By Jennifer Fisk
With colored markers and photos of birds spread across the tables, students at Wrightsville Beach Elementary School last week participated in a yearly tradition that not only serves to help safeguard the local migrant bird population, but has been so successful that it’s been copied around the world.
“I want help parents show their children how to stay away from the habitat,” said Sophia Satrazemis, 11, while drawing a picture of a least turn. “I hope it will make children curious about the birds and want to learn more.”
As members of the Rooty Rascals, the students draw signs to warn visitors to stay away from the bird nesting habitat on the south end of Wrightsville Beach. It’s one of several project for the Rooty Rascals, an elementary school club sponsored by the Harbor Island Garden Club.
With help from the Audubon Society, a conservation group that protects birds and the places they need to grow and survive, the program’s focus to educate the students, as well as residents and tourists, about coastal birds and their nesting season. It’s a collaboration that has been ongoing for over ten years, when Cissie Brooks, a marine science instructor at the school, took the first 60 students to Masonboro Island, Lee Island, and the south end of Wrightsville Beach to clear vegetation and put up the first signs.
Marlene Eader, a local volunteer for the Audubon Society, said that since the birth of Rooty Rascals, they have received many inquiries on how other schools and groups along the East Coast could get involved.
Wrightsville Beach Elementary was the first school to incorporate into the curriculum the protection of nesting birds on the East Coast, Eader said. Now schools from South America to Maine are implementing programs like this one to get students actively involved in protecting coastal birds and their habitats. Eader said that Wrightsville Beach is one of only a few sanctuaries you are able to walk to and see the nesting happening. Most sanctuaries are only reachable by boat.
“The posters are very important to stop people and their pets from disrupting the nests,” Eader said. “The lesson in itself sparks interest in the students to learn about migratory birds and their habitats.”
These posters along with string fences are hung to guide people away from the nesting birds. Brooks provides her students with pictures of oyster catchers, black skimmers, laughing gulls, and a variety of turns that help the students create their own unique representation of the coastal birds. The artwork is accompanied by a poem or slogan that peeks the onlookers interest, which Brooks said are always inspiring and creative.
Cayden Talbert, 11, used a poem for his poster.
He wrote” “One, two, three, four leave our nest like it was before. Five, six, seven, eight keep us safe then our life will be great. “ Cayden accompanied his poem with a drawing of a Wilson’s plover.
The activity gives the students an opportunity to give their own insight on how people can help the birds that are nesting on the beach.
When asked Marley Brisson, 11 said that he thought the string fences that were put up around the inlet helped to keep people and their pets away from the nesting birds but that he would actually use colored string so that people could see the fence more clearly.
Sienna Kanyok, 10, said that she thinks the program helps the birds keep their babies unharmed.
“People won’t hurt the baby birds by walking their dogs too close to the nests and scaring the mother away,” Kanyok said.
Once they’ve complete their posters, the students hang them around the inlet at the south end of Wrightsville Beach in May. For their May field trip, the Wild Bird and Garden Store donates T-shirts that the students wear while visiting the south end’s bird sanctuary.