Teaching is for the Birds

By Kevin South, father of two and third grade teacher, Fullerton IV Elementary, Roseburg, Oregon

Editor’s note: This story is offered as a supplement to Kevin’s interview from Episode #735 aired on July 7th, 2019. Kevin hopes it will inspire all of us to engage kids with the natural world.

As a third-grade teacher, much of what I do is driven by curriculum standards. There are standards for writing, reading skills, every type of math under the sun, and a myriad of scientific subjects. When I first became a teacher, I assumed I was beholden solely to the curriculum; however I’ve come to realize that sharing my own passions with students not only meets requirements in standards-based education, it is far more enriching and engaging than curriculum alone.

For anybody wanting to excite young people about birds and birding, simply share your own joy and enthusiasm! I once heard Fred Rogers quote a Quaker saying, “Attitudes are caught, not taught.” I can tell you this is true of birding. If you do what you love in front of kids, they will love it too.

For teaching, I use many of the free resources available through the Cornell Lab Ornithology. Their lesson plans can be easily incorporated into a classroom. I use the Bird Sleuth lessons as well as games and online activities such as Beast Box and Bird Song Hero, which students find highly engaging. I also use Feathered Friends: Bird of the Month to introduce a variety of species to the kids.

Birding lends itself to writing. I find that my students are eager to write about their first birdwatching experiences, dream up fictional narratives about birds, and assimilate their learning by writing articles. I share a variety of excellent books, magazines, and online articles with my students as well. A fabulous book to read with young people about birds and conservation is Wildwings by Gill Lewis, about the discovery of an Osprey in Scotland and its migration over the course of a year. I find it highly engaging for both kids and adults.

Throughout our school year, my class maintains feeders and nest boxes outside our classroom window, and we keep a list of the birds we see there and around campus. We also build feeders and use bird box kits made available to us at no cost through Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, which allows the students to create a welcoming environment for birds at home.

2019 was the first year we were able to put a pair of binoculars in the hands of each student during our birdwatching lessons. Grants and the support of our booster club enabled me to purchase a class set of Kidwinz Binoculars. They are rubber coated, with real optics, and have proven ideal. Once we have data from our birdwatching, I introduce citizen science to my students; and, as a class, we input our bird watching data into eBird. Making observations about birds, habitats, and nature at large helps us meet science standards; and the work with data helps us address math standards as well.

We plant native bee- and bird-friendly wildflowers in a small garden we have set up on campus. I keep an open conversation with the young people about wildlife, climate change, and steps we humans can take to reduce our carbon footprint. I facilitate this discussion using a carbon footprint calculator.

The first time I took a group of students out for a birding expedition on campus, I was apprehensive, to say the least! Would they listen as I described common species in our area? Would they note the species identified? Would they even look for birds at all? Imagine my amazement as my students were completely transfixed by the birds they saw! Even common birds such as the American Robin and the Western Scrub Jay were seen with fresh eyes. It was as if they had stepped out of black-and-white and into color for the first time, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.          

Listed below are the Internet resources I use; this is merely a jumping-off point for exciting any kids about birds and fostering a larger interest in conservation and the world.

One of the things that I love most about being a teacher is being the “Master of Ceremonies of the Universe:” part of my job is to share the universe we live in with my students, sometimes sharing aspects of our world that they’ve never witnessed before. My hope is that you also take that title and share your enthusiasm for birds and the world with the young people you know.

Cheers and happy birding!


Resources and Links

Bird Sleuth: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/


Beast Box: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/features/beastbox/

Birdsong Hero: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/bird-song-hero/

Bird of the Month: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/feathered-friends/

eBird: https://ebird.org/home

Feeders: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/make-your-own-feeder/

Carbon Footprint Calculators: http://www.parkcitygreen.org/Calculators/Kids-Calculator.aspx



Nature Live Cams: https://explore.org/livecams

Wildwings by Gill Lewis: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Wild-Wings/Gill-Lewis/9781442414464

A Trip to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History

from Talkin’ Birds Ambassador Candy Powell, Jamestown, RI

My husband Chris and I visited a very special place in late June on our way to a family event in Ohio: the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York.

Jamestown is just off Route 86, which runs along the southwest corner of New York State. It was Peterson’s hometown. The Institute was founded in 1984 as an educational institution to preserve and steward the lifetime body of works and the enduring legacy of Mr. Peterson. Its purpose is to promote the study of nature by providing opportunities for people to engage in art, conservation, and education.

The Institute is in a spectacular building that houses many original pieces of Mr. Peterson’s art, as well as a library displaying his favorite books and an exhibit of his birding equipment and birding “uniform.” A continuously-running video that Peterson took himself while birding several years ago is very entertaining. The Institute offers many opportunities for folks to learn about birds through bird banding sessions, art exhibits, invasive species monitoring, and projects for schoolchildren. The grounds include walking trails and a butterfly garden.

During our visit, Chris and I were especially impressed by the large exhibit of the art of Ned Smith, who is, believe it or not, almost as good a wildlife artist as Peterson was! It turns out there is a Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art in Millersburg, Pennsylvania that we hope to visit someday. In 2017, this Center hosted the first-ever traveling exhibit of Peterson’s work.

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute is a little off the beaten path, but well worth the trip. We hope to return.

You can find more information at www.rtpi.org 

Screech-Owl in the Kitchen

from Talkin’ Birds Ambassador Don Amiralian, Burlington, MA

One day in February, I got up early and went into the kitchen for coffee. Still a bit sleepy, I noticed a brown stocking hat on the windowsill. I then remembered that I don't own a brown stocking hat. I looked again and was startled to see a rufous-phase Eastern Screech-Owl playing possum on my windowsill.

I immediately called the animal control officer in town. After hearing my story, he said that he would send over a raptor rehabilitator. Ten minutes later, the owl lady arrived. She quickly captured the bird by throwing one of my dishtowels over its head. She then deftly but gently snatched the bird, controlling its sharp talons. The bird woke up and began snapping its bill rapidly. It was quite angry.

I later found out that the owl lady had a veterinarian examine the bird. It was determined that the bird was blind in one eye, so they decided not to release it because it would not fare well in the wild. The last I heard, the bird was doing quite well and was eating mice provided by the owl lady.

To this day, I can’t figure out how that bird got into my house.

The First Hudsonian Godwit in San Diego County

from Talkin’ Birds Ambassador Rodney Gast, San Diego, CA

The first ever recorded Hudsonian Godwit made an appearance in San Diego County this week. The discovery was made by legendary birder Guy McCaskie, marking his 500th bird for the County. The American Birding Association wrote an article on the event, and local birder Anthony “TooFly” made a video, which is below.

Birders from Arizona and surrounding counties have made the long drive in hopes of checking this bird off their life list. Meeting and talking with them has been a joy.

As a new birder and Talkin Birds Ambassador, I wanted to share this rare event with the Talkin’ Birds community. The excitement generated by this sighting has been an experience I won’t forget. It has strengthened my passion for birding and I am eager for the next rarity to makes its appearance. 

Trip to the Venice (Florida) Rookery

A trip report from Talkin’ Birds Ambassador Candy Powell. Scroll all the way down to see the photos.

            The Venice Rookery in Venice, Florida is truly a sight to behold. During January and February for the past four years, my husband Chris and I have spent time at my cousin’s cottage in Englewood. We visit the Rookery each time we are here. Few words are needed, since the pictures speak for themselves.

            The Venice Area Audubon Rookery is located on a small island in a former storm water retention pond. For the past thirty years, it has been a roosting and nesting spot for more than ten species of water birds. Great Blue, Little Blue, Tri-colored, Green and Black-crowned Night Herons; Great, Cattle and Snowy Egrets; Anhingas, Double-crested Cormorants, and Glossy Ibis nest on the island. In addition, dozens of White Ibis fly in each evening to roost for the night.

In the late afternoon, close to sunset, the show begins. Just when you think the “hotel” looks full, more birds fly in, often a dozen at a time. During the 2011 Christmas Bird Count, the Rookery had 720 overnight roosting birds! Several birds are on the island throughout day, but early and late afternoon are the best times to go birding. The island is about 50 feet from the shore of the pond. It offers birders and photographers an excellent view of birds roosting, sitting on nests, flying in with nesting material, vying for the best spot, and raising new hatchlings. Visitors from all over the world come to observe them.

            In addition to the birds on the island, Sandhill Cranes wander the grass, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are often seen in a nearby grassy area, and Common Gallinules swim in a nearby pond. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Palm Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers can be seen in the trees, and Osprey fly overhead. The Rookery is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail and has been reviewed by several national birding publications as an excellent location for birding and photography. It’s well worth visiting. You would have a hard time finding another place where you could see so many birds so close.

            Photos by Chris Powell.

 Candy Powell, Talkin’ Birds Ambassador, Jamestown, RI

Thrilled and Transported

Submitted by Talkin’ Birds Ambassador Peggy Page

I've been a serious (that is, “addicted!”") birder for almost 40 years, but the birds never stop surprising and delighting me. In 2017, I spent three months traveling around the US trying to fill in some of the gaps in my North American list, which is pretty respectable but was missing some birds I really wanted to see. One was the Northern Pygmy Owl. I had lived in the Bay Area for several years in the 90's and frequently prowled the Sunol Regional Wilderness park where this sneaky little guy allegedly breeds, but never was able to see - or even hear - one. It was at the top of my “Fill in the Gaps” wish list, but I had little hope. After all, it was (along with its sneaky little buddy, the Northern Saw Whet) a nemesis bird. 

In June, 2017 I returned to Sunol Wilderness with no thought at all of seeing the Pygmy Owl. In fact, I was looking for Yellow-billed Magpies to pad my year list. As I walked along the hot and sunny main road, I heard a hissing sound from a live oak tree right over my shoulder. Deciding it was only a bushtit, I almost didn't turn around. But some wonderful hunch convinced me to do just that - and there, only feet away, was an adult Northern Pygmy Owl feeding two almost-fledged, fluffy, and adorable youngsters. The hiss I had heard was one of the kids insisting on his share of the mouse the adult was shredding. i watched for ten minutes, frozen in the best kind of shock and awe. 

Who needs a camera? That magical encounter is seared into my memory! The wonderful thing about birds? They never run out of ways to thrill and transport us!

The Natural Christmas Tree

from listener Dave Titterington, The Wild Bird Habitat Store, Lincoln, Nebraska

The Christmas tree is a product of Nature herself, just an infant in time when compared to the diminishing old growth forests. But these trees have served their mother well. Although carefully cultivated by human hands, cut fresh in their youth, then brought indoors for our enjoyment, these miniature giants carry a history of their own. These special trees we place in a stand, carefully water, and then decorate with bright lights and shiny ornaments, may at one time have hidden a frightened bird dodging a sharp-eyed predator. They may have provided shelter for a group of birds from the blustery north winds of winter. The sturdy boughs of these young trees could have gently clutched the woven twigs and grasses of a bird’s delicate nest which brought forth new life. Or they may have provided the final perch of an old and weathered avian friend. The trees of Christmas present, which once helped to hold the landscape in place contributing to the natural world, now provide for us as a centerpiece during this most beautiful of festive seasons. When adorned they stir the dreams of young children while conjuring up past memories for those whose belief in a jolly fat man dressed in red, sliding down a soot filled chimney, have long since faded. 

But once the tattered wrappings and unfurled bows from the long awaited opening of the gifts have been pushed aside; once the strings of colorful lights and assorted ornaments have been carefully packed away to wait another year; these trees we befriended can once again, in their remaining days, provide one last benefit to the natural world. When retired to the backyard, these worn-out and tired symbols of Christmas, which families gathered around to express their love for each other and celebrate the season, can provide a renewed source of enjoyment. Placed back in the outdoors, these trees of Christmas past can once again provide shelter for feathered visitors from the harsh winter winds or lurking predators. And when the glass decorations that hung so precariously from the limbs of these trees in a warm living room are replaced with bits of suet and seeds, along with garlands of popcorn and fruits, they will then also provide a source of nourishment for the wildlife that seek their beckoning shelter. And once again, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, families and friends, can gather to celebrate the remaining days of these trees that we treasured so dearly for a few short moments in time.

Suet Cubes: Cut 10 inch pieces of string and tie the ends together. Lay the knotted end down in the bottom of an ice-cube tray. On low heat melt suet or lard in a pan stirring in bird seeds, peanut butter, and nut pieces. When melted pour the mixture in the ice-cube trays with the string. Place in the refrigerator to cool and harden. Remove the suet cubes from the tray and hang on the tree branches..

Fruit Wreath: Cut 10 inch pieces of thin wire. Thread a variety of diced fresh or dried fruit onto the wire. Cranberries work well and add color. Once you have threaded the fruit on the wire, bend it in a circle and twist the ends together. Hang from tree limbs.

Peanut Tassels: Thread a needle with strong line through 6 to 10 peanuts. Tie a small twig on the opposite end to prevent the peanuts from slipping off. Remove the needle and tie a loop in the end of the string. Hang the loop on a tree branch.

Pine Cone Feeder: Attach a string to the end of a pine cone. Generously spread peanut butter on the pine cone. Roll the peanut butter-covered pine cone through a bird seed mixture. Tie the coated pine cone to a tree branch.


Dave’s Wild Bird Habitat Stores are celebrating their 25th year as a family-owned independent backyard birding retailer in Lincoln, Nebraska. The company has won many awards for their commitment to the community, bird conservation, environmental education, and outdoor recreational birding. Check out their website here.

Birding Rap! —a musical blog entry

From listener Pete Fritz of Indianapolis, Indiana

Pete sent us this: “My daughter Kelly and I birded Central Park last May and she was the youngest in the group. She says the ‘Birding’ song by the Swet Shop Boys is the jam of the winter! I think it’s something your audience would enjoy!”

Thanks, Pete!

Here’s a sample. You can find the entire song on iTunes, Spotify, and many other music websites.

A Mystery Swarm Draws Dozens of Birds

A personal story from Jesse Barraza, a Talkin' Birds Ambassador from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

A couple of weeks ago during dinner, our 3-year-old daughter suddenly told us to look out the window at many birds flying in the backyard. We are used to seeing a lot of birds because we have two bird feeders—one filled with nyjer and the other with safflower. But this time it wasn’t our usual guests coming in for a snack. We glanced outside, then went out of the house, to witness at least 50 birds swooping back and forth in the backyard. Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows were having a feast—and a couple of Chimney Swifts had tagged along, too.

Small insects were hatching from the lawn. We could see the swarm coming out of the ground and into the air. We saw a dragonfly feasting on them ow to the ground, and I hope it didn’t end up part of the feast itself.

I have no idea what type of insect was swarming. They seemed smaller than a house fly, but we couldn’t make them out and we did not want to disturb the birds by going closer. Do any of you know what these insects might be?

The feast lasted for a good 20 or 30 minutes. It seemed that the swallows knew exactly where to be at the right time. We are looking forward to this experience again, should this be an annual spectacle.



The Gift: A Personal Story

By Joy Klumpp, Certified Texas Master Naturalist

September 4th is the anniversary of my mom’s death. It is not the anniversary per se that is difficult for me to deal with; it’s every single day of the year that I feel her absence. So while the date is a milestone, it is just another day that I live my life without my mom. Every day feels much smaller because my mother is no longer in my life.  

While my mom was sick, she recommended a book to me: “Wesley the Owl” by Stacie O'Brien. I devoured it. It pulled at my heart strings and the very core of who I have always felt I am, or perhaps always desired to be. I feel awe when I read stories that are beyond comprehension—when humans and animals sync in such a way that I am left wondering how anyone could question the existence of God. I'm amazed at how a lucky few can unite with the spirits of animals and have a connection beyond anything humankind can understand.

This book sparked my passion for owls. I started learning what I could about the elusive birds. I listened to their calls for hours, learning how to distinguish the different species within the Texas area. I focused on the Barred Owl. It has an amazing call. I don’t know why I am so fascinated by this particular owl, because so many others are equally amazing, but there is just something in the way the Barred Owl communicates that stirs something inside me.

I had only seen one owl in the wild in my life: a Western Screech-Owl which just happened to be hanging out in my backyard one day. I’ve heard screech-owls and the Great Horned Owl, but I don’t get Barred Owls in my area of Houston. My encounters with owls for the most part have been auditory.

I felt pretty disappointed that I had yet to see a Great Horned Owl or Barred Owl. I feel silly for admitting this, but I remember praying that I would get to see one. It wasn’t one of those prayers I was thoroughly invested in. It was just a little conversation between me and God where I just expressed my desire to get to see one sometime.  It seems so silly and trivial, but maybe it was because I knew my mom’s anniversary was approaching and I thought that perhaps seeing one would reunite me with my mom in some small way since, she was instrumental in fueling the fire in me for owls.

I planned a kayaking trip with a friend for September 4th, 2016 because I didn’t want to sit around the house. We had been kayaking only for a few hours when it began to rain. It was a serene, calming rain, and it occurred for what seemed like only a few moments.  Then, as the rain began to dissipate, I heard it. It felt like I had tuned in to the middle of a conversation. I heard the final sentence draw to a close and caught the Barred Owl's last remark. And that is when I set eyes on the most beautiful bird ever. It perched there, its eyes locked on to me, motionless. I almost cried.

I realize some people will read this and say, “This woman is off her rocker!” But sometimes we are given experiences in life when we most need them. And I was given a gift.

Joy Klump (Barred Owl).jpg

Spotting Species at Lake Saracen, Arkansas

A trip report from Talkin' Birds Ambassador George Dokes.

While watching a Snowy Egret foraging for food along with eight other birders from the Arkansas Audubon Society at Lake Saracen, Pine Bluff, Arkansas this morning, we also spotted two Least Sandpipers, a few Double-Crested Cormorants, a Bald Eagle, a Great Blue Heron and a Belted Kingfisher. I told the group about Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds  — Birding Ambassador doing my part. Shout out to my birding mentors Delos McCauley and Doc and John Redmon.

Candy's Trip Report from Iceland

From Talkin' Birds Ambassador Candy Powell. Scroll all the way down to see the photos. 


My husband Chris and I recently returned from a fantastic 5-day birding trip to Iceland, en route to Holland.  Iceland is not usually thought of as a birding destination, but we thought at was a wonderful place to bird. There is much to mention about Iceland, but I’ll stick to the bird sightings!

After flying into Reykjavik, we rented a car. We drove the next day to the northern coastal town of Husavik, where we spent 3 nights. The usual 6-hour trip took us a bit longer, as there was much to see along the narrow, fairly deserted, yet well-maintained road.  Some of the birds we spotted on the drive included Black-headed Gull, Red-throated Diver, Redshank, Redwing, Slovenian Grebe (which we watched building a nest), and Short-eared Owl.

Husavik is a charming fishing village within a few degrees of the Arctic Circle. It's known as the whale capital of Iceland. Northern Fulmars cruised the harbor, along with numerous Arctic Terns, and Red Knots and Common Ringed Plovers were among the several shorebirds on the beach. The following day we drove south about an hour to Lake Myvatin, a well-known birding hotspot. A highlight along the way was observing courting Harlequin Ducks, Tufted Ducks and Barrow’s Goldeneyes. Having seen these birds in Rhode Island in the winter, we wanted to ask them whether they spent the cold months down our way! Other notable species in the lake area were several Black-tailed Godwits, Wimbrels, Greylag Geese, and Golden Plovers. Brent Geese, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-necked Phalaropes, and Whooper Swans were abundant in the streams and fields.

The next day, we drove east of Husavik to Tjornes, where we saw Atlantic Puffins and Northern Fulmars nesting on the cliffs, with Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Arctic Skuas, and an occasional Common Raven flying by. That evening we took a whale-watching trip out of Husavik and saw several Humpback Whales, Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, and Brunnich’s Guillemots.

Our last day took us back to Reykjavik. On the way, we stopped at the amazing Godafoss waterfall, where we FINALLY saw a Rock Ptarmigan, a bird we had been searching for the entire trip. 

This was a remarkable trip that we would highly recommend for birders. As a side, yet relevant, note, the temperatures ranged from 45 to 70 degrees and the sun did not set until 11 PM! If you're thinking of going, May is a great time to visit, as the tourist season begins June 1, and the costs increase.

Candy Powell, Talkin’ Birds Ambassador

(Below: Chris and Candy's photos of Atlantic Puffin, European Golden Plover, Northern Fulmar)




European+Golden+Plover+-+Iceland (1).jpeg