Leave it to the birds
Students providing our feathery friends with summer homes

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 05/00) - The sound of busy hammers could be heard long before entering the classroom.

From all the racket going on, it was quite apparent the Grade 3 students at N.J. Macpherson elementary school on Wednesday were determined to make the best out of their current project -- building 20 new birdhouses to adorn Yellowknife backyards. After all, spring is right around the corner and as the class' birdhouse building expert Tony Whitford can attest, birds are an integral part of the community's ecosystem.

"We're building birdhouses for two things," said Whitford, an avid bird lover and the NWT's Speaker of the house for the legislature.

"It teaches kids co-ordination and also an appreciation that birds are very important to our summers."

As Whitford pointed out to the class, many species that use the bird houses, such as barn swallows, purple martins and sparrows, help control the populations of less admired creatures common to the Yellowknife area -- namely mosquitoes.

"If you can get a purple martin to live near your house, watch out," Whitford told the class. "They'll eat 100 mosquitoes a day, maybe 200."

According to Whitford, not only are the birdhouses beneficial to the birds, they are environmentally friendly as well.

"All the lumber we used today was used before," Whitford said. "It all came from the dump."

The timing for the project couldn't have been any better Whitford said, considering that Earth Week had just past the week before.

"It's good for the environment," admits Colin Miller, an N.J. Macpherson student who was admiring the work he performed on his own birdhouse.

After everyone had worked up a considerable sweat, 20 neatly-crafted birdhouses stood on the students' desks to be admired before being brought home to provide summer residency for the North's returning avian creatures. All that was needed now was a paint job.

"Don't paint them too bright a colour," Whitford warned.

"Birds don't like bright colours and don't paint any eyes on them either. Birds might think it is an owl and get scared away."

Surely, Whitford's lesson on the birds wasn't lost any of his students.

"It's important because birds need a place to live," said student Rebecca Canam.

The project also accomplished another important goal for third graders -- to have some fun.

"I had a great time," Canam was quick to add.