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  Birds are...

Part of our History
Of course...birds!

"Birds, it must be admitted, are the most exciting and most deserving of the vertebrates; they are perhaps the best entrée into the study of natural history, and a very good wedge into conservation awareness."

           - Roger Tory Peterson (1908-1996) artist, author, photographer, educator


Why are birds such a “very good wedge into conservation”? Why are they so ideal to study in school classrooms? Why are adults captivated by birds?

We surveyed our bird education colleagues and came up with a ringing consensus:



Birds delight us with their beauty—both in plumage and in song. They fascinate and delight; they are so different from us and yet are a part of our everyday lives. Everyone dreams of being able to do what birds do as a matter of course: fly. Nature abounds with wonders, but not all of them are so charming. Many people are fearful of or disgusted by insects, reptiles, or amphibians, but people are overwhelmingly attracted to birds.


Birds are very accessible. Many forms of wildlife are captivating or inspiring, but few are so very available as birds. Whales are magnificent but rarely even seen by lay people, much less at close quarters. Many mammals are nocturnal and very shy. Most birds, in contrast, are active in daytime—even starting our day with their song!—and many are not shy at all. Birds are everywhere – from backyards, to downtown parks, to seashores, to mountains, to deserts, to swamps.

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Birds are ever-present. You can find birds at any time of year because birds are always there, a part of every season. Insects, flowers, even trees are certainly hard or impossible to study in winter. Not so with birds—as the seasons change, the cast of avian characters changes as well. When one set of birds leaves, and another set will arrive. Their travels teach about all the seasons, not just the ones when we see them.

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  These three reasons topped the list explaining “why birds?” But bird educators can’t stop themselves! Here are four more excellent reasons why birds are ideal for learning about nature in general and conservation in particular.

Birds are emblematic. They have been symbols of conservation efforts for more than a century. The bird conservation movement began in the late 1800’s with efforts to protect egrets and herons from the feather trade. During the "dirty thirties" beleaguered waterfowl and other aquatic birds were the focus of conservation. And of course, Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring began what we now know as environmentalism by drawing attention to the victims of pesticides, such as Bald Eagles, Peregrines, Ospreys, and Brown Pelicans. Birds continue to be important indicators of our ecosystems, acting as barometers of habitat change and “telling” us how we are faring as stewards of our planet. (As vital components in the ecosystem, birds control insect pests, pollinate flowers, distribute seeds, are food for other animals, control other animal populations, etc.)

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Birds are international citizens. Through their spectacular and mysterious migrations birds connect us—quite literally—to other places, other people, other issues. When something goes awry in one habitat, its impact is felt hundreds or thousands of miles away when familiar, beloved birds fail to appear, or start appearing at the "wrong" time. Hunters in Missouri feel the impact of temperature changes in Canada as soon as ducks don't show up in time for waterfowl season. Looking at a warbler in a tree and then learning about the thousands of miles this elegant little creature has traveled is a vivid and exciting way for anyone to connect with other places and habitats.

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Birds are part of our history, both cultural and scientific. Humans have hunted birds throughout our time on earth. Birds have inspired art, music, and poetry. They appear myth, from Phoenixes and Rocs in Arabia to Tlingit and Yoruba creation stories. They also are also historically our best-known vertebrates. They have inspired investigations and inquiry from professional scientists and citizen-scientists alike.

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Birds are popular. Take a walk in any hardware store and you will find a section devoted to bird feeders. In America alone, people spend $2.5 billion each year feeding and caring for backyard birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that almost 42 million Americans feed birds and over 19 million travel to watch birds away from home.

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Therefore, bird education formulated in a multi-faceted and creative fashion is, indeed, that “very good wedge into conservation awareness.”  Overall, when we study and care for birds we will ultimately learn that:

  • Birds benefit when people learn about bird conservation and take action to protect birds and preserve their habitats. 
  • Wildlife in general benefits because education that promotes steps to protect birds and their habitats improve living conditions for a wide variety of plants and animals. 
  • People benefit because an environment that birds can thrive in is a healthy environment for humans.

Why birds? Because birds pull so much together. Learning about birds is more than learning about a single season, type of animal, or habitat. Birds teach us about how we’re all connected and how vulnerable our environment can become. Birds live among us. . . and we among them.

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