for the birds: nesting kindergartners

Have I mentioned how much I love my kids' school? Horizon Community Learning Center is a pre-K-12 charter school here in Ahwatukee (Phoenix) that we discovered for our eldest five years ago when he was entering the sixth grade. Porter started there this year for kindergarten. We love it in every way, and the project I witnessed today is a perfect example of why we feel that way.

Each quarter, the K-8th grade classes do in-depth studies on specific subjects or themes. They work on their studies every day of that quarter. This is called "project group." At the end of the quarter, the students present to family and friends what they have learned. It's always impressive, but to see these five- and six- year olds speak in front of a large group of mostly adults, sometimes with self-created props or a PowerPoint presentation goes beyond my comprehension. The kids are truly awesome and are that way because the team of teachers is phenomenal and the parents support the effort. As advertised, the school really is a community.

This quarter, the kindergartners are studying animal habitats with a special focus on birds, a subject I shared about several weeks ago. They have studied real bird skeletons and labeled all of the parts, then compared them to human skeletons. They dissected bird feathers. They used beak models created by the teachers so they could learn what types of beaks are beneficial (or not) in a given situation. They analyzed body coverings. Today, they built nests. In trees. Have I mentioned how much I love my kids' school?

The kindergarten teachers assembled a "forest" of trees (large tree branches propped up on their ends and supported in some way incomprehensible to me). Porter's teacher (who we love beyond words) told me that the teachers were reported by someone for suspicious activity for poaching branches off city trees at 6:00 a.m....oh, what they do for the kids! Containers of nesting materials were placed nearby, and the students were divided up into groups, presumably bird families.


Oh, but it wasn't that simple. Since birds only have one beak, the students could only use one hand to pick up, transport, and build with each piece of material they chose. Even if they knew how to tie their shoes, they couldn't use those skills. It would be an unfair advantage! The teacher caught them cheating a few times and made them remove what they'd done with two hands. Fantastic! I totally caught Porter cheating–not keeping his extra hand behind his back or in his pocket as suggested–but I kept my beak out of the bird business, not wanting to be a nagging hen.


As if that wasn't enough, the teacher simulated wind by shaking the tree ever so slightly. Would the nest hold up? If not, it was back to the start.

I just happened upon this scene when I was at the school volunteering for another kindergarten program. It was lucky and timely, considering I just posted yesterday about the importance of exposing your children to animals at an early age.

There is just so much that this activity teaches the children: first-hand bird knowledge, engineering, teamwork, self control...the list goes on. Not to mention that it gets them up out of their chairs and in the real (protected kindergarten playground) world. And what I love most is that it teaches them empathy for birds. It really illustrates for them in a hands-on way how hard it is to build a nest and how much work goes into it. I'll bet they think twice next time they have an opportunity to nail a bird nest with a baseball.

Original content by well minded word

Cliff Swallows, Season 2

For the last year, I've been observing a suspicious hive-ish thing mounted in the corner of the entry to one of my client's homes. I never noticed any inhabitants, but I imagined them to be giant hornets that would someday stage a sneak-attack on me as I enter this family home. A few weeks ago, I noticed bird droppings beneath it, so I hoped the birds had made a meal of the deadly insects. But, then, I noticed more bird droppings on the opposite side of the entry way. With great fear and a horror film soundtrack playing in my head, I looked up and saw... Image

GASP! A mama bird peeking her head out of a new deadly-insect nest!

I had to reconsider. Could this be a bird nest?

I called my client to whose dwelling this mysterious deadly-insect-bird-habitat was attached. "Oh, yes, I know about it..." she said. Turns out it's a legit bird nest suddenly built next door to the one that's been vacant for a year, and there are baby birds (awwwwww), and she promised that she had no intention to remove or destroy the nests in the near future. Whew!

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been saying hello to the mama, who is always peeking out to say hello to me, quite socially. Sometimes she flies out and then back. And sometimes she just stays put and blinks at me.

I wondered what type of birds they could be. I'd never seen these kind of mud-nests before, so I did a bit of research. I now declare them Cliff Swallows, in my non-expert, expert opinion.

The Cliff Swallow does live in the desert (I got my information from It builds these nests against buildings and bridges, now, but, originally, they built them on the undersides of cliffs and outcroppings in the foothills of the mountains in the western U.S. As man has built, they have built upon our buildings. Good for them.


A male and female will become a pair, if only for a short while, and build these spectacular nests out of about a thousand mud daubs. Sometimes, in true HGTV-fashion, they will rebuild and refurbish a nest from a previous year, which is what I suspect our little Cliff Swallows have done, with a new house next door. These birds live a life akin to a soap opera, often falling out of their nests while copulating before the dwelling is complete. The passion doesn't last long, as the male is soon off to discover other "opportunities." In the meantime, the female switches eggs with the more desirable eggs in another nest and might have the same done to her. The happy couple will raise their small flock of two to five fledglings, almost always from different parentage. Scandalous! Did you set your DVR?

According to DesertUSA, the little ones should soon be embarking on their own (I saw the mama giving flying lessons today), and the nests abandoned. It seems that once the fledglings can fly, they become independent and move out for good. If only humans could attain such lofty goals.

I'll miss them when they go, but I'll look forward to Cliff Swallows, Season 3, next year. Perhaps there will be another apartment or two constructed. We'll have Melrose Place all over again.