Resources for home schooling

With all Washington public schools closed for the rest of the year, we know parents are scrambling to adapt to a new normal of homeschooling and distance learning. We want to help. Each "Wildlife Wednesday" through mid-June, we will share simple lesson ideas and activities for families to use throughout the week. 

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Do you have suggestions, requests, or resources to share? Please email us.

April 8 - Observations & Community Science

More than 500 bird species call Washington state home. As crucial components of healthy ecosystems, birds serve as pollinators, predators, scavengers, seed dispersers, and engineers in a variety of habitats. Learn more about Washington bird species from our partners at the National Audubon Society.  

Printable materials 

Washington backyard birds identification and coloring book
Window decal designs
Nature journal

Lesson 1: Birds & glass collisions

Hundreds of millions of birds die each year in the United States from flying into glass and windows. Birds often hit windows because they see reflections of clouds, sky, or plants in the glass. Sometimes, birds can see indoor plants and fly into the window by accident. At nighttime, birds can be attracted to lights on buildings and accidentally fly into a glass window. 

Watch this 7-minute video from American Bird Conservancy to learn more about bird collisions and what cities are doing to help. 

Activity: Make your own bird-friendly window decals

Walk around your home and identify which windows are most dangerous for flying birds. Think about the windows that are closest to where you see birds during the day. 

Gather your materials:

  • Puffy fabric paint
  • Recycled plastic or large plastic storage bag
  • Decal printouts (Print this PDF)

Lesson 2: Using smartphones for science

Community scientists – like you – can help provide important information about wildlife populations and trends. With easy-to-use apps like eBird and iNaturalist, it’s more fun than ever to contribute to community science.  

Watch this 3-minute video from eBird to learn about community science and how you can get involved.  

Activity: Join the eBird community science project

While we are at home to stay safe and healthy, our changes in behaviors could have an interesting impact on birds in urban and suburban neighborhoods. We could observe a decline in noise and air pollutants with fewer cars on the road and planes in the sky. With park shelters, playgrounds, and sports fields closed, some places may also become a new refuge for birds to forage or build nests this spring. You can help researchers gather important data.  

How it works:

  • Download the eBird app to your phone or tablet, or create an account online.  

  • Pick a place to monitor birds in your backyard or neighborhood. 

  • Observe birds at that location for 10 minutes. Record all the birds you see or hear in eBird. 

  • Return to the same location (ideally at the same time of day) at least once a week to record your observations. 

  • Submit a checklist for each count and include the phrase "social distancing survey" in the comment field.  

  • Data collection started April 1, 2020 and will continue through June 30, 2020; volunteers may join the project at any time.  

Lesson 3: Nature-based mindfulness

Being more aware of our surroundings and how they change can help us better understand our relationship with nature. One way to improve mindfulness is to note what you see, hear, feel, and smell in a natural setting, and compare over time. 

Activity: Nature journal

Find a location outside or by the window. Sit and observe quietly for a set amount of time (15 to 30 minutes) at the same time each day for a week. Be especially aware of your senses. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel? 

Gather your materials:

April 15 - Backyard Habitat & Birding

You don’t have to trek through the wilderness to enjoy wildlife. Whether you live in an urban, suburban, or rural setting, wildlife is as close as your own backyard. A typical neighborhood in Washington has more than 25 species of birds and mammals. Hawks, raccoons, and even foxes, frequent some Washington neighborhoods. Robins, squirrels, and chickadees are so familiar to us, we sometimes forget they are wildlife, too. 

Printable materials

Landscaping for wildlife guide 
Backyard habitat inventory checklist
Backyard bingo game
Washington backyard birds identification & coloring book

Child planting in backyard

Lesson 1: Habitat at home

While each backyard is unique, every backyard is a habitat. That makes each of us a habitat helper, and it is our responsibility to strengthen a healthy living community. When we plant trees, shrubs, and flowers around our homes, we are also building homes for a whole community of animals. Even if we plant only a few useful plants, we are improving the habitat for wildlife. Whether you spend a day, a week, or several years doing it, your backyard can become a better home for the wildlife already living there and a home for new wild neighbors.

An ideal backyard habitat should have food, water, shelter, and space. Watch the short video series below from the National Wildlife Federation to learn more. 

Video 1: Backyard habitat
Video 2: Food
Video 3: Water
Video 4: Shelter and cover
Video 5: Places to raise young
Video 6: Sustainable practices

Join Brittany Gordon, a habitat biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, on a brief tour of her backyard habitat. Brittany gives tips on other things to consider when landscaping for wildlife, including plant diversity, density, and connectivity. 

Activity: Make a landscape design for wildlife

Put yourself in the role of a habitat helper. Go outside in your backyard or neighborhood with wildlife habitat in mind. Think about what types of habitat are already there and what you could do in the future to make it a more inviting place for local wildlife. 

Gather your materials:

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Colored pencils or crayons
  • Ruler or straight edge
  • Grid paper (optional)

For ages 12 and under: Go outside with your family and draw a map of your backyard. Include any animals you have seen and what kinds of habitat they like. Then, draw some ideas for how to improve habitat in your backyard.

For ages 13+: Draw a map of your backyard. Identify opportunities to enhance or protect existing wildlife habitat by following the four steps of landscape design below. 

Four steps of landscape design

1. Outline needs: Think about how you like to use your backyard. Do you like to eat or talk with family and friends in a shaded area? Do you like to play in certain places? Your backyard can accommodate these and other activities while also providing habitat for wildlife. 

2. Look at existing conditions: Before making any improvements, it's helpful to know what you already have in your area. Figure out dimensions of your property and decide on a scale for your map - how big you want the map to be and how much detail you want to show. Your map will be easier to make and read if you use a ruler or other straight edge. On your map, show the location of your house and other buildings, existing plants, and environmental conditions. Use this checklist as a guide. 

3. Evaluate plan: Now that you have made an inventory of your backyard, you can evaluate how effective it is as wildlife habitat. An easy way to do this is the "bubble diagram". See the image below as an example. Draw circles around areas that have potential for improvement. 

4. Design a plan: Experiment with different designs using bubble diagrams. Testing ideas on paper is much easier than rearranging plants in the yard. There is no one best answer - everyone's habitat will be different, and you may come up with more than one good plan. When drawing your ideas, keep these design principles in mind:

  • Provide some safe travel corridors for sensitive wildlife.
  • Avoid putting busy areas for people where there is already good wildlife habitat.
  • Preserve existing trees and their root systems.
  • Choose native plants that will provide seeds, berries, nectar (flowers), and good cover. 
  • Let the natural world be your teacher - look at arrangements of plants along a stream, in a meadow, or in the woods for inspiration.
Bubble diagrams on landscape design
Bubble diagrams are an easy way to plan out your backyard wildlife habitat. Drawing by Russell Link.  Russell Link

 

Activity: Make a container garden 

Container gardens are perfect for small spaces and can benefit a variety of bird and pollinator species. Identify a place for your container garden in your backyard, balcony, or patio. Use the National Audubon Society's native plants database to explore the best plants for birds in your area, as well as local resources and links to more information. Please note that several plant nurseries are taking online orders during the "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order. Check online for a business near you. Many grocery stores also carry a small selection of native plants.  

Gather your materials:

  • Plastic or wood container
  • Potting soil
  • Gloves
  • Water
  • Native plants

Activity: Make a bird bath 

While many people enjoy putting out bird feeders to attract wildlife to their yard, it is the time of year when black bears are waking up from hibernation and looking for an easy snack. In spring months, please remove food sources that could attract bears, including bird feeders. Instead, you can offer birds a drink of water by making a simple bird bath. Try following the instructions below, or check out this list of creative ideas.  

Gather your materials:

  • Shallow pan (like an old cake pan) or a flower-pot tray that is not more than 2 inches deep
  • A few large pebbles or a flat rock
  • Water

Instructions:

1. Choose where to put your bird bath. The ground should be level and there should be some vegetation nearby. Pick a spot where you can watch birds from your window. 
2. Set the pan or tray down and fill it with water. Make sure the water is only about an inch deep. 
3. Toss in a few large pebbles or a flat stone. This helps birds judge how deep the water is so they can use it safely.
4. Enjoy watching your feathered friends use their new bird bath!

Lesson 2: Backyard birding

Bird watching can be done from your backyard or window, and offers the opportunity to practice patience as well as observation and listening skills. Kids are natural explorers, so birding is a perfect activity to do year round.

Watch the video below to learn the basics of birding in the Pacific Northwest from Matt Curtis, a habitat biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Activity: Practice birding by ear

Sound is often the best way to know if a bird is nearby, and can also help you identify a bird species without ever seeing it. This week, be more mindful when you go outside and listen for birds. Do you hear repetitive songs or calls? Do you notice more than one type of bird? 

Learning to identify a bird by its sound can seem challenging, especially when there are several birds singing at once. To speed up your learning process, really think about what you're hearing. Describe the sound to yourself or write it down. Familiarize yourself with some common backyard bird songs below. Pick a few species that you have seen in your neighborhood and listen to them repeatedly. When you go outside this month, try to identify a bird by its sound before you see it. 

Want even more sounds? Download the National Audubon Society's Bird Guide App or visit their online bird guide to hear hundreds of bird calls and songs. 

Bird sound identification
Bird sound Photo
American crow
American crow
American goldfinch
Goldfinch
American robin
American robin
Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's hummingbird
Barn swallow
Barn swallow
Bewick's Wren
Bewick's wren
Black-billed magpie
Black-billed magpie
Black-capped chickadee
Black-capped chickadee
Dark-eyed junco
Dark-eyed junco
Great blue heron
Great blue heron
House finch
House finch
Belted kingfisher
Belted kingfisher
Mourning dove
Mourning dove
Northern flicker
Northern flicker
Spotted towhee
Spotted towhee
Steller's Jay
Steller's Jay
Varied thrush
Varied thrush

Activity: Play backyard bingo

Backyard bingo card

Spend time outside in your neighborhood and play a different kind of bingo to work on your observational skills! Using your backyard bingo card, mark off the items you see or hear with a pencil or sticker. Please note: It may take you several trips outside to win the game, so make sure to always keep your eyes open!  

Gather your materials:

Game options:

1. Play until someone gets five in a row (horizontal, diagonal, or vertical). 
2. Play for a certain time frame (e.g. one hour). The person with the most items marked off wins. 
3. Play postage stamp style - get four items in a corner to win. 
4. Play picture frame style - get all the items on the outside edges to win.
4. Play blackout style - continue until someone marks off all the items on their card.
 

April 22 - Earth Day & Oceans

We are celebrating the 50th anniversary this year of the world's first Earth Day. 

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the street, college campuses, and hundreds of cities to protest environmental ignorance and demand a new way forward for our planet. The first Earth Day is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. This year, tune in for an Earth Day unlike any other and register for a digital event online. 

A lot has changed since the first Earth Day in 1970. And our future depends on the choices we make today. Watch the video below to see how the Earth is responding to human habits. 

 

Printable materials

Food web cards (Courtesy of NOAA)
Ocean food pyramid (Courtesy of Seattle Aquarium)
Who eats whom in Puget Sound (Courtesy of Seattle Aquarium)

Lesson 1: Celebrating Earth Day - 22 ways you can help Washington wildlife 

Wildlife in Washington face a wide range of threats, from disease and invasive species to declining habitat and climate change. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to conserving and protecting the state’s wildlife — including endangered and other at-risk species — from these threats.

This Earth Day, learn what you can do to help Washington wildlife from the comfort and safety of your own home or neighborhood. 

Read our latest blog post: 22 Ways You Can Help Washington Wildlife This Earth Day

Activity: Enter the new youth art & essay contest 

We want to know what the great outdoors and Washington wildlife mean to you! We are welcoming artwork and writing from young people that explores wildlife watching, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. Entries will be accepted through June 1 and art and essay winners in two age divisions will be announced June 30. Participants can submit artwork and/or an essay in these categories and themes: 

Children's drawing of outdoors

Art age 11 and under: 

  • Favorite thing to hunt or fish 
  • Favorite animal in Washington

Essay age 11 and under:  

  • Favorite thing to hunt or fish and why 
  • Favorite outdoor activity and why 

Art age 12-17: 

  • Recreate a picture from a favorite outdoor experience 
  • An animal that represents Washington in its natural environment  

Essay age 12-17: 

  • Favorite thing to hunt or fish and why
  • What does time spent outdoors mean to you and why 

Entry criteria: 

  • Please include the name and age of the person entering and indicate if it is an art or essay submission. 
  • Art can be in any medium and submitted as a high-resolution image (.jpg or .png files preferred). 
  • Essays should be typed and no more than 500 words. Participants can submit multiple entries. 
  • Email your work to wildcontest@dfw.wa.gov with “Art and Essay Contest submission” in the subject line. 

There will be an art and essay winner in each age division, and winners will be announced June 30. Those selected will get an official WDFW certificate, a Fish Washington sweatshirt, and a Get Outdoors hat. Winners and their entries will be posted on the WDFW Facebook page, and we will also share some of our favorite submissions weekly during Wildlife Wednesdays throughout the contest.  

Lesson 2: Forage fish 

Forage fish are small, schooling species that eat microscopic plants and animals drifting near the ocean surface and are eaten by bigger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. Common forage fish are sardines, herring, and anchovies. 

Watch this 5-minute video from WDFW habitat biologist Lindsey Desmul to learn why Puget Sound beaches are important to forage fish. 

Watch this 5-minute video from the SeaDoc Society to learn about the Salish Sea's greatest spectacle - when Pacific herring spawn.

Activity: Create a Salish Sea food web 

Learn about the different organisms that live in the Salish Sea and how they are all connected.

Gather your materials:

Instructions:

1. Cut out your food web cards and start arranging the cards into food chains/webs. The back of the cards has information to help you determine what eats what. You can also use the printable materials from the Seattle Aquarium to help.
2. Once you have cards organized, paste the cards on the large piece of paper.  
3. Personalize your food web by drawing in other connections or arrows, categories or groups such as predators or sea birds, and other elements that are important for the food web (like the sun for energy!).  

Marine food web
Courtesy of Seattle Aquarium Seattle Aquarium

Lesson 3: Protecting our oceans 

No matter where you live, the ocean touches your life every day. Oceans generate half of the oxygen we breathe and contain more than 97% of the world's water. Whether you live on the coast or far from it, whether you eat seafood or not, you and the future of all those you love depends on healthy oceans.

Watch this 10-minute Ted Talk video, "Protect the Oceans, Protect Ourselves". 

Activity: Quiz yourself on oceans and plastic pollution 

How much do you know about the threats that our oceans and the marine creatures that call them home face from plastic pollution? Test your knowledge with this online quiz.  

Activity: Make your own reusable sandwich wrap

Help reduce your use of plastic food storage bags and make your own plastic-free sandwich wrap! 

Gather your materials:

  • Cotton fabric
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Hot glue gun
  • Clear nail polish
  • String or twine

 

April 29 - Pollinators

Pollinators need us. We need pollinators.

Bees, birds, bats, butterflies, beetles, and other insects and small mammals play a very important role in our ecosystem and food production. In fact, pollinators bring us three-quarters of our food! They also keep our ecosystems healthy by helping plants reproduce. 

This nearly invisible service that pollinators provide is increasingly in jeopardy. This week, you will learn about different pollinating creatures, their importance to ecosystems around the world, and how you can help them. 

2020 pollinator poster

Virtually explore the 2020 Pollinator Partnership poster. Learn more about the artist, featured species, and benefits of these pollinators on their website. Remember to mark your calendars! #PollinatorWeek is June 22-28, 2020.

Printable materials

Lesson 1: Who are the pollinators?

Birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and most importantly, bees are pollinators. They visit flowers to drink nectar or feed off of pollen. Then, they move pollen from male structures of flowers to the female structure of the same plant species. This movement of pollen results in fertilization of the flower's eggs which then produce seeds to create a new generation of plants. 

Pollination is good for both pollinators and plants. While plants get help with reproduction, pollinators are getting important nutrients from the sugary nectar, including carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.  

Watch this 5-minute video to learn more different types of pollinators. 

Now that you know the basics of pollinators, watch this 15-minute video to learn about the threats pollinators face around the world and how you can protect them. 

Activity: Pollinator activity books

Complete the variety of puzzles, games, and coloring pages in the two pollinator activity books provided to learn about honeybees, bats, and other important pollinators. 

Gather your materials:

Activity: Flap your wings for bats

As you've learned, insects and birds aren't the only important pollinators. More than 500 plant species depend on bats to pollinate their flowers, including species of mango, banana, guava, agave, eucalyptus, and many giant cacti. The pollination of plants by bats is called chiropterophily. 

Plants pollinated by bats often have pale colored flowers compared to bright flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Some bats have evolved specifically to reach the nectar of large, bell-shaped flowers. The tube-lipped nectar bat of Ecuador and the banana bat that lives only on Mexico's Pacific coast both have extraordinarily long tongues for this exact reason. The tube-lipped nectar bat’s tongue is more than one and a half times the length of its body! 

Watch the short video below to see the tube-lipped nectar bat in action! 

Gather your materials:

  • Two pieces of cardstock (black, brown, or other batty color)
  • Straw, bamboo skewer, or small wooden dowel
  • Printed template
  • Tape or glue
  • Scissors 
Flying bat craft

Instructions: Print off the template to find directions to make your own flying bat. When you have completed the project, you can flap your wings to show your support for these amazing fliers and pollinators! 

Lesson 2: Community science for bees

Did you know that YOU can be a valuable research partner for scientists? Community science helps researchers gather more diverse and widespread data. You can become a community scientist by sharing what you see in your neighborhood. Learn more about pollinator community science projects you can be involved in from our partners at the Xerces Society.

Watch this 8-minute video to learn fascinating information about the small but mighty bees we depend on for things like bananas, nuts, and coffee!

Activity: Learn to identify bumble bees

When you think of a bumble bee, do you picture the iconic yellow and black stripes? Most bumble bees have those black and white stripes, but they can also have white, red, and orange coloring. Like all insects, bumble bees have three main body parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. 

The coloration of these parts is used to identify bumble bee species. With careful observation, you can learn to identify the different species of bumble bees in your backyard.

Bumble bee anatomy
Image courtesy of Bumble Bee Watch Bumble Bee Watch

Gather your materials:

Instructions:

  1. Take photos of a bumble bee. Try waiting near an open flower for a bee to land. Then take several photos from different angles. This will help you identify the bee later. Check out these additional tips for photographing bees from our friends at Bumble Bee Watch. 
  2. If you feel comfortable, try collecting the bumble bee in a clear container to take close up photos. Then release the bee so it can continue its important pollination work.
  3. Using the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bees guide, look to see if your bee resembles any of the common bees in Washington. Remember to look at the coloration of the head, thorax, and abdomen.
  4. After identifying your bee, you can use the Bumble Bee Watch species website to learn the types of flowers it prefers, how large its range is, and when you can expect to see it each year.

Activity: Help scientists study bumble bees

Scientists across North America are working together to study nearly 50 species of bumble bees and why their populations are declining. Causes likely include loss of habitat, pesticide use, climate change, and competition with honey bees.

Bombus bifarious (two-form bumble bee)
Bombus bifarious (two-form bumble bee). Photo: Taylor Cotten Taylor Cotten

Scientists need a better understanding of where bumble bees are to help protect them. You can help them by sharing photos of bumble bees you find in your yard and neighborhood.

Gather your materials:

  • Camera or phone
  • Computer
  • Clear container like a mason jar (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Download the free Bumble Bee Watch app (App Store / Google Play) or create a Bumble Bee Watch account from your computer.
  2. Take a photo of a bumble bee. It can be hard to photograph a moving bee so try waiting near an open flower for a bee to land. Then take several photos from different angles so you can identify the bee later. Collecting bees in a clear jar allows you to take close up photos, but be sure to release it afterward. Check out these additional tips for photographing bees.
  3. Log in to your account and upload your photo (Watch this 9-minute step-by-step video for help).
  4. The website will help you determine which species of bumble bee you observed. Do your best to identify the bumble bee based on its markings. Your sighting will be verified by an expert.

Lesson 3: Pollinator-friendly plants

Flowers are blooming and pollinators are busy searching for pollen. Have you noticed plants in your yard that seem to attract a specific pollinator? Do you know what type of plant it is? Learning which plants are already in your yard will help you add complimentary plants to support even more pollinators.

There are many resources to help you identify plants. Your family may already have plant identification books. There are also many online resources such as Washington Native Plant Society and apps like iNaturalist to help you identify plants.

Resources 

Activity: Create a pollinator garden

Once you’ve identified what you already have, you can begin planning additional pollinator-friendly plants to add to your yard. If you did our Week 2 activity, make a landscape design for wildlife, you can build upon your design with pollinator-specific features.

Girl prepares plants for garden

Gather your materials:

  • Paper and pencil
  • Gloves
  • Water
  • Compost
  • Native plants or seeds

Instructions:

  1. Pick a location. Pollinators enjoy sunshine and some of their favorite flowers grow in full sun or partial shade. They also prefer protection from the wind. Mark these locations on your landscape design.
  2. Assess your soil. Some plants prefer sandy, well-drained soil, others prefer wetter soil that is more like clay. Dig in and feel the grains between your fingers. Sandy soils will feel gritty and will fall through your fingers. Clay soils will feel smooth and sticky when wet.
  3. Choose native plants. Get the most out of your efforts by choosing native, perennial plants. Perennials return each year and native varieties require less maintenance and are heartier. Include plants that bloom at different times of the year, from spring to fall. 
  4. Prepare your space. Remove grass or other plant covers, create a raised bed, or add soil to patio pots. Add some compost or nutrient-rich soil to help your plants grow.
  5. Plant flowers or seeds. Follow frost guidance to avoid putting small plants in the ground too early. When risk of frost is gone, dig a hole just large enough for the root ball. Add extra compost and water regularly. Seeds need time to germinate and may need to go out in fall or winter; follow packet instructions.
  6. Maintain and enjoy. Make sure to water and weed your pollinator garden. The bees, butterflies, and other pollinators will thank you by visiting your flowers!

Thank you for making your backyard a welcoming place for pollinators and other wildlife. Learn about WDFW’s Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Program to learn other ways you can support wildlife in your neighborhood.

Activity: Seed balls

Making native wildflower seed balls is an easy way to improve pollinator habitat in your backyard. Each seed ball has all the ingredients to successfully grow wildflowers. The seeds are protected until rain breaks down the clay and releases them, and the compost gives seeds a soft place to start growing roots. Pollinators will enjoy the new wildflowers and you can practice your photography skills.

Gather your materials:

  • Compost or potting soil
  • Powdered pottery clay (potter’s clay)
  • Native wildflower seeds
  • Water
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Drying rack or cookie sheet
  • Flowerpot with soil (optional)
Close up of seeds in dirt compost mixture

Instructions:

  1. Mix 2 parts compost with 1 part clay in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Slowly add water and mix (using your hands is the most fun!) until it begins to stick together.
  3. Roll a quarter-sized amount into a ball.
  4. Poke a hole in the ball with your finger.
  5. Add a pinch of seeds and close the ball up. Repeat until you use all the mixture.
  6. Set seed balls on a drying rack for a couple days. 

Simply toss your seed balls wherever you want flowers to grow. Seed balls grow best in areas without grass, including flowerpots and planters. There’s no need to cover it with dirt or water - nature will do the work!

May 6 - Baby Wildlife & Life Cycles

Spring is a time of new beginnings

Mother goose and her goslings
Larry James

Spring is here, and with it comes baby wildlife season. As the weather warms up, there is an increased chance of encountering young animals from baby birds to deer fawns in our backyards and neighborhoods. 

When we find a baby wild animal, our first instinct is often to try and rescue it, especially if it's alone. But, just because baby animals are alone does not mean they need your help. This week, you will learn what to do if you find a baby animal in the wild.

Animals also grow up in different ways. Some baby animals look like mini versions of their parents, while others go through unique life cycles. Learn about life cycles of butterflies, salmon, and Pacific lamprey in this week's lessons. 

Printable materials

Baby wildlife memory game
Salmon life cycle board game (Courtesy of Power Smart for Schools)
Pacific lamprey activity book (Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Lesson 1: Bird eggs and nests

Just like people's houses, bird nests come in variety of shapes and sizes. Some birds are larger and need bigger nests, while others need to hide their young from predators. Birds build nests to hold their eggs and baby birds after they've hatched. Because of this, birds build their nests to provide three things: camouflage, shelter, and safety. Birds often make their nests out of materials that are nearby to help them blend into their surroundings. By using bits of leaves, grass, moss, or animal fur, bird nests are cushioned to keep eggs from breaking. 

Watch this hummingbird build its nest, and answer the following questions:

  • What body parts does it use?
  • What materials are used to make the nest?
  • Where did the hummingbird build the nest? Why?

Now that you've learned how a nest is made, explore how an egg hatches into a bird. 

Activity: Make your own bird nest

Fly around like a bird outside and find things you can use to build your own bird nest!  Watch this short video  for guidance on collecting materials outside and using your own supplies to make your nest unique. 

Gather your materials:

  • Bag or bucket to collect natural materials
  • Sticks, twigs, leaves, bark, etc. from outside
  • Glue (or mud)
  • Eggs or small rocks you can pretend are eggs
  • Shredded paper, pipe cleaners, tissue paper (Optional)

Instructions:

1. This activity can be messy, so work outside if possible. If you need to stay inside, build your nest on a tray for easier clean up.
2. Go outside and see if you can find any bird nests. If you find one, observe it carefully from a distance. Can you tell what materials the nest is made of? If you can't find any bird nests outside, look at different types of bird nests online at nestwatch.org. 
3. Look around outside for materials you can pick up easily, like twigs and rocks. Use your bucket or bag to gather materials. 
4. Use your materials to build a nest that can safely hold at least one egg. Make your nest unique, just like you!
5. Test your nest. Does the nest fall apart easily? Can you blow on it, pick it up, and place an egg inside it? If not, what can you do it make it sturdier?

Lesson 2: Keep baby wildlife wild

It is natural to want to help if you discover a baby bird on the ground or a deer fawn alone in the forest. But most times, it is better to leave it alone. 

Deer fawns

Most fawns are not abandoned or orphaned. Rather, their mothers are likely nearby foraging for food or resting. Fawns are born without scent, so if they remain very still, they do not attract predators. The mother deer may only return at dawn and dusk to feed her fawn. In fact, fawns instinctively lie low while waiting for their mother to return. In many cases, a doe may leave her fawn in the same spot for several days until it is strong enough to move with her. Only contact a permitted wildlife rehabilitator if the mother does not return or if the fawn appears weak, ill, or injured. 

Baby birds

If you come across a baby bird on the ground, it's best not to interfere. Fledglings (partially feathered birds) typically leave the nest and move on the ground and low branches for a few days before they can fly. During this time, their parents are nearby and continue to care for them. Unless injured, a fledgling bird should be left where it is. You can help by keeping cats and dogs away from the bird so that it stays safe while the mother can continue to feed it. 

Baby bird

If you find a baby bird that doesn't have feathers yet, it is a nestling that has likely fallen or been pushed from a nearby nest. If you can find the nest, you can give the bird a helping hand by returning the chick to the nest. Make sure to go with an adult and wear gloves. 

Learn more on our blog, Spring babies - do they need your help?

Activity: Baby wildlife memory game

Do you know what different baby wildlife are called? Learn which Washington wildlife call their young pups, kits, cubs, and kids. 

Gather your materials:

Instructions:

1. Print out the baby wildlife memory game and cut apart the different animal cards. 
2. Mix up the cards and lay them face down on a table.
3. Turn over any two cards. If the two cards match (parent and baby), keep them. If they don't match, turn them back over. 
4. Remember what was on each card and where it was. 
5. Take turns if you are playing with others. Watch and remember during the other player's turn. 
6. Keep playing until all the cards have been matched. The person with the most matches wins. 

Activity: Watch bird nests live

Get up close and personal with live nest cameras! These live feeds give us a glimpse of what's happening inside bird nests. 

Lesson 3: Butterfly metamorphosis

Butterflies aren't born with wings. Instead, they go through a process called metamorphosis to change from a caterpillar to a chrysalis to an adult butterfly. Watch this 4-minute video to learn why the very hungry caterpillar is so hungry! 

Activity: Design your own butterfly life cycle

Metamorphosis includes four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Put your art skills to the test and make your own butterfly life cycle!

Life cycle art project

Gather your materials:

  • White paper plate
  • Green construction paper
  • Small white poms poms or a cotton ball
  • 6 small pom poms for your caterpillar
  • Pipe cleaner
  • Tissue paper (green and another color for your butterfly)
  • Markers or crayons
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Twig from outside
  • Paint (optional)

Instructions:

1. Prepare your paper plate. Paint or color the ridge edge of the paper plate. Let it dry. Then, draw two lines to divide the plate into four equal sections. Label each section with a life stage: eggs, caterpillar (larva), chrysalis (pupa), and butterfly. 
2. Egg phase. Cut a leaf shape from green construction paper. Draw veins on the leaf with a black marker or crayon. Glue the leaf onto the egg section of your plate. Glue white pom poms or small cotton ball pieces onto your leaf to represent eggs. 
3. Caterpillar (larva) phase. Glue six small pom poms into a line on the caterpillar section. Embellish your caterpillar with tentacles and legs if you'd like. 
4. Chrysalis (pupa) phase. Glue a small twig onto the chrysalis section. Cut a piece of green tissue paper about 2 inches by 3 inches. Twist the top and bottom of the rectangle to make a chrysalis shape. Glue your chrysalis next to the twig so it looks like its hanging. 
5. Butterfly phase. Cut tissue paper into two pieces about 2 inches by 2.5 inches. Stack the pieces of tissue paper together. Cut a 2.5-inch piece of pipe cleaner. Scrunch the tissue paper in the center and twist the pipe cleaner around it to make a butterfly. Glue your beautiful butterfly into the butterfly section. 

Congratulations! You completed your butterfly life cycle. Now learn how to grow plants to support butterflies and other pollinators in our April 29 lesson. 

Lesson 4: The salmon life cycle

While most fish can live in only saltwater or freshwater, salmon actually change their bodies internally to survive in both environments. A salmon goes through up to seven stages in its lifetime! Watch this 5-minute video to learn about the salmon life cycle. 

 

Activity: Salmon challenges online game

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a salmon migrating upstream? Keep your salmon alive, guide your salmon upstream to spawn, and help them make important decisions and avoid dangerous obstacles along the way in this fun, interactive game developed by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. 

Gather your materials:

  • Laptop, tablet, or smartphone

Instructions:

1. Go online and open the salmon challenges game
2. Explore and learn while playing the game. Encounter (tap or click) animated objects as they float down the river to learn about salmon. Maybe even find more fish to join you on your journey to spawn!

Activity: Salmon life cycle board game

Roll the dice to follow a salmon’s path from the river, out to the ocean, and back upstream with this printable board game. Along the way, learn how other living things are connected to salmon and the role we play in caring for our natural resources.

Gather your materials:

Instructions:

1. Review what you've learned so far about the salmon life cycle. 
2. Begin with all the player tokens on "Start" on the game board.
3. Each player takes turns rolling the dice, moving their pieces, and following the directions on the board. 
4. Once you finish playing, review all the obstacles a salmon can encounter when migrating to the ocean and back to freshwater. 

Lesson 5: Pacific lamprey life cycle

Pacific lampreys are very strange looking creatures that have a round sucking mouth and eel-like bodies. Lampreys are the oldest fish alive today with a fossil record as far back as 500 million years! Like salmon, the Pacific lamprey is anadromous, meaning that they spend time in both fresh and saltwater. After Pacific lamprey eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into sediment where they filter feed on organic matter for up to seven years! After four to six years, while still buried in sediment, young lampreys undergo a transformation where they develop eyes and a sucking disc with teeth. Then they emerge from the sediment and migrate downstream to the ocean. 

Learn more about these fascinating creatures and their unique life cycle from WDFW habitat biologist Lauren Bauernschmidt. 

Activity: Pacific lamprey activity book

Print the Pacific Lamprey Experience book from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for hours of fun activities!

May 13 - Invasive Species

Invasive species threaten our economy, environment, and health

An invasive species is a plant, animal, or other organism introduced to an area outside of its native range, usually by humans, which negatively impacts the economy, environment, and health. Invasive species affect all of us, whether we realize it or not. By learning more about invasive species in Washington, you can help prevent the next invasion! 

Invasive species poster

Invasive species are a problem because they:

  • Prey on native species or out-compete them for food and resources, which can push threatened species closer to extinction. 
  • Cause economic harm. Invasive species cost a lot of money to control and can negatively impact utility, agriculture, and tourism industries. 
  • Can kill trees and other plants. Plant diseases and wood-boring insects can kill plants, which hurts natural ecosystems, urban forests (e.g., the trees around your house), and the economy. Trees are costly to replace and Washington has a thriving timber and tree-fruit industry.
  • Damage property and endanger people. Invasive species can damage property and equipment, such as aquatic weeds getting tangled in boat motors or invasive mussels clogging pipes.
  • Ruin habitat. Invasive species can completely change a habitat by out-competing our native species and decreasing biodiversity.
  • Increase the risk and intensity of wildfire. Certain invasive plants, such as scotch broom, can make wildfires burn more quickly and spread more easily, making them harder for firefighters to control.

Visit the Washington Species Invasive Species Council's website for webinars, presentations, coloring pages, posters, and invasive species lessons! 

See it? Say something!

There are several different ways to report a sighting of an invasive species. Please save this information so you have it handy this summer when you are enjoying the outdoors. 

Printable materials

Materials courtesy of the Washington Invasive Species Council: 

Lesson 1: Invasive plants and weeds

We often think of weeds as pesky plants like dandelions that ruin our lawns and gardens. While common weeds can be unsightly, noxious weeds like Scotch broom cause harm to native fish and wildlife. Noxious weeds can be poisonous to wildlife and humans and often out-compete native plant species that provide food and habitat for wildlife. They can also impact agricultural crops. 

Scotch broom in bloom

To preserve and protect wildlife habitat, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife uses a variety of methods to manage noxious weeds on department-managed land. We use lawn mowers and tractors to get rid of large noxious weeds, and use a tool called a weed wrench (a long lever with a set of jaws that grabs the base of the plant) for smaller noxious weeds. Our staff has to be very careful when eliminating these plants to minimize soil disturbance which creates conditions for noxious weed seeds to germinate. 

Scotch broom has a subterranean (underground) secret. On its roots live bacteria that convert nitrogen from the air into a solid form the plant can use. The relationship between the plant and bacteria is called symbiosis. In this case, there is a trade between the plant that gets a hard-to-find nutrient from the bacteria and the bacteria that receives sugars from the plant produced by photosynthesis. Scotch broom’s final trick is that it is allelopathic, which means it releases chemicals around itself to create a toxic zone that makes it difficult for other plants to grow, eliminating competition.

Watch this 2-minute video from the Montana Department of Agriculture to learn more about Scotch broom and its effects to native habitat.

Activity: Invasive Plant Scavenger Hunt

invasive plant with pink flowers
Stinky Bob, a noxious weed Allison Cook

Get outside and find noxious weeds lurking near you! Use the Invasive Plant Scavenger Hunt to help you identify common invasive plants in your backyard, neighborhood, and local parks. You can also use the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board’s weed search to help identify plants.

If you find noxious weeds in your backyard, don’t despair! The Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board offers many resources to help you manage these plants.

  1. Begin by learning how to control noxious weeds and how to properly dispose of them.
  2. After removing noxious weeds, you can request a free packet of Bee-U-Tify seed mix to fill the empty space with plants that support pollinators.  
  3. Consider becoming a Yard Guard to prevent the spread of noxious weeds on your property and in your community.

Activity: The Great Scotch Broom Census

This May, the Washington Invasive Species Council, state agencies, and researchers are calling for a census to help determine the location of Scotch broom throughout the state. Yellow-flowered Scotch broom is hard to miss when blooming and can be found in 30 of Washington’s 39 counties

Scotch broom identification

Scotch broom is a problem because it crowds out beneficial native species and clogs healthy habitats. It can form dense, impenetrable stands that are a problem for grazing, farming, and recreating and it creates fire hazards. Dense stands may also prevent or slow forest regeneration and harm sensitive areas near streams and wetlands. Scotch broom produces toxic compounds, which in large amounts may poison livestock. 

How to identify Scotch broom: Look for a shrub covered in bright, yellow flowers. It likes to grow in grassy areas, vacant lots, and along roadsides (Photo A). The long, thin, green stems have a three-part leaf (Photo B), and a flower typical of the pea family (Photo C). 

How to report your sightings:

1. Take a photo of the plant. 
2. Provide a description of the size of the patch, such as whether the patch is about the size of a motorcycle, a car, a school bus, or multiple school buses. 
3. Share your photo and description on the WA Invasive Species mobile app, or use the hashtags #TheGreatScotchBroomCensus and #ScotchBroom2020Census on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. 

Lesson 2: Zebra and quagga mussels

Invasive quagga and zebra mussels are non-native, freshwater mollusks that have caused significant environmental and economic harm in the United States. These mussels first arrived in the Great Lakes in the 1980s by way of ships' ballast water from the Caspian and Black seas. Now, recreational boats are considered the primary cause of mussel spread in the United States.

The fingernail-size mussels have since spread to more than 20 states and two Canadian provinces where they threaten native fish and wildlife by consuming available food and smothering native species. They also clog water intakes at power plants and other facilities, costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year. 

Watch this 6-minute video to learn more about how these silent invaders can wreak havoc on our environment and economy. 

Activity: Meet Puddles, the mussel-sniffing dog!

Sgt. Pam Taylor sits next to mussel-sniffing dog (Puddles) in front of clean, drain, dry sign

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police has a special member of their Aquatic Invasive Species Unit. Meet Puddles, a rescue dog who joined the team last year after getting trained by Mussel Dogs  to sniff out invasive species.   

Puddles can smell about 40 times better than humans and can sniff out zebra and quagga mussels before they've grown large enough for human inspectors to see with the naked eye. She's a fast worker, too -- taking just seconds to inspect boats with her nose!

Learn more about Puddles and how she helps prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species in this activity book

Lesson 3: Bullfrogs

The bullfrog is the largest frog species in North America and eats practically anything it can catch. Measuring up to 8 inches in length, bullfrogs can leap up to 3 feet and live nearly 10 years. The original native range of bullfrogs was the eastern United States, but they have been introduced to most of western North America. Bullfrogs were first introduced into Washington during the Great Depression in the early 1930s to provide a food source of frog legs for interested hunters. 

Adult bullfrogs usually are "sit and wait" predators that readily attack almost any live animal smaller than themselves, including insects, frogs, tadpoles, fish, small snakes, turtle hatchlings, newts, salamanders, bats, hummingbirds, and ducklings. Bullfrogs use their sticky tongues to subdue prey, but that's not their only method of securing food. Large frogs are more likely to lunge at their targets. Once they get a grip with their wide, sturdy jaws, they use their front feet to shove the items down their gullets.

Watch this 2-minute video to see these predators in action. 

Activity: Loteria game

Invasive species board game

This bingo-style game is a fun, quick review of invasive species and their impacts. 

Gather your materials:

Instructions:

1. Give a Loteria game board and space markers to each player. The goal of the game is to cover three invasive species in a row to win. 
2. Have someone read a clue card aloud. Players try to match the answers with the spaces on their game board. 
3. If time allows, keep playing until you have gone through the entire deck of clues!

Lesson 4: European green crabs

The European green crab is a small shore crab native to the northeast Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea. The crab is an effective predator, adept at opening clam and mussel shells, and has been blamed for damaging the soft-shell clam industry on the U.S. East Coast. It also preys on numerous other organisms, making these crabs potential competitors for food sources of native fish and bird species.

Watch this 3-minute video to learn how scientists and volunteers are working together to protect the Salish Sea from European green crabs.

Activity: Interactive Story Map

Take a deeper dive and explore this Interactive Story Map from our partners at Washington Sea Grant. The story map shows where European green crabs have invaded, their impacts to native species, a timeline of their spread, and an overview of monitoring efforts. 

Learn how you can help report European green crab sightings or volunteer to help monitor for these invasive crabs on the Washington Sea Grant Crab Team's website

May 20 - Reptiles & Amphibians

Slither, hop, or crawl on over to learn about herpetofauna! 

Pacific tree frog
Pacific tree frog Laura Rogers

Washington is home to at least 25 species of amphibians (salamanders and frogs) and 28 reptiles (turtles, snakes, and lizards). Herpetofauna is the term used when referring to amphibians and reptiles together. Most herpetofauna lay eggs and are ecotherms, meaning they can't regulate their own body temperature and must warm up by basking in the sun or cool off by seeking shade. 

Amphibians and reptiles are both important members of aquatic (water) and terrestrial (land) ecosystems, and they may use different habitats throughout the year. For example, some turtles spend most of their time in water, but move to land to lay their eggs. 

Amphibians are especially sensitive to a variety of threats because they have permeable skin, meaning they can absorb oxygen through their skin. That also means they can easily absorb chemicals and other harmful substances from the environment. By studying amphibians and their populations, scientists can get a better understanding of the overall health of aquatic ecosystems. 

Watch this 5-minute video to learn more about amphibian's permeable skin. 

Materials to download

Lesson 1: Reptiles in Washington

Northern Pacific rattlesnake

Juvenile rattlesnake in leaves
Juvenile Northern Pacific rattlesnake

Washington has just one venomous snake species, the Northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus). These snakes can be identified by a rattle at the tip of their tail, diamond-shaped head, pits (holes) near the mouth, and white and black stripes towards the tip of the tail. They have dark brown or black blotched markings, usually with dark edges and light borders down the back, with corresponding blotches on the sides.

You may find Northern Pacific rattlesnakes in Central Washington, near Ellensburg and the Columbia River gorge, and in Eastern Washington. They are usually brown or olive, but their coloration varies to help them blend into their habitat.

Northern Pacific rattlesnakes are an important part of ecosystems. As predators, they eat rodents that spread diseases like Hantavirus, rabies, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Lyme Disease. By eating rodents, snakes help keep disease prevalence down and small mammal populations in check, making for a healthy ecosystem. Northern Pacific rattlesnakes are also a food source for many animals, including some raptors such as red-tailed hawks.

Rattlesnakes are venomous and can be dangerous to humans. Rattlesnakes DO NOT want to bite and may warn that you are too close with a rattle of their tail. Others will stay quiet, hoping you ignore them. When walking in rattlesnake country, be aware of your surroundings and take these precautions:

  • Wear thick hiking shoes
  • Keep dogs on a leash
  • Keep small children nearby
  • Be observant - snake’s patterns allow them to blend in with their surroundings.

Gopher snake - the pretender

Juvenile gopher snake in hand
Juvenile gopher snake

There is another snake in Washington that mimics rattlesnake behavior and appearance. The gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) is large with dark blotches down the back with smaller blotches on the sides, a distinct eye stripe, and a tail that tapers to the tip. Adults reach up to five feet. The gopher snake uses its rattlesnake-like appearance to trick predators into thinking it is a more dangerous animal. They will often flatten their heads and curl into a defensive “S” shape.

Gopher snakes suck in air to puff up their bodies and release a hissing sound when they are agitated. They will also shake the tip of their tail to mimic a rattlesnake. Gopher snakes are not venomous and are usually harmless, though they will strike if threatened. Like the rattlesnake, gopher snakes play a vital role in their ecosystems by keeping small mammal populations in check.

Gopher snakes and rattlesnakes often live in the same habitats and prefer dry aras such as shrubsteppe, Oregon white oak, and ponderosa pine forests. Gopher snakes and rattlesnakes can be active during the day and night depending on the temperature.

Comparing the Northern Pacific rattlesnake and Gopher snake
Northern Pacific rattlesnake Gopher snake
Rattle on tail (small snakes may have a small “button” for the rattle) No rattle on tail
Vertical pupils in eyes like a cat Round pupils in eyes
Two pits (holes) on face, near mouth No pits (holes) on face
Diamond-shaped head Small head, flattens if threatened
Body has large dark brown spots bordered by black then white. Tail has dark and light rings of equal width. Body has large brown/black blotches down the back with smaller blotches on the sides. A brown stripe runs jaw to jaw, across the eyes. A tear-like marking occurs under each eye.

Snake safety

Don’t pick up a snake if you don’t know what it is! Most bites happen when someone tries to harm the snake or pick it up. Snakes want to be left alone to enjoy the sunshine and eat tasty snacks! If you see one of these snakes, observe them from a safe distance (at least six feet) and give it a lot of room if you need to go around it. If it isn’t safe to go around the snake, wait for the snake to move or turn around. Do not kill the snake or attempt to move it. Learn more about preventing conflicts with snakes.

Garter snakes

The common garter snake is the most wide-ranging reptile in North America. In Washington it is found from coastal and mountain forests to sagebrush deserts, usually close to water or wet meadows - or your garden. They give birth to live young from eggs they keep in their body until babies hatch. Young are born from July through September, and fend for themselves after hatching. Small garter snakes eat earthworms and slugs; larger snakes may eat amphibians, small rodents, birds, and fish. 

Watch this 6-minute video by WDFW herpetologist Lameace Hussein to learn about garter snakes.

Other reptiles in Washington

Snakes aren't the only reptiles that live in Washington -- several lizard and turtle species also call Washington home. Watch the short video below for a glimpse of the variety of reptile species you could see in Washington. Then, visit our Species in Washington webpage to learn more about specific reptiles. 

Activity: Identify rattlesnakes and gopher snakes

Although gopher snakes try to mimic rattlesnakes, there are a variety of ways to tell the difference between the two. Watch this 3-minute video from WDFW herpetologist Lameace Hussein to learn more about identifying the Northern Pacific rattlesnake.

Now that you’ve learned about the differences between Northern Pacific rattlesnakes and gopher snakes, it's time to reinforce what you learned by drawing them!

Gather your materials:

Instructions: 

  1. Draw the differences between the two snakes, referencing the pictures and descriptions in the lesson above. 
  2. Circle key features of each snake that you can use to identify them in the outdoors.

Lesson 2: Salamanders, frogs, toads, and their eggs

Let’s dive deeper into the amphibian world! Learn to identify common species by reviewing our Identifying Washington’s amphibians and their egg masses guide. You will find fun facts and defining features of these seven species:

  1. Long-toed salamander - Watch a species spotlight video by WDFW herpetologist, Lameace Hussain
  2. Northern red-legged frog
  3. Northwestern salamander
  4. Pacific tree frog
  5. Western toad - Watch a species spotlight video  by WDFW herpetologist, Lameace Hussain
  6. Rough-skinned newt - Watch a species spotlight video by WDFW biologist, Lauren Bauernschmidt
  7. American bullfrog (invasive species in Washington)

Try out the quiz at the end of the guide to test your knowledge! 

Activity: Make an origami jumping frog

Did you know that a group of frogs is called an army? Make your own army of origami frogs that you can use for hopping competitions with your friends and family. 

Gather your materials:

  • Rectangular paper. We recommend starting with an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper cut in half. Then you can use different sized paper to make a variety of frog sizes!
  • Origami jumping frog instructions

Watch the video below to learn how to fold your own jumping frog. 

Activity: Search for amphibians and egg masses

Grab some boots and get ready to go herping! Wait - what's herping?! The word 'herp' comes from Herpteology which is the study of amphibians and reptiles. Herpteology comes from the Greek word 'herpien', meaning to creep. Scientists and researchers use the term 'herping' for when they walk around looking for reptiles and amphibians. 

Talk with your family to identify a place you can go herping together this week. Some of our favorite places to spot amphibians are West Rocky Prairie Wildlife Area Unit near Tenino and Ginko Petrified State Park in Vantage. Please remember to recreate responsibly and follow physical distancing recommendations when you visit public natural areas. 

What to bring when you go herping:

  • Backpack with water, snacks, and sunscreen
  • Rubber boots or shoes you can get muddy
  • Smartphone or camera to take pictures
  • Comfortable clothing (quick-dry materials are best)
  • First aid kit (See this blog from Washington Trails Association for a supply checklist)
  • Field notebook and pen to note your observations
  • Reptile and amphibian field guide (optional)

Did you find an amphibian or reptile? Take a photo and report your finding to us online. When you report wildlife observations, you're joining the many community scientists who help reveal a more complete picture of wildlife species populations, health, condition, movements, and distribution.  

Activity: Identify frog and toad croaks 

You may not see a frog or toad with your eyes, but you can use your ears to listen for their sounds. Familiarize yourself with some common frog and toad sounds below. Pick a few species that you think could live in your neighborhood or nearby natural area and listen to them repeatedly. Next time you hear a frog or toad croak when you're outside, try to identify the species by its sound before you see it. 

Frog and toad sound identification
Frog or toad sound Photo
American bullfrog
American bullfrog
W.P. Leonard
Great Basin spadefoot toad
Great basin spadefoot toad
Northern red-legged toad
Northern red-legged frog
U.S. Forest Service
Pacific tree frog
Pacific tree frog
Western toad
Western toad
Woodhouse's toad
Woodhouse's toad
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

May 27 - Ecosystems in Washington

Healthy ecosystems provide habitat for wildlife, and clean water and air for people

Skokomish estuary

Think about the areas you have visited in Washington. Grab a notebook and pencil, and write down some examples of places you've been that were:

  • Dry and hot, with only small shrubs for plants
  • Full of tall trees and lots of different plants
  • Along a river or stream
  • Where a freshwater stream flows into the ocean
  • On a beach along the coast or Puget Sound
  • Up in the mountains with rocky slopes

These are all examples of different ecosystems found in Washington. Washington has a tremendous diversity of ecosystems, including prairies, wetlands, estuaries, rainforests, shrubsteppe, marine waters, and grasslands. In addition, our state is home to two ecosystem types found nowhere else on the planet: the Olympic rainforest and the scablands of the Columbia Plateau

An ecosystem is a community of organisms (living things) interacting with their surroundings. The term ecosystem can be used to describe areas that range in size. For example, a small puddle of water, your neighborhood, the Pacific Ocean, and planet Earth can all be considered ecosystems!

An ecoregion is an area where ecosystems are generally similar in geology, landforms, soils, vegetation, climate, land use, wildlife, and water. Washington has nine ecoregions as shown in the map below. 

Which ecoregion do you live in? Learn more about each ecoregion and see a detailed map on the Environmental Protection Agency website

Map showing nine ecoregions in Washington State
Department of Natural Resources

Resources to download or print

Lesson 1: What makes a healthy ecosystem?

Healthy, functioning ecosystems give us clean water and air. Ecosystems survive and thrive when biotic and abiotic things work together in balance. 

  • Abiotic (Non-living things): Air, water, sunlight, nutrients, and temperature
  • Biotic (Living things): Plants, animals, fungi, and people

Plants, animals, weather, and bacteria each play an important role in an ecosystem. Plants are producers and make food and oxygen for animals. As consumers, animals eat plants and other animals, and give off carbon dioxide for plants to survive. Bacteria living in the soil break down dead plants and animals and turn them into minerals that help plants grow. 

Watch the 5-minute video below to learn more about what makes a healthy ecosystem.  

Activity: Make your own terrarium ecosystem

A terrarium is a closed environment of plants and animals that can show how an ecosystem works. With the right balance, once the jar is closed, the plant uses the water, nutrients from the soil, and sunlight to survive. When the plant sheds leaves, microorganisms break them down and add nutrients to the soil. In this activity, you will create a wet ecosystem with moss and water.

Mason jar with pebbles, soil, moss, and plants

Gather your materials:

  • Large glass jar with a lid
  • Mesh (a piece slightly wider than mouth of jar)
  • Scissors
  • Rocks or gravel
  • Activated carbon (Available at pet stores)
  • Spray bottle of water
  • Moss and small plants growing in soil
  • Extra soil
  • Spoon

Instructions:

1. Add a 1-inch layer of rocks in the jar. 
2. Add a 1-inch layer of activated carbon over the rocks.
3. Cut a circle of mesh slightly wider than the inside of the jar. 
4. Place the circle of mesh on top of the carbon.
5. Use a spoon to add a 2-inch layer of soil on top of the mesh.
6. Add the moss and plants.
7. Water the plants generously using a spray bottle.
8. Close the lid tightly.
9. Watch the ecosystem over time and make adjustments as you see necessary until the balance is just right!

Lesson 2: Riparian areas

Riparian areas include the water and surrounding plants along an active water source such as a river or stream. Grasslands, wetlands, marshes, forests, canyons, mountains, and even desert areas can have riparian areas!  

Watch the video below to learn what creatures depend on riparian areas. 

Activity: Waterflow experiment

Healthy riparian areas help move water slowly, allowing it to soak deep into the banks which act like giant sponges. During periods of low waterflow, river banks release water, which helps keep plants and animals alive. 

Gather your materials:

  • Measuring cup
  • Several flat-bottomed sponges
  • Cookie sheet
  • Pan (Needs to be wide enough to accommodate the narrow end of cookie sheet)

Instructions:

First, simulate an unhealthy riparian area.
1. Lay dry sponges end to end in two rows the length of the cookie sheet with about 2 inches of space between the rows. 
2. Place the end of the cookie sheet in the pan, and hold the opposite end at a low angle. 
3. Gradually pour a cup of water down the trough between the sponge rows. Some water should seep into the sponges, but most should wash into the pan. 
4. Measure how much water is in the pan. 

Now, simulate a healthy riparian area.
1. Cut sponges into wedges. 
2. Lay pre-trimmed dry sponges in two parallel rows, but this time arrange them in a series of several curves. 
3. Gradually pour a cup of water down the trough and measure the amount that makes it to the pan. This time there should be much less water in the pan because the healthy riparian system has soaked up water into its banks. 

Lesson 3: South Sound Prairies

Once common in the South Puget Sound region, habitats such as prairies and oak woodlands are now almost gone, with just 3% of original prairies remaining. Prairies and oak woodlands provide important habitat for wildflowers, butterflies, and birds. One of the rarest ecosystems in the country, these prairies were created by glaciers 15,000 years ago, which left behind gravelly soils. 

Watch this 4-minute video for a closer look at South Puget Sound prairies. 

Threatened & endangered species of prairies

South Sound prairies are also home to a variety of threatened and endangered species that in many cases are found no where else in the world. Here are some examples of at-risk species that depend on South Sound prairie habitat:

Birds

Butterflies

Mammals

Plants

Sustainability in Prisons Project

The Taylor's Checkerspot butterfly was listed as federally endangered in 2013. To increase their populations, WDFW works with the Oregon Zoo and the Sustainability in Prisons Project to raise butterfly larvae and then release them into the wild. The program's butterfly technicians work year-round to breed and raise the butterflies at every life stage. Learn more about the program online or watch the PBS news story video below. 

Using fire to protect prairies 

Native Americans maintained these grassy plains for thousands of years using fire to keep the surrounding forests at a distance so that tribes could harvest wildflowers and bulbs. This land management also cleared areas of crowded trees, undergrowth, and pests, which made space for new growth and wildlife. Learn more about Native American's use of fire to enrich and protect ecosystems in this article from Crosscut

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) manages over a million acres of public land around the state, including the Scatter Creek and West Rocky Prairie wildlife areas that are home to South Sound prairie habitat. Regular prescribed fires are important to maintain the unique South Sound prairie ecosystem. Learn more about how WDFW uses prescribed fire to preserve our state's natural landscapes in this interactive storymap

For even more information about South Sound Prairies, watch this 15-minute documentary produced by students from The Evergreen State College

Activity: Create a prairie mural

As a grassland ecosystem, the main vegetation of prairies is grass. However, a wide variety of other plant and animal species are also found on prairie habitat. Show the diversity of plant and animal species that use prairie habitat by creating your own ecosystem mural. 

Streaked horned lark, Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, prairie habitat

Gather your materials:

  • Large piece of butcher paper, or multiple pieces of construction paper taped together
  • Scissors
  • Crayons, colored pencils, or markers
  • Glue or tape
  • Nature magazines or access to computer with printer

Instructions:

1. Lay out the large piece of butcher paper or taped construction paper on a table. 
2. Draw or cut out pictures of plants from magazines or the internet that look like they would grow in a prairie. If you need some ideas, visit the Washington Native Plant Society's website to find plant lists based on location.
3. Identify a mammal, bird, and butterfly species that depends on prairie habitat and add them to your mural. See the list below for ideas of what to look up. After you add at least three animals to your mural, think about if the habitat provides everything wildlife need to survive and thrive. Do you need to add anything? (Water source, food, shelter, etc.) 

Prairie animals
  • Birds: Streaked horned lark, American robin, tree swallow, western meadowlark, western bluebird, American kestrel, Northern harrier, Red-tailed hawk
  • Butterflies: Mardon skipper, Woodland skipper, Taylor's checkerspot, Puget blue, silvery blue, western meadow fritillary, Anise swallowtail
  • Reptiles & Amphibians: Pacific chorus frog, Pacific gopher snake, Northwestern garter snake, Northern alligator lizard, western fence lizard
  • Mammals: Western gray squirrel, Mazama pocket gopher, Townsend's mole, black-tailed deer, coyote, red fox

Visit the South Sound Prairie website for landscape, plant, and wildlife photos. 

Lesson 4: Estuaries

In Washington, rivers begin in the mountains and water from rain, snow, and melting glaciers flows into streams. Streams gather into rivers and flow through forests, past farmland, and by cities until reaching the ocean. An estuary is the place where fresh water from the land meets salt water of the sea. Estuaries are home to a variety of plants and animals that are specially adapted to living in a constantly changing environment. Plants and animals living in estuaries need to be able to deal with hot, dry sun during low tides, and cold, salty water during high tides. 

Plants of the estuary

Three types of plants thrive in estuary habitat and turn sunlight energy into food. Phytoplankton are microscopic, free-floating plants that are eaten by many small animals. Eelgrass is a flowering plant that can grow 8 to 10 feet tall and provides habitat for many tiny animals that live on its blades. The third type of plant is algae, which can come in many shapes and sizes. 

Animals of the estuary

An estuary can serve as a home, nursery, or rest stop for many animals. Some species like oysters, clams, worms, and snails spend their whole lives in estuaries. Meanwhile, salmon use estuaries as a nursery on their journey from the river to the sea. Young salmon find shelter and food in estuaries while they adjust to salty ocean water. Migrating birds use estuaries for a rest stop on their long migration trips and feed on estuary plants or small fish and shellfish. 

Activity: Where Rivers Meet the Sea online game

Screenshot of estuary online game

Get to know Oscar the sea otter and go on a challenging adventure to save estuary habitat. You will learn what makes a healthy estuary and why estuaries are essential to ocean life and people. 

Play the game. 

Activity: Watershed search

Familiarize yourself with Washington's rivers and estuaries by completing a watershed map. 

Gather your materials:

Instructions: Follow the directions with the accompanying map. 

Activity: High tide & low tide scavenger hunt

If you live in an area close to an estuary, plan a field trip with your family to explore the area where freshwater from a river meets salt water of the sea. If you have visited the ocean before, you might remember that water levels change throughout the day. High tide is when the water level is at its highest, and low tide is when the water level is at its lowest. There are two periods of high tide and two periods of low tide every day. All together, this is called the tidal cycle. 

Gather your materials:

Instructions:

1. After picking a place to visit, find out if you will experience a high tide or low tide by visiting NOAA's website
2. Complete your scavenger hunt based on what type of tide is occurring at the place you visit. 
3. Take a photo of your adventure and share it with us

Lesson 5: Shrubsteppe 

The Intermountain West is the part of the country between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains and has mountains, rolling plains, rivers, and lakes. Washington is unique because it is split down the middle by the Cascade Mountains. Western Washington is near the ocean, so it is more wet and rainy, while Eastern Washington is part of the Intermountain West and is much drier with more extreme temperatures. Eastern Washington is also home to an ecosystem called the shrubsteppe. 

Wildflowers on shrubsteppe

Shrubsteppe is a type of habitat that is very dry and has few trees. With rolling grasslands dotted with shrubs like sagebrush, rabbitbrush, bitterbrush, and other plants including bunchgrasses and beautiful wildflowers. A wide variety species of wildlife live in the shrubsteppe. In fact, some species live only in the shrubsteppe and nowhere else! You will learn about one of these species in the next activity. 

Review the shrubsteppe habitat guide to see pictures of landscapes, plants, and maps. Explore what other plants live in shrubsteppe habitat on the Washington Native Plant Society's website

Vocabulary words
  • Arid: Very dry; having very little rain
  • Biogeography: The study of where plants and animals live across very large landscapes
  • Intermountain West: The area of the United States between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains
  • Shrubsteppe: An arid ecosystem that is made out of grasslands dotted with sagebrush, rabbitbrush, bitterbrush, bunchgrass, and wildflowers

Activity: Exploring biogeography

Biogeography is the study of where plants and animals live across very large landscapes. As you have learned, an ecosystem is comprised of all the living things, plants, and animals, that are living within a specific area. Shrubsteppe habitat is an arid ecosystem of grasslands dotted with shrubs. In this activity, you will explore why the shrubsteppe is so unique. 

Gather your materials:

Instructions: 

1. Print the Intermountain West map. 
2. Label the states that are within the Intermountain West.
3. Review the shrubsteppe habitat distribution in Washington map. 
4. On your printed map, use a colored pencil or marker to color in the locations where shrubsteppe habitat occurs in Washington. 
5. On your printed map, mark the location of your home with a star.
6. Look at your completed map and review the following questions:

  • Do you live in the Intermountain West or near the shrubsteppe?
  • If you don’t live near the Intermountain West, can you estimate how far away you live?
  • If you do live in the Intermountain West, how far away is your home from shrubsteppe habitat?
  • Is the shrubsteppe outside of your city or town, across the street, or in your backyard?
  • Describe how the habitat and climate of the shrubsteppe is different from the coastal environment of Western Washington.

Bonus activity for high schoolers: Study the shrubsteppe habitat decline map and compare historic and current shrubsteppe habitat distribution in Washington. What differences do you see? Research the reasons behind Washington’s shrinking shrubsteppe range. Learn more about shrubsteppe ecosystems on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's website

Activity: Sage grouse house

Greater sage-grouse are one of the wildlife species found nowhere else in the world except within the shrubsteppe ecosystem. Sage-grouse depend on sagebrush plants to survive. In winter months, grouse eat sagebrush leaves. In the springtime, females make their nests beneath the sagebrush's protective cover. These special birds rely on the shrubsteppe their entire lives.

A sage grouse on a lek

Sagebrush plants can be thought of as “sage-grouse houses” because they provide protection and cover for incubating eggs and grouse chicks when they hatch. Just like human homes, a sage-grouse house needs a roof and walls to be a complete and safe shelter. For sage-grouse, the roof is made out of the sagebrush plant – it provides cover from rain, snow, and the hot sun. The walls are made out of native grass species that encircle the outside of the sagebrush plant and keep out wind and dust. Both the roof and walls provide visual protection from predators who might target the chicks for a meal.

Healthy shrubsteppe ecosystems are important for the survival of greater sage-grouse and other wildlife species living in the shrubsteppe.

Gather your materials:

Instructions:

1. Watch this 7-minute video, Thunder Feathers: the Life of the Greater Sage Grouse. While this video was made in Wyoming, everything you see also occurs in the shrubsteppe of Eastern Washington!
2. Pay close attention to how the sage-grouse interact with sagebrush plants. 
3. Pause the video at 3:00 and try to find the female sage-grouse. Notice how the mother grouse is camouflaged and protected insider her sage-grouse house!
4. Using what you observed in the video, use your markers or crayons to complete the sage-grouse house coloring sheets. Draw and color the missing habitat components.  

Questions for discussion or writing:

  • How did the sage-grouse interact with sagebrush plants? How many ways did you see the grouse using the sagebrush? Did you see them sitting on it, eating it, or sleeping under it? 
  • Look at your completed coloring sheet. Talk about what parts of the sage-grouse house were missing, and what you added with your drawing skills. Did you add a roof (the sagebrush)? Did you add the walls (the grasses)? What else did you add to create a complete house?
  • Compare your human home to the sage grouse house. What is similar and what is different?

Extra learning opportunities:

  • Watch the National Geographic Documentary The Greater Sage-Grouse with your family. 
  • Explore the Sage Grouse Initiative website to learn more about sage-grouse and see all the places they live. Sage-grouse live mostly, but not entirely, within the Intermountain West. Where do you notice the Intermountain West and sage-grouse overlapping? Where do they not overlap?
  • What are things that people could do to help shrubsteppe andage-grouse? Brainstorm and discuss three ideas of things you could do to help.

Lesson 6: Ponderosa pine woodlands

The Ponderosa pine tree is the most widely distributed pine in North America, and is a key species in woodland habitats in Eastern Washington. This tree species can withstand long periods of dry weather (drought), and are usually widely spaced with herbs, grasses, and shrubs growing underneath. 

Watch this 3-minute video by habitat biologist Renee Kinnick to learn how to identify a Ponderosa pine. 

Activity: Explore public lands

Plan a field trip with your family to a wildlife area near you to explore different habitats. WDFW manages several wildlife areas you can explore in Eastern Washington that have Ponderosa pine woodland habitat, as well as shrubsteppe and riparian. 

Chelan Wildlife Area

  • Located primarily in Chelan County
  • Features shrubsteppe, Ponderosa pine, and riparian habitats
  • Wildlife species include eagles, migratory birds, mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and waterfowl

W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area

  • Spans 17,000 acres in Columbia and Garfield counties
  • Features grassland, riparian, Ponderosa pine, and shrubsteppe habitats
  • Wildlife species include: Elk, deer, bighorn sheep, turkey, black bear, and birds

Methow Wildlife Area

  • Located in the Methow River watershed in the western half of Okanogan County
  • Features shrubsteppe, grasslands, and Ponderosa pine habitats
  • Wildlife species include mule deer, songbirds, elk, and birds of prey

Gather your materials:

Instructions: 

1. Find a place to go that will have a habitat that you learned about this week. If possible, try to go to a place that might have Ponderosa pines so you can practice your identification skills. 
2. Take pictures of plant and wildlife species. You can use iNaturalist to identify them.
3. Detail your observations in a notebook. What's the weather like? What sounds do you hear? What plants are most noticeable? Do you see any evidence of wildlife? 
4. Use the Ponderosa pine identification to try and find this tree species. 

June 3 -Threatened & Endangered Species

There are 268 species of concern in Washington - Let’s protect every one!

Washington is home to more than 1,900 species of animals, including at least 40 found nowhere else on Earth! 

Despite this natural abundance, 268 Species of Greatest Conservation Need—animals such as golden eagles, fishers, wolverines, pygmy rabbits, bighorn sheep, orcas, white sturgeon, sharptail grouse, bull trout, puffins, western pond turtles, and sandhill cranes – are immediate concerns.

These and other imperiled species may disappear from Washington without wildlife conservation, wildlife recreation, and the work of people that care. Fortunately, Washington has a rich tradition of caring for wildlife, and you play an essential role. In these lessons, we are concentrating on the species most in need of help, endangered species.

Watch this 30-second video of a fisher release. Over the last several years, conservation organizations have worked together to reintroduce fishers in the Cascade Range and Olympic Peninsula. 

Lesson 1: What is an endangered species?

A species can be a plant (like an oak tree), an animal (like a penguin), a fungus (like a mushroom), or any other form of life. Humans, butterflies, dandelions, coral, zebras, and house cats are all species.

Having all of these species on Earth is called biodiversity. The term biodiversity comes from two very old words: the Greek word bios, which means life, and the Latin word diversitas, which means variety. So, biodiversity means a variety of life. This variety of life helps make our planet special – there are so many species on Earth, we haven’t found them all yet!

Watch the 4-minute video below to learn more about biodiversity. 

We work with other conservation organizations around the world to study species to better understand how everything fits together, just like a jigsaw puzzle. This is how we learn about the overall health of the species, and this is where the terms threatened and endangered come in. We will focus only on animals here, but any type of species can become threatened or endangered.

An animal is considered threatened or endangered when there are so few of them left that they are in danger of becoming extinct. Extinct means that there are no more of these animals alive anywhere in the world. Species may become threatened or endangered for many reasons, but two of the most common are loss of habitat and genetic variation. 

Loss of genetic variation

Genetic variation is very similar to biodiversity, except that it occurs within a species. Genetic variation is the variety that occurs within a single species. You can see this variation in our pets – even though there are billions of cats and dogs around the world, they all look a little bit different. The greater the number of individuals of a species, the greater the genetic variation. This is a good thing, because greater genetic variation reduces the amount of inbreeding.

Inbreeding is when two closely related individuals of a species reproduce. Because they are related, there is little genetic variability. This makes the offspring (babies) more susceptible to disease and deformities. If an animal is deformed, it might not be able to obtain food easily, and it could starve. If an animal cannot fight off disease or other common illnesses, then it could die. Species with low genetic variability are also not very good at adapting to changes in their habitat, so things like disasters and climate change can be catastrophic to these species. 

Loss of genetic variation can occur naturally – this often happens to animals that are only found in very small regions, like islands. The Channel Islands fox, found only on the Channel Islands off the coast of California, is one example.

Human activity can also lead to low genetic variability. Over hunting and fishing, which happens when people take more of a species than is sustainable, can reduce population sizes. When the population is small, there are few individuals to reproduce, which can lead to inbreeding.

Habitat loss

Habitat is the environment in which a species lives. This includes all the things that species needs to survive, such as food, water, and shelter.

Watch this 4-minute video as a refresher on habitat. 

Habitat loss, such as converting natural areas to agriculture or housing developments, can also lead to lower population sizes and low genetic variability. But habitat loss also often leads to less food, water, and shelter for the animals that live in that area. If the animals lose their homes because those homes are turned into something else, they may die.

Threatened vs endangered species

So far, we’ve talked about both threatened and endangered species, but is there a difference? The answer is yes. That difference, and the terms you hear, may be different depending on where you live and who you talk to. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has eight different categories for all species on Earth. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has three categories for species about which we’re concerned: sensitive, threatened, and endangered.

Watch this 4-minute video to learn more about endangered animals. 

You may already be familiar with threatened and endangered species such as tigers, rhinos, and polar bears, but did you know there are threatened and endangered species right here in Washington? Sadly, there are nearly 50 species that are listed as sensitive, threatened, or endangered, and there are over 100 more species that WDFW thinks should also be listed. It takes a long process involving many partners from other state and federal agencies, such as the US Fish & Wildlife Service to officially list a species as threatened or endangered. 

Lesson 2: Pygmy rabbits

A small pygmy rabbit sits in early morning sun.
Pygmy Rabbit WDFW

One endangered species in Washington is the pygmy rabbit. They are the smallest rabbit in North America, and the adults are so small they can fit in the palm of your hand. These rabbits are only the size of kittens when they’re full grown!

There were many things that contributed to pygmy rabbits becoming endangered, but habitat loss is one of the biggest reasons. These rabbits live in Eastern Washington in shrubsteppe habitat covered in sagebrush. Sagebrush is their main food source, but they also eat grasses and other plants that are available in the spring and summer. Most sagebrush-covered land in Washington has been converted to agricultural land over the last 200 years. These rabbits were once plentiful, but by 2002, there were only 16 pygmy rabbits left in the wild. This led to a loss of genetic variation, which further imperiled the rabbits’ chances for survival.

In 2002, WDFW partnered with the Oregon Zoo, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, and Washington State University to begin a breeding program with hopes of bringing the population back from extinction. The program wasn’t very successful at first, everyone learned many lessons and now the program is very successful with more than 1,000 pygmy rabbits released back into the wild. Many of these rabbits now breed successfully on their own.

Watch this 2-minute video about WSU’s pygmy rabbit research.

Learn more about pygmy rabbits and their habitat:

Activity: Write for Change

This activity involves research and persuasive writing inspired by the book “Hoot” by Carl Hiaasen. The main character, Roy, is just a normal kid who moves to a new neighborhood, but he stumbles upon a mystery involving a pancake restaurant (yum!) and tiny owls that live underground. Roy learns all about endangered species and works with his friends to convince adults to protect them.

Instructions:

  1. Begin by researching an endangered species or habitat until you find one (or more) you’re interested in. The WDFW and US Fish & Wildlife Service websites are good places to start. Also check out organizations such as National Geographic, the World Wildlife Fund, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
  2. Once you’ve found a species or habitat that interests you, take thorough notes about problems it is facing and how you think it should be protected.
  3. Write a letter to your local government official(s) letting them know why you are concerned, and why it’s important to protect this species or habitat. Scholastic’s Write for Change has a template to get you started.

Lesson 3: Pacific lamprey

Pacific lamprey
Pacific lamprey Jeremy Monroe, Fresh Waters Illustrated

The Pacific lamprey is an eel-like fish that has been around since before dinosaurs! Pacific lamprey are an important part of tribal cultures in the Pacific Northwest and an important part of the ecosystem because they are a food source for other fish, birds, and marine animals. Tribal members have fished for Pacific lamprey and used them in their ceremonies for hundreds of years and have seen their numbers decline. There are several reasons for this, and one of them is habitat loss. Many animals, like some kinds of salmon, are on a list of threatened and endangered species, but did you know that Pacific lamprey are NOT on the list? Being on the list means a species and its habitat get extra attention and there are government rules for their protection. Because they are not “listed,” it is up to all of us to learn more about Pacific lamprey and to protect their habitat.

Pacific lamprey have different habitat needs throughout their life cycle. After hatching, they drift downstream to areas of slow water and fine sediment, where they burrow and live as filter feeders for up to seven years. We can protect juvenile lamprey habitat by not dredging fine sediment from stream bottoms. Adult Pacific lamprey spawn in stream habitats similar to salmon. Females and males work together, moving rocks with their sucker-like mouths to create a nest or “redd” where the eggs are deposited and fertilized. When we protect and restore salmon habitat, we are also helping lamprey!

Watch this 2-minute video by the Oregon Zoo about Pacific lamprey.

Learn more about Pacific lamprey:

Activity: Pacific Lamprey spawning habitat shadowbox

Craft of lamprey habitat in a shoebox
Pacific lamprey spawning habitat shadowbox

Use simple materials to create your own Pacific lamprey spawning habitat.

Gather your materials:

  • Small cardboard box
  • Either stiff cardstock OR regular paper and thin cardboard (like a cereal box)
  • Pacific lamprey stream habitat cutouts
  • Scissors
  • Glue or tape
  • Paint or colored paper
  • Crayons or colored pencils
  • Small sticks and rocks (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Print the Pacific lamprey stream habitat cutouts on regular paper or stiff cardstock. If you used regular paper, glue the sheet to your thin cardboard.
  2. Color in the scene. Pacific lamprey are gray/brown with blue eyes and yellow teeth!
  3. Cut out the pieces and fold each tab on the stream habitat.
  4. Cut off three flaps of your box but leave one long flap to serve as your stream bed. Keep the cut off flaps to use later.
  5. Paint the inside of your box blue or cover in blue paper to represent water.
  6. Paint the bottom of your box brown and or cover in brown paper to represent the sand and rocks that make up the stream substrate (if your box is already brown, you could skip this step).
  7. Create your stream habitat scene:
    1. Glue down the plant and rock layers.
    2. Cut two long pieces from the box flaps from earlier and fold down the ends to make supports for your lamprey.
    3. Glue the supports to the lamprey and the box so they stand out.
  8. Optional: glue small sticks and rocks on the bottom flap for added stream habitat detail.

Lesson 4: How you can help

Parents, teachers, and students have played a critical role in species and habitat conservation by sharing what they know and encouraging others to care. Young people can share their interest with others, re-awakening love for nature among adults, and sharing this love with their peers. Caring and sharing is one of the most important things you can do.

Watch this 5-minute video of a school group working to release salmon into local streams. 

Activity: Participate in a cleanup

Frogs and fish depend on clean river banks, and ocean birds, shellfish, and mammals depend on clean beaches. Leave the places you hike and play cleaner than when you came to give animals a healthy home. Here are a few organizations active in clean-up efforts: 

Do your part to make your home and yard wildlife friendly

Securing your garbage from wildlife, bird-proofing windows with homemade decals, and never purchasing products made of endangered wildlife or endangered forest species are all great places to start!

Native plants are ones that were originally found in the area, before humans began building. Why are native plants important, and how are they different from other plants? Well, all plants are native to somewhere, but a tree that is native to Japan, for instance, might not be as good of an idea to plant in Western Washington as a tree that is native to this area. This is because the insects, birds, and other animals are adapted to use native trees for their food and shelter (their habitat!).

To become adapted to something means that you (or the animal) is used to the conditions. Planting a garden featuring native plants with your family, spring through fall, means you help to provide cover at a time of year that is especially crucial for pollinators, who rely on floral nectar and pollen for food. Don’t have space? Even container gardens and birdbaths provide food and habitat for pollinators. 

Resources for transforming your home and backyard
Threatened and endangered species and how to help them

June 10 - Be a good steward

Protect and preserve the world around you

Wildlife in Washington face a wide range of threats, from disease and invasive species to declining habitat and climate change. You can help by being a good steward for wildlife, habitat, and the environment.

Being a good steward means protecting and preserving the world around you. This week’s lessons and activities will help you on your journey to being a good steward for the environment. For ideas on what your family can do to help Washington's wildlife, check out our Earth Day blog. This is the final week of our 10-week home schooling series, thank you for participating!

Downloadable materials

Lesson 1: Be a community scientist

Community science is working with a group of others to study and collect data on specific species. Did you know that you can be a valuable research partner for scientists? 

Watch this 9-minute video to learn about the awesome power of community science!

Activity: Participate in the Bumble Bee Atlas

Bombus bifarious (two-form bumble bee)
Taylor Cotten

Bumble bees are easily recognizable pollinators thanks to their size and unique striped pattern. They play an important role in in keeping our environment healthy by pollinating flowers in natural areas – like your backyard!

You can help provide information on bees with the Bumble Bee Atlas.

How to participate:

Activity: Join the eBird Project

eBird Northwest promotes community science opportunities for birders in the Pacific Northwest. You can participate in data collection that helps biologists understand and conserve birds and their habitats. These projects are designed to request and provide information on native bird species and their distribution, related habitats, migration and seasonal patterns, and responses to conservation and restoration.

Watch this 3-minute video about the eBird Northwest Project.

How to participate:
  • Sign up.
  • Walk around your neighborhood and look for birds.
  • Record your findings.

Lesson 2: Create and maintain wildlife habitat

Habitat is where wildlife and plants grow and live. As people continue to move further into rural areas, there is less room for wild animals and plants. You can be a good steward for wildlife by maintaining and creating habitat in your own backyard.

Activity: Make your backyard a wildlife sanctuary

Townsend's warbler in bird bath
Corey Van Bronckhorst

Join our Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Program. We will walk you through some simple ways that you can turn your outdoor area into a thriving wildlife habitat. By creating a wildlife sanctuary, you’re helping to offset the 35,000+ acres of wildlife habitat that are converted into housing and urban development each year in Washington.

Discover native plants through these helpful links from some of our partners!

Activity: Make a mini greenhouse

Make your own mini greenhouse and watch your plants sprout to life! Plants provide critical oxygen that we need to survive.

Gather your materials:
  • Plastic cups
  • Push pin
  • Soil
  • Seeds
  • Water
Instructions:
  1. Use a push pin to carefully poke holes in the bottom of your cup.
  2. Fill the cup with soil and pat down gently.
  3. Place some seeds in your cup leaving space between each one.
  4. Cover your seeds with soil.
  5. Water your seeds.
  6. Cover the cup with a clear cup and set in a sunny place in your home.
  7. Once your plants are large enough, you can relocate them to a larger pot or outdoor garden. Don’t forget to recycle the cups!

Activity: Build a worm farm

Watch this 4-minute video about vermicompost and the benefits of worms from Cornell University.

They wriggle, they squirm, they look a little bit slimy, but they are also an excellent example of how something small and seemingly insignificant can actually play a big role in protecting our natural environment and helping it thrive.

When worms tunnel through the earth they help plant roots get water, air, and the nutrient-rich waste that also helps the plants to grow. Worms are fantastic natural recyclers that can convert food scraps from the kitchen – otherwise destined for the landfill site – into compost for the garden or vegetable patch.

More resources:

Build your own worm farm
All about earthworms

Lesson 3: Habitat connectivity – how animals move

We go to the grocery store for food, find shelter from the rain, and return home to sleep. Animals move around their habitat, or migrate, to meet these same needs. However, animals have an increasingly harder time moving across the landscape as more roads, houses, and fences are built. These human structures create pockets of habitat and can make it difficult for animals to move around safely.

Watch this 4-minute video to see a visualization of the challenges deer face when they migrate.  

Busy roads can create barriers to animal migration, but they don’t have to! The Interstate-90 wildlife overpass project is connecting habitat for large and small animals to safely cross the busy highway.

Watch this 4-minute video about how wildlife habitat is being connected under and over I-90. You can also watch this 30-minute documentary about this innovative project. Check out some of the animals migrating safely across I-90.

The next time you travel across I-90, report any wildlife sightings to help us understand wildlife movement through the area.

Your backyard also plays a role in habitat connectivity in your neighborhood. Read this short article from The Nature Conservancy and Cornell Lab to learn how your yard can positively contribute to a healthy landscape.

Activity: Why did the grizzly cross the road?

Highways, camp sites, park trails, train tracks, power lines, and other human-made structures impact grizzly bear habitat and their ability to move around safely. By actively trying to understand how grizzlies move from one place to another, researchers hope to help minimize conflict between people and bears.

Listen to this 15-minute podcast episode, Why did the grizzly cross the road? Produced by The Narwhal.

Lesson 4: Reduce waste

Humans create a lot of waste from food scraps, packaging, and general garbage. By producing less waste or recycling waste, you can help preserve habitat and reduce greenhouse gas emission that affect the environment.

Activity: Environmental science project

Learn how to do your own environmental science project about reducing, reusing, and recycling waste. This booklet is a step-by-step guide to help you design an exciting science fair project that focuses on the 3Rs of waste management—reduce, reuse, and recycle. Use your science fair project to show how the 3Rs lead to resource conservation. More resources available on the Environmental Protection Agency's website.

Activity: Make a compost bin

Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28% of what we throw away, and you can compost it instead! Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release greenhouse gases that are bad for the environment. 

Compost including banana peel, eggs, shells, vegetable scraps
Gather your materials:
  • Large plastic bin with lid, such as 12-gallon storage bin or trash can
  • Drill (Ask a parent or other adult for help)
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Soil
  • Dried leaves and/or pine needles
  • Food scraps
  • Water
Instructions:
  1. Drill 8-10 holes about 1-2 inches apart in the bottom of the bin, and four holes on each side of the bin. This will let air move around the bin to help things decompose.
  2. Put the shredded newspaper into the bin, filling it up 1/4 of the way.
  3. Add soil until the bin is half full. Top the soil with a layer of dried leaves or pine needles. Always keep brown material such as this in your bin to keep it from smelling.
  4. Bury food scraps into the brown material. To do this, roll your bin around (with the lid on) or mix it with a stick.
  5. Spray the compost with just enough water to get things damp but not soaking wet. Put the lid on.
  6. Keep a small container in your kitchen and fill it with food scraps. Add the scraps to the compost bin. Just remember to add the same amount of soil and leaves, too.
  7. Every four to five days, roll the compost bin around or stir the contents with a stick to keep things mixed up. Always keep the compost damp.
  8. Compost will be ready to use in your garden in one to two months.

Activity: Play Recycle City

Explore Recycle City on the Environmental Protection Agency's website to see how its people reduce waste, use less energy, and save money by doing simple things at home, at work, and in their neighborhoods.