Didactic activities

OUTLINE FOR DIDACTIC ACTIVITIES

Following what is now a well-established collaboration with the Museo Civico/Civic Museum of Lentate sul Seveso, a series of initiatives have been developed with schools in mind, which the Monticello Centre intends to offer at the Centre itself or, on request, at the schools.

Didactic workshops for the construction of models, nest-boxes and feeders - putting these in place and carrying out subsequent seasonal inspections to obtain data regarding occupation.

Constructing models – after having studied the habits of birds or mammals chosen from the most representative ones of our territory, the youngsters/students will be able to make models of nests or burrows or dens of the chosen species, using polystyrene, paper, glue etc. along with a good amount of dexterity. On various occasions, this type of work has been used in the organization of thematic exhibitions.

Construction of nest boxes and feeders

An interesting workshop that the Monticello Centre and the Museum of Lentate propose deals with the construction of nest boxes for the various species of birds present in our woods and gardens and making feeders to feed the birds in the winter period.

Pre-cut pieces can be assembled after which the boxes will be positioned in the school gardens or the surrounding woods, according to the type of project chosen in advance  by the teachers. Before making the boxes, there will be an illustrated talk, which is necessary in order to explain the complete project and the habits of the species under study.

Throughout the winter, by keeping the feeders filled, it will be possible to carry out observations and to identify the various species with the help of the appropriate charts provided by the museum, while, in Springtime and beyond, thanks to the boxes, the students will be able to follow the birds nesting.

This type of programme offers teachers various insights into the world of nature. /links with subjects not strictly part of the natural world. The observations made and the data gathered could also be used to develop graphs and mathematical statistics or to learn how to prepare and give presentations and write articles regarding the subject.

The feeder and nest box project is highly-suited to a first cognitive approach with nature, both for the direct involvement of the students – since they personally build them – and for the direct contact with the animals, as they collect nesting data and observe the birds at the feeders.

First of all, why should we install nest boxes? Some species of birds need a protected hollow to make their nests. In the wild, there are normally naturally-occurring holes in mature trees or previous nest sites left free by other species such as the woodpecker. In some areas, for example, woods that are still young or in urban gardens, there is a lack of suitable nest sites and this could limit the presence of the species. So putting up nest boxes in the garden offers the birds possibility of completing the reproductive cycle and allows us the opportunity to understand them fully and, as a result, respect them.  The situation is also avoided where, for lack of choice, some species use letter boxes or - worse - unprotected drainpipes or chimneys, thus blocking them and creating potential hazards.  

Nest boxes should be put in position well before the breeding season: this usually begins in March. This is a simple but fundamental factor to bear in mind but increases the chance of the nest boxes being used. The ideal place to put up the nest box is on a free tree trunk, taking care not to place it for greater protection, in the thick foliage. A pole or any free-standing support, or even a house or garden wall, can make up for the lack of trees (fig.1). The angle of the nest box is equally important: it must be perpendicular or at most slightly leaning forwards, (fig. 2) to avoid water leaking in during heavy summer showers and thus potentially compromising successful nesting. Height does not appear to influence the birds in their choice but, to limit disturbance, it would anyway be advisable to place the box at least two metres above the ground.    

Normally, an occupied nest box is recognizable from the toing and froing of the adults during the construction of the nest or when they are feeding the young. Alternatively the nest boxes should be inspected occasionally during the breeding season, lifting and letting down the roof without making any noise or brusque movements. If carried out correctly, it is possible to observe the adult sitting on the eggs without causing it to be alarmed and leave. If only an apparently formless mound of moss, straw/hay?  and feathers is visible, avoid touching the material; tits cover their eggs in the initial laying phase and any uncontrolled pressure could cause the eggs to be broken. In all cases, inspections should be very limited; ideally, once during the laying period and another time to check that the young have hatched. Nest boxes are also used by birds, throughout the year, as night roosts. Correct identification of the species may be aided by consulting one of the many manuals available on the market. To help the less-experienced, we have listed below the possible species, beginning with the most likely and common residents.

Once nesting has finished – or at least once a year – it is good practice to clean the box, removing all the old remaining material. Painting the box every couple of years with a water-based varnish?  will prolong its life.

GREAT TIT – Parus major

BLUE TIT – Parus caeruleus

COAL TIT – Parus ater

REDSTART – Phoenicurus phoenicurus

TREE SPARROW – Passer  montanus

STARLING – Sturnus vulgaris

WRYNECK – Jynx torquilla

 

 

 

 

Construction of the bat box

As with the above workshop, this involves constructing and putting into position boxes, this time intended to shelter, in the spring and autumn period, the various species of bats which may be found in our area.

Every night,these winged animals carry out an important role in containing the various insect populations which form their diet, among which the mosquito. Their conservation is hindered by different environmental factors: first and foremost pollution of their habitat and the disappearance of suitable places to rest in the daytime. Putting up nest (?) boxes, therefore, constitutes a valid means to help bat conservation and, as with all animal and vegetable species, this is of great importance for the ecosystem and consequently for human health. Last but not least, this workshop allows the student to really get to know these small winged animals, long subject to beliefs and stupid superstitions which threaten their survival.

The various stages of the project are identical to those regarding nest boxes and feeders.

Guided field trips (?) regarding naturalistic, environmental and historical subjects. 

Besides planned field trips for students who take part in one of the above projects, teachers may request single naturalistic trips in order to study in greater depth their own (?) school programmes.

The museum rooms may be opened on special request in school hours with the option of guided tours.

On the completion of the activity carried out at the centre, schools may book a weekly appointment at the museum for a general or a specific tour: the museum will organize the guided tour and provide the expert who will deal with the subject requested.

Nature slides and films

Films and slides will be used as a further means to complement the various studies undertaken by the students: they will illustrate specific subjucts which might be requested.

All the activities proposed by the Monicello Centre, and by the Museo Civico di Lenate sul Sevaso, are free.