The 18 fifth graders who make up the Green Club at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Slidell are rolling out the red carpet for the “3 B’s” – birds, bees and butterflies.
Thanks to a new Green Club initiative, Our Lady of Lourdes has been recognized by the National Wildlife Federation for creating a “certified schoolyard habitat” to attract native butterflies, bees, birds and other important pollinators.
An oak-studded linear garden on the Westchester Boulevard side of campus, within windows’ view of fifth-grade classrooms, now boasts butterfly-happy flower beds of red salvia, mandevilla vine and verbena, as well as nesting houses, watering spots and feeders for birds, including one fire engine red feeder that dispenses the sugary syrup favored by hummingbirds.
“The school pays $50 to join (the program), but the pledge is priceless,” said Cheryl Pearse, who co-moderates the afterschool club, founded in 2008, with her fellow fifth-grade teacher Pauline Marques.
Students of all ages already have been treated to the daily sight of birds, including blue jays, cardinals and wrens, nesting in the provided habitats and exhibiting their eccentric eating styles.
“The male hummingbirds battle like crazy for rights to the syrup,” Pearse observed. “The cardinals like to push the seeds out with their talons and peck at them on the perches, whereas the wrens love to push the seeds to the ground (before eating them).”
Pearse noted that many children and adults do not realize that birds are important pollinators who transfer pollen from one site to another by brushing up against flowers and then flying to another location.
“Birds don’t pollinate on purpose; it’s just happenstance,” she said, smiling.
More well known is the pollinating power of nectar-hunting butterflies and bees.
To attract the latter to campus, the Green Club recently erected a wooden bee habitat whose clear, plastic cover will allow students to observe the insects in action. In addition to providing flowers and water sources, the Our Lady of Lourdes garden also has a jar of mud near the bee habitat to make it easier for the species of bees it hopes to attract – mason bees – to build their nests.
“The bee habitat had to be hung five feet above ground and facing south, so temperature-wise it doesn’t fry them,” said Pearse, explaining how the hoped-for visitors will enter their new habitat through “bores” (circular openings) of varying diameters. “The mason bees will gravitate toward the larger bores,” she said.
Green Club members have become well versed on the recent decline of the global bee population.
Speaking at the club’s March 23 meeting, Jay Jenkins, an amateur beekeeper based in Mississippi, noted that the domestic bee population over the last couple of decades has declined some 40 percent, with suspected culprits including parasites and increased use of pesticides. This is very alarming because an estimated 30 percent of the food eaten in the United States is pollinated by honeybees, Jenkins said.
Jenkins told the young environmentalists that in order to make a single pound of honey, bees must make 25,000 flights to collect the necessary nectar, visit 2 million flowers and fly a combined total of 55,000 miles.
For more information on how to create a certified schoolyard habitat through the National Wildlife Federation, visit www.nwf.org/garden.