deer

ASHLAND -- During this time at home we want to encourage families to get outside.

Studies show that just 10 to 15 minutes in nature can improve mood and strengthen your immune system.

To help, we are going to try to release (regular) "Nature at Home" activities that can be done right in your backyard, driveway or tree lawn. Each activity can be used as a quick break or be stretched into hours  -- or even days -- of nature studies.

We hope that although routines will be thrown off in these coming weeks, we can help you get outside and remember the importance of nature. 

track

Nature at Home Activity 1: Track an animal

All animals leave behind signs, especially in this muddy weather. Look in your backyard, tree lawn, driveway or local park for animal signs and become a nature detective. See if you can identify your animal and tell the story of his day by using just the signs he left behind.

To learn more about tracks and tracking visit ohiodnr.gov.

pill bugs

Nature at Home Activity 2: Pillbug study

This wet weather is ideal for finding pill bugs (also called potato bugs or rolly polies) which need moisture to survive.

A pillbug is a terrestrial isopod. Iso- meaning same and -pod meaning feet/legs. 

Instructions: 

1. Start a pill bug study by collecting some from your yard. Roll over logs, search under leaves, pick up potted plants and look in sidewalk cracks. Pill bugs like to live anywhere with some moisture.

2. Then, create a habitat with soil, leaves and some cut up potatoes in Tupperware or take out container with some air holes.

3. Observe your pill bugs daily. You can test what foods your isopods like best, change their habitats to see where they like to be, and even see which pillbug runs the fastest by having a race. They like to travel towards darkness so you can let them race towards a dark place or just a black sheet of paper.

Fun pill bug facts:

Pillbugs are like opossums. They carry their babies in a pouch (called a marsupium) on their bellies.

When pillbugs are little they only have 12 legs. Once they molt they have 14.

Get a magnifying glass out and see if you have a momma or a baby by looking for a pouch and counting the legs. 

Click here a link for additional information. 

cardinal

Nature at Home Activity 3: Backyard Birds

The birds are singing like nobody's business. Today on your nature adventure, listen to them sing as they set up spring nesting territories.

Here are some quick tips for recognizing common backyard birds whether you live in a concrete jungle or a deep forest. 

The Northern Cardinal says “birdy, birdy, birdy.” 

The tone of the notes they sing reminds me of a star wars blaster. “Pew, pew, pew!”

Listen for their song to change too. My grandma always says she hears them saying, “wet shoes, wet shoes, wet shoes,” when it’s chilly and rainy, and I think she’s right.

The cardinal is Ohio’s state bird, as well as many other states, and is larger than many song birds. Males are distinctly red with tall hairdos, and females don the same hairstyle but with only a little red mixed in with their greenish/brown feathers to camouflage themselves during nesting season. 

The Tufted Titmouse says “peter, peter, peter.” 

Their song is sung more quickly than a cardinal, with shorter, sharper notes.

A titmouse also has a cool hairdo like the cardinal, but is smaller and a blue-gray color with beady black eyes.

I notice them fighting this time of year more than any others at our feeders. To me they are the sassy teens of the backyard birds.

The Carolina Wren says “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle.”

Carolina wrens are loud for their small size.

With their feathery mix of browns, whites, and grays, they camouflage well in trees and shrubs, but you’ll hear that song a mile away. It echoes through the air like your children yelling at each other in the other room while you're trying to go to the bathroom. 

The Carolina Chickadee says “chicka- dee-dee-dee” or “cheeeeeseeee-burger.”

Chickadees are cute little things. Black and white and small enough to fit in the palm of your child’s hand. But when you look them straight in the face they always look ready to fight.

They love to eat in private, coming to a feeder for just one seed and flying off with it to somewhere hidden. They’re fast eaters though, they’ll be back in a minute.

When a chickadee sings I always feel compelled to sing back. It feels like he’s talking just to me.

Try to copy his song on your own and see what happens.

Note: If you’re north of Mansfield you probably have black capped chickadees. Do a little research to figure out the difference and see which you might have.

See how many birds you can identify in your backyard by sight or sound.

Visit this ODNR field guide for help with other birds not mentioned above. Or visit the Cornell page with song ID help.

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