Winter visitors

Geetha Iyer

September is here and in some parts of India one might begin to see the arrival of birds that were not seen earlier. October is definitely the time when migratory birds begin to show up in various wetlands in India. Not only wetland birds but even those that prefer groves and forests also begin to arrive. Bird migration is fascinating and an ideal topic for projects. With the first set of exams just over and short vacation time from school, teachers can help plan a project on bird migration for their students. Shore birds or those arriving at different wetlands are easier to study than those found in wooded areas. A wetland (paddy fields, ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, estuaries, marshes, salt pans, seashores) offers an open area to observe birds. In forests, fruit orchards or sacred groves it is often difficult to spot them.

Garganey A project is an opportunity to study concepts in an integrated manner. Migration offers an opportunity to enhance thinking and writing skills through planning, investigating, collecting data, analyzing and inferring to learn the process of arriving at conclusions. Magnetism, geographic areas, flight, urban architecture, poetry, storytelling are topics that may be studied by observing bird migration. It offers an opportunity for creative writing, art work, drawing maps and reading, among several other educational activities. On another level the project can simply be a recreational one, aimed at developing a hobby – bird watching. Bird watching can be a great stress reliever.

Requirements for a study project
An area of study and a clear objective are two most important requirements. Often, if the objectives of the study are not clearly stated then the project tends to meander off and students end up collecting information without improving their cognitive skills. Teachers may go through some of the sites listed under references to know what concepts about bird migration can be learnt through the objectives they have chosen.

Based on the objectives of the project, the presentation of the project could be in the form of a series of posters, paintings/artwork of a few birds, stories about a migrating bird or birds (its trials and travails could fire a youngster’s imagination), map work showing the migratory route or scientific communication.

Here are a few questions that may help kick start a discussion on bird migration before deciding how the teacher and students want to proceed:
How do birds decide that it’s time to migrate?
Why do they migrate?
How do birds learn/decide where to go?
How do they navigate?
What are some of the dangers or obstacles they have to face?
How do they overcome the migration hazards?
What are “migration traps” and “range maps”?
Are all migrants from outside our country or are there local migrants too? (Types of migration)

If you have access to computers, then let your students play this game to get a basic understanding of what birds do/need during migration. After they have played this game, you may move on to your project or ask them to design a similar game for an Indian bird – the Amur falcon.

The author is a consultant for science and environment education. She can be reached at

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