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Animals in Their Habitat Activity | 2nd grade

Redwood forest

What do animals need to survive? This short lesson explores that question and dives into the different kinds of places where animals can live, and how different animals can survive in their habitats. It’s up to you to use the clues to figure out which animals live nearby! 

Learn more about mammals with these resources in our Online Museum Store.

Post by: Ellen

Our Animal Neighbors: Western Gray Squirrel

Western gray squirrel

Have you seen a western gray squirrel quickly climbing a tree or running fast to cross the street in between cars? What else have you seen it do? Is there one that you see daily? I see one every day, climbing up and down a tree outside of my home. It often sits close to the fence, flicking its tail back and forth. Sometimes I feel like it does this just to taunt my dog, who is captivated by the squirrel on the other side of the fence.

Western gray squirrels live in Santa Cruz all year long. They mostly eat seeds and are known to steal from people’s bird feeders. They nest up in trees in “dreys”, which are made out of twigs and lined with moss or fur. They hide their food in caches (secret food storages) and will return to them when food is scarce. Their alarm call sounds like a bird chirp and it is used to warn others of a predator or danger in the area. 

Fun Facts:

  • Their large tail helps them balance when climbing and jumping between trees.
  • They can live up to 8 years old.
  • Their teeth never stop growing – they can grow up to 6 inches per year. Their teeth are never that long though because they are constantly wearing them down when they eat hard seeds. 
  • A group of squirrels is called a scurry.

CLICK HERE for a coloring sheet of a grey squirrel!

Here’s a video of Squirrel Sounds! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVRJsCsqFB0-

Post by: Elise

Gettin’ Birdy: Why Birdwatch?

The central coast of California is a biodiversity hotspot, and a perfect place to learn more about wildlife. Santa Cruz is fortunate to have a number of city parks and open spaces that attract many different species of birds – all told, 450 different species have been recorded in the county. That’s over a third of all species seen in the entire country! So, if you are interested in getting outside and exploring over the coming days, weeks, and beyond, try birdwatching! It can be fun for all ages, birds are widespread and common across urban and open spaces, and there are a number of effective resources to help those unfamiliar with identifying birds. Birdwatching is a window into lives quite different from our own, but the world of birds, and even their interactions with humans are fascinating and clearly visible once you know how to look for them. All it takes is practice! 

Seabird runs in the surf with the sun low on the horizon
Photo by Jacqueline Deely, www.jacquelinedeely.com 

Getting Started

So, you want to see birds. One of the first decisions to make when it comes to birdwatching is where to go. There are certainly places that are more “birdy” than others, but have no fear – you will see birds almost anywhere you go! Bird hot-spots can be found at your local park, creek, or beach, and especially places with water such as wetlands, ponds, and rivers.

Go outside. Do you see birds? You are now a birdwatcher! Armed with nothing but your senses and curiosity, you are now primed to look more closely at the world around you. And if going outside is challenging, you can always birdwatch right from your window. As you begin to identify species and witness interesting behavior, try to record what you’re seeing. Creating a record of your observations is an invaluable skill for naturalists and scientists, and as you continue to birdwatch, you may notice interesting patterns begin to emerge. Below is a list of optional tools to aid with observation, ID, and data recording to get you started. Following posts will explore particular hotspots more in depth and provide tips and tricks to aid with ID, as well as further resources for those interested in flying into the world of birds. 

A group watches through binoculars from an observation platform

Tools & Resources

  • Binoculars can be very helpful, but aren’t always necessary. Many birds are large enough or have distinct enough markings and colors that they can be identified without the use of tools. 
  • Field guides. These come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and popular ones include the Sibley, Peterson, and National Geographic guides to birds. There are even app-based guides!
  • A journal or notebook to write down observations, sketch what you see, or otherwise record your experiences. 
  • eBird – a great resource for exploring regions, hotspots, and individual species. You can also upload the species you saw to a database, the largest of its kind on the planet. 
  • Merlin is an app for smartphones that aids with ID in the field. Just select the date, location, size, colors, and behavior (in trees, swimming, soaring) of the bird you’re looking at to generate a list of possible species. 

Now get out there and start birding! 
They’re not gonna watch themselves.

Post by: Spencer

A Collection of Resources

4 blackbird eggs

We’ve compiled some of our favorite online resources for digging-deeper into natural history. From virtual tours of other natural history collections to digital field guides that can supplement your outdoor adventures, explore what our community (both local and global) has to offer!

Digital Field Guides

  • Animal Tracks: Nature Tracking compiles animal tracking resources in order to “make learning to identify animal tracks as easy and fun as possible.” We also have our own animal tracking activity, here.
  • Feathers: The Feather Atlas is an image database dedicated to the identification and study of the flight feathers of North American birds.
  • Amphibians: Get to know our slithery and slimy friends through AmphibiaWeb, an online field guide and database of amphibians.
  • Birds: Identify your backyard birds, keep track of what you observe, and get to know the many birds that you encounter any given day through the definitive resource for birds and bird watching in North America — the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and their Merlin Bird ID app.
  • Marine Animals: The Marine Species Identification Portal offers information on thousands of different species in the world’s oceans and seas.

Digital Databases, Virtual Tours, and More

  • Biodiversity Heritage Library: An open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. BHL’s global consortium of natural history, botanical, and research libraries cooperate to digitize and make their collections accessible as a part of a global “biodiversity commons.”
  • Cloud Appreciation Society: Get a little poetic about nature and explore the Cloud Appreciation Society who urge you to “Look up, marvel at the ephemeral beauty, and always remember to live life with your head in the clouds!”
  • National Parks: Maybe your vacation was postponed, but you can still explore our National Parks through these virtual tours.
  • Duke University: A database of 3D images of specimens for “Educators Organizing Online Courses Using Biological Specimens.”
  • The American Museum of Natural History: AMNH hosts a long list of activities, articles, videos and more, for educators, families, students, and anyone interested in teaching or learning about science.
  • Brains On: An award-winning science podcast for kids and curious adults from American Public Media.
  • NASA: A vast collection of images, videos, and articles all about space.
  • Smithsonian Museum of Natural History: Virtual tours of the museum and its collections.

Local Resources

Post by: Marisa

Animal Tracking

Spotting wildlife can be tricky! You can still learn about the animals around us by looking for clues.

Animal footprints across several different classes

Print out the Santa Cruz Animal Tracking Checklist or have it downloaded on your phone to reference out in the field. Bring along tools such as a camera or ruler to assist in recording and identifying tracks. Look around your own neighborhood or walk along a local trail. Great places to look include patches of dirt, mud, or sand that animals could have left their tracks in. 

On your Adventure 

Pay close attention to the trail and sides of the trail! Be careful to avoid touching plants you don’t know, some of them can harm you such as poison oak. Animals often use the same trails as us, so there is no need to stray far from a trail to find animal tracks. 

There are more signs of animals you can look for beyond tracks! Other evidence that animals leave behind are scat, feathers, fur, and nests. You can record these findings in the trail notes or at the bottom of the checklist. 

Dog tracks in sand
Dog tracks in sand

Cats vs. Dogs

How to tell the difference between cats and dogs: Cats have retractable claws that don’t show up on their track whereas dogs’ claws are always out and often show up on their tracks. See images below for reference.

Questions to consider on your tracking adventure

  • Look around! What animals do you think live in this habitat? 
  • Can you tell which direction the animal was going? If so, try following the tracks to see where they lead.
  • Do you think the animal was walking or running? Why?
  • What time of day do you think the animal made these tracks? 
  • What do you notice about the scat? Do you think this animal is a predator or a prey? A carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore?

Need help? Use these tools to learn more from your observations:

Post by: Elise