NC Arboretum launches ecoEXPLORE ornithology season for kids and families

Press release from NC Arboretum:

​ecoEXPLORE​, an initiative of The North Carolina Arboretum that encourages kids to connect with the outdoors and engage in citizen science, announces its Ornithology Season running December 1, 2020 ​– ​February 28, 2021. When participating in ecoEXPLORE, a family works to earn a variety of nature-themed badges and earns points that can be traded in for prizes​—​all by exploring their own neighborhoods!

The program features a new “Bird Break” video series that introduces kids to bird species. Each three to four-minute video helps to identify bird species, giving information on identifiable characteristics (field markings, size, shape, behavior), calls/songs, habitat, adaptations, and a fun fact. A new video released every week highlights a different staff member who has chosen one of their favorite birds. “This idea came from bird identification as a gateway for kids to learn the fundamentals of identifying living things,” says ecoEXPLORE Creative Coordinator Jenna Kesgen. “From only a few minutes of time, kids can watch a video to learn a new species!”

Kids have the opportunity to earn their Ornithology Badge by taking six photos of birds, along with completing three of the four challenges that will be promoted throughout the season. A bonus Duck Badge offers kids fun facts, tips, and a four-part “Duck Challenge.”

Each mission is closely tied to the challenges that ecoEXPLORERS can do safely in their own backyard or designated ​ecoEXPLORE HotSpots​ to earn their badge. These challenges will help kids become more familiar with the different species of birds around them while encouraging them to do their own research. In addition, the ​participants’ findings can help professional scientists understand changes in the environment and see how these changes impact plants, animals, and other natural resources.

Because ecoEXPLORE is a statewide initiative, the Arboretum collaborates with a range of other science education organizations across North Carolina. This includes the Greensboro Science Center, Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State Parks. “We’ve really enjoyed working with educators across the state to engage families in real outdoor science,” said Jonathan Marchal, creator of ecoEXPLORE and the director of education at the Arboretum. “We’re working to recruit kids and families in all 100 counties of the state, and that would not be possible without partnerships with other state agencies as well as local libraries, parks, and greenways.” At full implementation the Arboretum hopes to have over 1,000 ecoEXPLORE HotSpots across the state.

Ornithology Season culminates with a summit celebrating the kids’ accomplishments, featuring hands-on field work with a science mentor from the community. This year, Dr. Andrew Laughlin, assistant professor of environmental studies at University of North Carolina Asheville, serves as the Ornithology Season mentor. Due to the global health pandemic, this year’s Ornithology Season Summit will be held virtually.

The first video, weekly challenge, and newsletter will be available on YouTube and on ecoEXPLORE’s Facebook page​ December 1 at 2 p.m.

For more information about the ecoEXPLORE program, visit ​​.

About The North Carolina Arboretum

Each year more than 500,000 visitors experience the Arboretum’s gardens, trails, exhibits and plant shows, educational programs and lectures. The Arboretum’s ability to meet its mission and enrich the visitor experience is made possible by a community of supporting resources – from members, volunteers and staff to state and local funds, special events, tribute gifts, grants and community partners.

The central mission of The North Carolina Arboretum, an affiliate institution of the 17-campus University of North Carolina System, is to cultivate connections among people, plants and places. A standard daytime parking fee of $16 per personal vehicle is required for non-Arboretum members. Special events and after-hours activities may require additional fees. For more information, please call (828) 665-2492 or visit ​​.

About ecoEXPLORE

ecoEXPLORE (Experiences Promoting Learning Outdoors for Research and Education) is an incentive-driven citizen science enrichment program for North Carolina children in grades K-8. Developed by The North Carolina Arboretum, an affiliate of the University of North Carolina System, this innovative program combines natural science exploration with kid-friendly technology to help foster children’s interest in science and scientific careers. Children are encouraged to get outdoors, make photographic observations of plants and wildlife, and upload their findings to their secure online account, which can be redeemed for prizes, badges and invitations to special events. Participation is free and parents or guardians can sign up their child online at ​​.

Thank you to ​North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Duke Energy Foundation, and Buncombe County Recreation Services for their support of this program.

About Community Bulletin
Mountain Xpress posts selected news and information of local interest as a public service for our readers. To submit press releases and other community material for possible publication, email

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.