Bird Behavior, Kid Behavior

I taught an ornithology class for a group of seventh graders this afternoon.  As I often do, I started out by trying to convey to them that birds are something I’m passionate about, not just something I’m assigned to teach them about. “I own my own binoculars,” I said. “I own about five field guides.  I keep a list of the bird species I’ve seen.”  As I told them this, one girl in particular – twelve years old going on twenty-one, you know the type – was eyeing me with scorn, like keeping a life bird list made me the weirdest, most uncool person she’d ever met.

After we’d done an activity matching photos of birds’ bills and feet to the behaviors they’re adapted for, I passed out binoculars to each of them and we headed for a nearby pond that’s often a good place to see herons and egrets and ibises, flashy birds that are good for impressing kids.  At first it looked like there wasn’t much activity there and I was worried I was going to lose their interest, but then came the anhinga.

It appeared swimming as anhingas often do, with only its head and its impossibly long, slender neck out of the water, like some kind of miniature sea monster.  In its beak was a fish, which glinted in the sunlight as it struggled.  The bird was making for the bank at top speed.  Twelve seventh-graders, two chaperones, and I watched the race: would the anhinga make it to land with its prize before it lost its grip and the fish escaped?  Finally the gangly bird reached its goal, hopped up onto a branch, and gulped down its lunch.

Miss twelve-going-on-twenty-one had followed the drama through her binoculars.  Now she lowered them and turned to me. “I didn’t get before, why someone would ever want to just stand around looking at birds,” she said. “Now I get it.  This is cool.”

So that was my day.

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12 thoughts on “Bird Behavior, Kid Behavior”

  1. I teach 5th graders. They give me that same strange look when I say that birdwatching is a hobby. Then I show them some of the pictures I’ve taken of local birds, and they change their minds.

  2. Rebecca, I love this story and truly admire teachers that can inspire kids to really appreciate nature. I know the Anhinga with the fish was a big help but it was your enthusiasm that brought the experience to fruition. Reading your last paragraph brought a huge smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Thank you!

  3. YES!

    A great story which highlights both the power and importance of birders reaching out to others. Once we help them to stop and look for a minute, they can get a glimpse into a whole new world that captivates and inspires them. A little world called NATURE.

    Good for you Rebecca = )

  4. Very cool story – as a former heritage interpreter with both BC Parks and Parks Canada, it’s those moments of epiphany that make connecting people with nature so worthwhile.

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