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Bird boxes at Blacksburg High School engage students


Closeup of a bird box. Students monitor bird boxes placed along a nature trail at Blacksburg High School.

Feb. 15, 2016 – In a partnership with Virginia Tech, approximately 50 wooden bird boxes were placed on a natural stretch of Blacksburg High School’s property so that students can learn about bird biology, the scientific method, and environmental problems like climate change.

“The project has been a perfect hands-on, real-life experience for my students,” said Steve Hulburt, a biology teacher who incorporated the boxes in his curriculum. “They have been able to be outside interacting with nature, with the understanding that the work they are doing is contributing data to long-term monitoring at the school. This experience is likely the one thing about high school science that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

The students have developed data sets based on observations about the year-to-year breeding patterns of several bird species with the guidance of several Virginia Tech researchers, including Professor Bill Hopkins. The project was initiated two years ago with the help of Hopkins’ former research associate Michelle Beck. The high school’s shop teacher and his students made the boxes.

Beck said that while it may take at least five years for the students to compile significant data, the team is off to a good start and has already made several observations about differences in bird breeding patterns. “This project allows the students to act as citizen scientists and hopefully they will carry that with them in the future,” Beck said. “It also provides a nice avenue to show students how changes in climate are associated with observable changes in animals that are in their backyard.”

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