Migratory Birds on the Island Terschelling

Category: Europe, Migratory Birds for People, WLI Europe

Last updated: April 22nd, 2021

In an area of the ‘Wadden sea’ (in the North of the Netherlands) live many different bird species. For example, on the Island Terschelling you can not only discover geese and plovers, but also the spoonbill, the red-tailed godwit and the red knot.

When the summer days are over, these birds follow the East Atlantic migration route to spend the winter in the south: in France, Spain and even in Africa. If all goes well, they will return to Terschelling in the spring. Such a long trip is not without any danger and the energy costs for these birds is very high. Every year they must prepare for this journey, this makes it all the more important that they are not disturbed in their habitat. The migratory birds must be able to rest, breed and search for food in peace.

World Migratory Bird Day
Staatsbosbeheer is commissioned by the Dutch government to strengthen the position of nature in the Netherlands. As a leading national public body and as land owner and manager of a sizeable amount of nature reserves, they work to conserve and develop the Netherlands’ characteristic green heritage. In the context of World Migratory Bird Day 2018, Staatsbosbeheer Terschelling organized interesting and educational activities for the primary school pupils (third and fourth grade) of the island at a beautiful location near the mudflats: the organic farm ‘De Geskieker’. These activities were supervised by rangers Feline Zwaan, Hessel Hek, Meyndert Bos, Wanda Bakker and a number of interns.



Sixty Peanut Butter Sandwiches
A bird does not have navigation, so how does it determine a travel route? What dangers do birds encounter during their trip? And how does it feel for a bird to be disturbed while collecting food? During several activities the children were taught all about the life of migratory birds and why protecting these animals is so important. Comparing the life of the birds with their own lives plays an important role in helping children understand. For example, when explaining the amount of food a bird eats in preparation for the trip to the south, this weighs the same as approximately 60 peanut butter sandwiches: that’s the amount of peanut butter the children eat in a month! The journey of the birds itself equals the effort of cycling the ‘Tour de France’ ten times.



Learning While Playing
Playful activities enabled the children of Terschelling to experience the life of a migratory bird. Bird migration was imitated with an obstacle course that the children had to complete blindfolded and there was an interactive game that imitated the search for food. Children (the birds) used a spoon (that represented the beak) to bring as much sand (food) from one bucket to another within a certain amount of time. But, just like in real bird life, this was not without a struggle. One child, 'the disturber', was allowed to determine how the rest had to fly over (jumping, taking big steps or hopping) while trying to tag them out. If you were tagged, you had to go back to the start. The child with the most sand in the bucket at the end was the winner. And that was not so easy! During the last game the acquired knowledge about the migratory birds was tested with quiz questions. The children were divided into three groups: the spoonbills, red-tailed godwits and the canoes. With every well-answered question, the dice determined how many steps the group was allowed to move forward. The group that reached the finish, or got the closest, won. And last but not least: children were also able to use binoculars to spot birds (in real time) on the dike.

Skype Conversation
The spoonbill breeds on Terschelling, then migrates south, stopping in Spain to eat and rest, then flies on to Africa. To make this journey ‘real’ for the children and to make them aware that 'our' migratory birds really go south, we organized Skype calls. A number of children on the island were invited to skype with children of their age in Spain and Africa. The children were very enthusiastic and did their best to understand each other in English. Even if it was difficult at times. This was a wonderful way for the children to not only get to know the migratory birds even better, but also to learn about other environments – and practice their English.

Conclusion: This interactive International Migratory Birds programme is worth repeating (every year)!

Would you like to know more about the educational program of Staatsbosbeheer Terschelling? Please contact Wanda Bakker, w.bakker@staatsbosbeheer.nl.