Bird Teacher 2010

Bird Teacher 2010
I was laid off from my teaching job last June, and with the economy being the way it is, could not get a new one. While this gives me a lot of time on my hands to bird, it affects my life list in a negative way. Of the seven birds I added to my list in 2009, three of them were on a puffin watch in Maine. I doubt I’ll be able to afford a pricey New England vacation this summer, so I will probably have to content myself with the birds of my native New Jersey. The problem is, I’ve seen most of them by this point in time.

The first year of your birding hobby, many birds are added to the list, including ones you’ve known about for years. Just looking out the window on a city street, you can check off pigeons, house sparrows and starlings. Walk to a park with a pond, and you’ve got mourning doves, robins,mallards and Canada geese--eight species in a day, and about what a veteran, non-traveling birder can expect to add in a full year of birding, if he or she is lucky.

So how can you make birding interesting in a recession? One way is to make a year list. You figure that most of the birds you’ll see are ones you’ve encountered previously, so it is more like checking in with old friends rather than making new ones. In fact, it’s almost like taking attendance!

Since I have a lot of experience in that, I have decided to use my blank attendance book to good use in 2010. I will become a bird teacher! Except, I won’t actually teach them anything, and since they tend to behave better than human teenagers, I won’t have to write out discipline referrals, either.

Here’s how you can become a bird teacher, too. Just go to your local teacher or office store and buy a grade book or ledger. You can also make your own on Excel or another spreadsheet. You just need one wider column and several smaller ones to the right of it.

A typical teacher has about six classes, so pick six places you like to bird. Write down, in alphabetical order, the birds you’ve seen there in the past, or expect to see there. Leave plenty of space on the bottom, so that if you do see a new bird, you can add them in as transfer students. Remember that some of your “students” will come in the middle of the year, say at breeding season.

Write the date you visit up on the top of your grid, then take attendance! There are several ways to do this. You could just put a check next to their name if they are there. You could put a P for present or an A for absent. If you are standing there and a bird flies in after you already get there, you could mark it tardy, although I don’t recommend that as birds can’t really tell time. I also recommend recording weather conditions somewhere in your book.

By the end of the year, you will have a notebook filled with interesting observations. Why were there so many buffleheads on the bay one day but not the other? Why did nuthatches come to the feeder one day but not chickadees? Where are the bluebirds? Do I have to call the truant officer on them?

Birding is a lot of fun, but it can get stale if you keep seeing the same birds again and again. Playing bird teacher is a way to make it interesting, and do some simple scientific research.

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