Boy Scouts who signed up to earn their Bird Study Merit Badge at Brookside Nature Center in Wheaton on June 19 got a bonus lesson.
Research interns from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center were at Brookside that day, working on the Urban Nestwatch Program, a Migratory Bird Center initiative that looks at the impact of development on backyard birds.
“The best part was going outside and looking for birds,” said Sam Ehrenstein, 13, from Troop 209 in Silver Spring.
Sam and nine other scouts — who ranged from those who were working on their first badge, to Zachary Lively, 17, of Troop 96 in Silver Spring, who was finishing up his Eagle Scout requirements — took an all-day class taught by Brookside naturalist Geri Drymalski that was designed to help them earn their merit badges.
By coincidence, the Smithsonian interns also were at the center that day.
The interns demonstrated for the scouts how they capture and release the birds from netting, then band and weigh the birds before releasing them.
“They take the birds and are basically like a doctor — they measure the length and weight and check to see if it’s healthy,” said John Ranthun, 11, of Troop 1444 in Silver Spring.
Drymalski said she was delighted to share her time with the scouts with the Smithsonian group.
“The experience for the boys to see the birds up close ... and to feel their weight was really great,” Drymalski said. “Birds are ecological indicators; the more we study birds, the more we can understand our environment.”
Another aspect of the Urban Nestwatch Program, which is funded by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, is to provide environmental education about birds to communities that have little access to outdoor educational opportunities, said Bob Reitsma of the Smithsonian Migratory Birdwatch Center.
“We are reaching many communities, providing the opportunity to hundreds of kids and community members who otherwise would have no way to experience the up-close-and-personal character of environmental education,” Reitsma said.
In the classroom, the scouts learned that birds can see colors and have hollow bones. They also learned how to identify three local birds by sight and song.
“I actually think this is fun,” said John, who was working on his first merit badge. ”I like to learn.”
Brookside has scheduled another program with the Smithsonian Urban Nestwatch Program at the center in July, nature center manager Scilla Taylor said.
Not date has been set for the program yet, she added, suggesting that those who are interested can check the center’s website, www.brooksidenature.org.