Migratory bird habitats connect Oregon and Mexico in ‘Classrooms Across Borders’

Michel Wiman, October 2018, with special thanks and photos courtesy of Tara Davis, Willamette River-Rio Laja Twinning Project; Heath Keirstead of the Benton County Soil and Water Conservation District; and Kathleen Westly of Marys River Watershed Council. 

Why are one-third of all migratory bird species worldwide in decline? Most research points to habitat loss as the greatest threat to bird populations. Educating the next generation of little humans to care about and understand the habitats and needs of migrating birds is a critical step to sustaining them.

Enter the “Migratory Bird Habitat Study for Classrooms Across Borders” project, which connects schools in Mexico and Oregon to study birds that migrate between the two countries. Elementary students in Corvallis, Oregon, will work together with students in Guanajuato, Mexico to learn about riparian habitat, water quality, and three bird species: the Great Blue Heron, the Rufous Hummingbird, and the Black-throated Gray Warbler. The Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) is partnering with Marys River Watershed Council and the Greenbelt Land Trust to engage dual-immersion English/Spanish third graders in Corvallis with in-class and field trip inquiry-based lessons, facilitated by trained high school students.

Bilingual Corvallis high school students will be mentors to the third graders, reinforcing ecological, language and cultural lessons. Eleven high-schoolers participated in an inquiry-based ecology education training course this summer at Bald Hill Farm near Corvallis, Oregon. These high-schoolers will help teach third graders, in both Spanish and English, lessons about water quality, riparian habitat, and bird migration needs in the field next spring. IAE, Greenbelt and Marys River Watershed Council staff visited third grade classes this month to introduce the birds, and the characteristics and adaptations that help them in migration to Mexico. Students’ bird artwork will be featured at the Lincoln School family STEAM night this November.

The Rio Laja is in Guanajuato, Mexico

The Willamette River near Corvallis, Oregon

Rio Laja near Guanajuato, Mexico

This educational project is part of the larger Meyer Memorial Trust Willamette River-Rio Laja Twinning Project, pairing or ‘twinning’ the Willamette River watershed with the Rio Laja watershed basin, located roughly 300 kilometers north east of Mexico City. These watersheds share similar critical habitats such as wetlands, oak woodlands, and floodplain forests that support populations of birds migrating between the two countries. The project is not only an environmental exchange, but a cultural and community exchange in which ecological concerns overcome language barriers. The larger Twinning project was initiated from a 2012 Thiess International Riverprize award to the Meyer Memorial Trust. Other partners in this Initiative include Benton County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Oregon Natural Resources Conservation District (NRCS), Instituto Tecnolȯgico Superior de Irapuato (ITESI), and Cascade Pacific Resource Conservation & Development. To learn more about the Willamette-Laja Twinning Project, click here.

This project is funded by the Gray Family Foundation, Trust Management Services, and Meyer Memorial Trust’s Environmental Leadership for Youth program. Far fewer grant funds are available in Mexico, so the Oregon-based partners are exploring creative ways to support the engagement partners in Mexico. Recently, a Plant-a-Tree Day had volunteers planting trees at Bald Hill Farm near Corvallis for a $1000 cash match, donated from One Tree Planted, to groups working with students in Mexico.

IAE is seeking donations to enable our partners in Mexico to work with their local students as part of this exchange. We will be working with students at Primaria Miguel Hidalgo, Santa Rosa de Lima, in Guanajuato, Mexico, but we could use help with lesson materials and reaching more students. Please lend your support with a contribution by clicking here. All of the Willamette-Laja Twinning Project partners sincerely appreciate your support!

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Field Day at Bald Hill Farm

A student's drawing of a bald eagle with a salmon

Insect sweep identification

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