Explore animal homes in Michigan

Spring in Michigan is a wonderful time of the year to help youth learn about and explore animal homes.

You may find a bird's nest as you explore animal homes. Photo credit: AngeliaJoy/Morguefile
You may find a bird's nest as you explore animal homes. Photo credit: AngeliaJoy/Morguefile

Our animal friends have basic needs just like we do. If you look closely at an animal’s environment, you will see that their home (or habitat) provides not only shelter, but also food, water and space. With these additions to their home, we now call the complex a “niche” as the animal interacts with these things. All of us require food and water and space to “live.” We all need a safe place to sleep and raise our families and we all need space! While we humans tend to use our space or backyards to relax, to play or to garden, animals use their space to hunt food.

The amount of space needed or the size of an animal’s backyard often depends on the animal’s size and the amount of food it needs in order to survive. For example, large animals like black bear or deer have larger “backyards” and may travel across territories which cover many miles. Animal homes, or niches, can look very different but they all include access to shelter (habitat), food, water, and space. Some animals like the turtle or snail carry their home (habitat) with them. Others may live in a hole in tree, a cave, a burrow, a nest or a web. Size as well as style of our animal friends’ homes also varies, ranging from the tiny hummingbird nest measuring 1.5 inches to a bald eagle nest measuring more than six feet across.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that you help youth learn more about animal homes by taking them outdoors for a hike or leisurely stroll through a field or forest. Keep track of the animal homes you see with the Animal Homes Checklist or create your own list specific to your area. While walking, encourage the youth to look and listen carefully, because they may see or hear signs of animals before seeing their homes. You may hear a bird singing before seeing a nest. Or you might see animal tracks, woodchips at the base of a tree or freshly disturbed sand before seeing a hole in the ground or tree. On the other hand, you may see a chipmunk “chip”, “chunk” or “trill” before it disappears into its den. On the walk record the homes youth see until you come to an open area. Ask the youth to explore the area to find homes and signs of animal activity then record them on the Animal Homes Checklist.

You could introduce younger children to another searching technique by having them use their hands as the lenses of a camera. A zoom lens has one hand stacked on the other; a micro lens has one hand for each eye; and a wide angle lens has hands that open into a box shape. Have your little photographers use their array of lenses to look at the homes all around them. Using different lenses can help children focus on different part of the environment. To help youth learn more about the animals and their homes, explore the Arkive website. Arkive is a not-for-profit site, which is freely accessible to everyone, where wildlife photographers and scientists share information and images about life on earth.

To learn more ways 4-H youth can explore their environment visit Science & Technology. To learn how to start a 4-H environmental stewardship club or nature explorers club visit the 4-H Youth Development page and become a volunteer leader.

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