds a death trap. Removing it from the field makes a big difference. You can see the results right away. Regardless of how it is done, choreographing some kind of destruction is always a hit with teenagers. It may only make a dent but it helps create a mentality of being a defender for our environment. Start with assessing what weed populations are around your school grounds and then choose your preferred method of interaction like a scavenger hunt, spreading vector map, or food web guide. Often the best place to start is by asking the people who know the most about native plants, your local naturalist club or parks department for example. I was fortunate to find master plant identifier Gus Yaki of Nature Calgary, who taught me everything I know. Incorporate at least one field trip to a natural area and introduce your students to their fellow citizens of the photosynthesizing kind. Think ahead and arm them with walking sticks. You never know if they will become swords for the next generation of weed warriors.