Cornish College Nesting Box Project: Environmental education in the era of remote learning

Cornish College Nesting Box Project: Environmental education in the era of remote learning

The students of southeast Melbourne-based Cornish College were developing a project to help their local birdlife when the first Melbourne lockdown struck. Teacher Samantha Millar recounts how live-streamed nature has kept her class together and brought joy and learning through six lockdowns and nearly two years of remote learning.

We were delighted when a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets inspected and then moved into one of our student-built nesting boxes. Then, we were excited when we opened the nesting box to discover that there was a tiny chick inside. However, sixteen hours after installing the camera, there was still no sign of the Rainbow Lorikeet chick’s parents. Had we made a terrible mistake?

After working closely with the Birds in Schools Team in 2019, I was ready to run the program myself in 2020 with my Year 5 students. Just as the two classes were getting into the swing of monitoring the survey area and recording their sightings, Melbourne’s first lockdown started. Schools closed and everything changed. 


Samantha’s students surveying the site for their project. Image courtesy of Samantha Millar.

Over the coming weeks and months, I was constantly on the lookout for new ways to engage my students in our online environment as well as trying to keep them connected to nature. I stumbled across the Collins Street Peregrine Falcons Livestream and our online morning routines began to look different. Thanks to the technology of live streaming, the Year 5s became Peregrine Falcon experts as we observed them high up on a ledge in our deserted city.

In mid-October, after spending half of our school year online, we returned to school. As we reacquainted ourselves with one another, our conversations revolved around our survey site. The Year 5s knew that there were only a few hollows on the school property and they asked if we could construct some nesting boxes. Whilst chatting about the nesting boxes, a student commented that it would be cool to have a livestream so that everyone could see what was happening, just like the Peregrine Falcons. And just like that, the Cornish College Nesting Box Project was devised. 

Due to Covid-19, my teaching partner and I followed our students into Year 6 in 2021 where we were all things ‘bird’. After a great deal of observation, data collection, experimentation and research we were ready. Using recycled materials, the students constructed sixteen nesting boxes. We were lucky that we had the support of a specialist STEM primary teacher who was super enthusiastic about our project and we also wrangled the Design Technology teacher, Buildings Manager and Audio Visual Technician into the project. Even with the added complication of yet another lockdown we managed to have all of the boxes ready to install by the end of June.


Selecting the tree for the nesting boxes. Image courtesy of Samantha Millar.
Samantha’s students constructed sixteen nesting boxes. Image is courtesy of Erica Smith.

Term 3 began, and we were thrilled to discover a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets inspecting one of the boxes. The two classes sat quietly captivated as the parrots moved around a box they had built. Two days later, Lockdown 5 hit. We waited impatiently to return to school. On our return, it was clear that the Rainbow Lorikeets had moved in as they cheekily popped their heads out of the opening and peered down at us. Our next job was to organise the camera but, to our dismay, Lockdown 6 was announced and we moved back into an online world. 

It is soul destroying teaching endlessly online. Finding joy was important and commencing our day viewing the Collins Street Peregrine Falcons did just that. It was not long before they started to incubate their four eggs and we wondered what was happening back at school with our Lorikeet couple.

Our buildings, grounds and IT staff remained onsite at school. The Buildings Manager reported that the Lorikeets were still in the nesting box so I asked him to check the box and see if there were any eggs. On September 1st the box was opened. There were no eggs. Instead, there was a tiny chick.

The Buildings Manager and the Audio Visual Technician got busy and a modified security camera powered by a solar panel was prepared. This was to be housed inside a waterproof box which would be slid on top of the nesting box. It was the first time that either of them had done something like this and they spent two hours installing the device. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, the Rainbow Lorikeet parents were unimpressed with their noisy efforts and flew away, abandoning the nesting box and inside it their chick.


Once Term 3 began, Samantha and her students discovered a family of Rainbow lorikeets in one of their nesting boxes. Image by Cathy Cavallo/Remember The Wild

The images were streamed to our devices and we could clearly see the tiny, approximately 3-week-old chick. Our delight soon turned to distress as daylight disappeared, night vision mode kicked in and no parents returned. Throughout the night we (my teaching partner and the STEM teacher) checked in on the chick. We Googled “How to hand raise a Rainbow Lorikeet chick” and we watched. In our attempt to share the wonders of nature were we instead going to view the horrors of what happens when humans interfere?  

We felt sick and we felt responsible.

Then, just after 8 a.m., a shadow: sliding, dropping, checking and then feeding; one of the parents had returned. Simultaneous celebrations broke out in three households. We were so invested in this Rainbow Lorikeet family and to see them reunited was the perfect end to an extremely long, emotional and tough term online.

As my students entered their virtual classroom on the final day of Term 3, I observed their faces. Their expressions all followed a similar sequence; puzzlement – realisation – happiness. We watched, captivated, as the parents alternated feeding duties and then settled down and snuggled with their baby. Who knew that both Rainbow Lorikeet parents curl up together with their chick? We were already gaining new knowledge and our dream from the previous year was now a reality. 

In a time when our ability to connect with nature is significantly reduced, our desire to connect with it, even via technology, seems to have increased. The livestreaming of our Rainbow Lorikeet family, like the livestreaming of the Collins Street Peregrine Falcons, will hopefully bring joy, entertainment and education to our school community and our wider community too. 


The finished nesting box. Image courtesy of Erica Smith.

Banner image courtesy of Samantha Millar.

Birds in Schools is an environmental education program run by Birdlife Australia.  The program engages students in the scientific process, encouraging them to develop and implement action plans to help their local birdlife. For more information on this program please click here

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