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This is a long one, but I believe it is worthwhile reading.

Over the past week, my fifth graders in Classroom FeederWatch have been working on bird topography, bird identification, and writing field notes.  Because I am STILL waiting for financial powers that be at FSU to release the money from my grant for binoculars, our work has been confined to using PowerPoint presentations with "mystery birds."  Although I've noticed that their ability to describe size, shape, and plumage has progressed greatly, the following incident really surprised me.

Yesterday,just as we were beginning our CFW lesson, the fire drill went off.  We quickly lined up and filed down the walkway toward the big field in front of our school.  It was very windy and right away my students noticed the huge flocks of seagulls swirling around the school.  Mixed in with the multitude of Ring-billed Gulls were two Herring Gulls.  As we walked out and stood in the field, my students spent a great deal of time studying the confusing mass of birds.  When we finally returned, I asked my students what they observed.  Nearly all the kids noticed the Herring Gulls.  Here are some of their observations: "They were bigger...", "They had a dark brownish, grayish color", "They had longer wings", "They glided more smoothly"
Some of my students had comments/questions about the Ring-billed Gulls: "Look at all of them sitting on the roof," "Why do they point their wings back?" (Because of the high winds, many were gliding with their wings in a "swept back" position) 

Needless to say, I was amazed and pleased with their budding observational skills, their patience, and the genuine appreciation and interest in the birds.   I share this story because I think it directly relates to the discussion about the behavior of certain people who seem to disregard or even harass birds.  I believe the best way to reduce that type of behavior is to increase people's awareness of birds.  One strategy that I have used is offering people views through my binoculars.  Although mine are not top-of-the-line they are much better than the cheap-o's that most people have in their homes.  Typically, I hear "Oohs" and "Wows."  This usually meant that the person just saw a bird in a brand new way. Again, awareness was my goal.  We cannot change people's minds and we can only try to legislate or influence behavior.  But the birds can do both.  

I distinctly remember when I first gained appreciation for birds as a boy.  A friend of mine had a pellet gun, and shot a mourning dove off a branch.  When it hit the ground it stilled appeared to be alive.  I took the bird and threw it up into the air to make it fly.  When it hit the ground, its neck was broken.  Yes boys, including myself can be a cruel lot.  However, when I held the bird in my hands for a second time, my eyes were opened.  This little thing was a wonder!  I did not become a birder for another 20 years, but that moment of cruelty was the first time I noticed birds in an meaningful way.  My behavior was changed because of the bird.  I realize that I am in a better position than most to share this appreciation with young people, but we are all educators for those around us.  Take advantage of "teachable moments" when they arise.

Rob Lengacher
Tallahassee, FL
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