Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Hummingbird Nest

The spring before we left our first house, a robin built a nest in the pyracantha tree just outside my bedroom window. I marveled that this bird could build such a sound nest amid the thorns of the tree. I spent many early mornings watching her build the home that would soon become host to three beautiful eggs. William was 5 at the time, so together we would sit, and watch, and wait. The wait was excruciating for us, but this didn't seem to matter to the vigilant mother. I shed tears when the chicks arrived and a few more when they were gone. I did not photograph these events, though now I wish I had. Joyce Sidman had a similar experience, which she documented at Nesting with Robins. Seeing spring erupting around me puts me in mind of these baby birds, and how poetic this particular cycle of life can be.
Kristine O'Connell George had a similar experience with hummingbirds, which later became her book Hummingbird Nest: A Journal of Poems. In it she describes a hummingbird's building of a nest in a potted ficus tree on her patio, as well as the hatching and growth of the baby birds. An extensive author's note describes how she kept a hummingbird journal and the joy brought to the family by simply observing the birds over the course of two months. There is also information about hummingbirds, as well as a list of selected books for both younger and older readers.

The book begins with the poem, Visitor.
A spark, a glint,
   a glimpse
   of pixie tidbit.
Bright flits, brisk zips,
   a green-gray blur,
   wings, zings, and whirr--

I just heard
   a humming of bird.
What follows are poems that describe the dive-bombing of the family by a bird very determined to protect it's territory, nest building, egg hatching, nestling care and growth, flight practice and the inevitable empty nest. Poems are written from the perspective of the observer, as well as the disgruntled dog and cat. ("I'm a prisoner--because of a bird. How absurd.") You can read another poem from the book. You can also listen to the author read a few of the poems.

The poems in the book are accompanied by Barry Moser's vibrant watercolors, which exquisitely capture the world of the hummingbirds. Each one contains a date that allows readers to the see the progression of events. The poems themselves are moving and full of the emotion that comes with watching an amazing event like this unfold. The rich imagery and detailed observations make this a great choice for both science and language arts.

While you may not have the opportunity to watch the building of a nest and hatching of chicks with your students, there is generally plenty of activity on school grounds that can be chronicled over time. Journaling about these changes can help students to become better observers, and journal entries can later provide background for writing poetry.

If you want to take these ideas further, the following sites offer additional resources for this topic.
Finally, I recommend connecting this book with the informational book, A Nest Full of Eggs by Priscilla Belz Jenkins.You can find more books on eggs and nesting birds at Springing to Life.


  1. I so love the interdisciplinary nature of your posts. "Themes" have gone out of vogue as of late, but in an age when we're asking students to make connections, what better way to model the way an idea or topic can thread through a variety of disciplines. Thanks!

  2. You could add to this "An Egg is Quiet"