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Feathered Friends

Published: 04/15/2010 by Anita Yasuda

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The early morning chirp of birds demands your attention. Their shrill songs pierce the air. You and your child rush to a nearby window. Just as quickly as they arrive in your backyard, the owners of the songs disappear. Were they short-distance migrants or year-round residents? You promise yourself that tomorrow you’ll be ready for them with a pair of binoculars and a birding book.

Birding is a great hobby. It can be done almost anywhere, even in your own backyard. It is also a terrific way to get students involved with caring for wildlife near their home. Being able to identify the different birds in your area is both challenging and rewarding!

Did you know that one of the easiest ways to identify birds is by their beaks? Bird beaks can be wide, flat, long or curved. You can explore images of birds at www.birding.com. Soon you  will notice differences, such as size and colour, between species. Another great place to start learning about birds is the “kids” section of the Canadian Geographic website.

John James Audubon (1785 - 1851) was an ornithologist and painter. He studied and painted over 400 varieties of birds! Audubon was born in Haiti.  Later, he lived in France before coming to the United States in 1803.  As a child he loved collecting feathers, bird eggs, and nests. When his father discovered his son’s interest in birds, he bought him a book on birds. This inspired Audubon to start drawing.

After moving to America at the age of eighteen, Audubon had ample opportunity to study wildlife. He collected all kinds of specimens. These he preserved and sketched at his home. Audubon also conducted experiments with banding birds. He discovered that birds return with spring migration. At the time migration was not fully understood. 

At the age of thirty-nine, Audubon decided that he wanted to paint every species of bird in America. By 1826, he began to be recognized as an artist for his life-sized portraits of birds. More than any other artist, his paintings captured each bird’s unique characteristics.

He then took his paintings to England where he became a popular painter.  Audubon then began working with a Scottish naturalist, William McGillivray, who provided descriptions of the bird species. This work became the book The Birds of America. It contained 435 hand-coloured plates of 1,065 individual birds. It is still an important text today. His legacy is the Audubon Society (www.audubon.org) which is dedicated to bird conservation. If you visit this site be certain to check out the Audubon Mobile Applications.

Around the world there are now many organizations dedicated to the understanding and observation of birds and their habitats. In Canada there is Bird Studies Canada which has regional offices in several provinces.

Awaken your interest in birds and the fascinating figure of John James Audubon.  Visit the internet, read The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies with a young child, listen to the largest archive of animal sounds at Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Macaulay Library or just step outside.   There are 462 species of birds in Canada just waiting to be discovered! <>


Bird Resources

British Library
The Listen to Nature page has 400 audio recordings of bird sounds. There is also a great introduction on why birds communicate.

National Geographic
A wealth of information on birds and activities.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park
Fact sheets, online jigsaw puzzles, colouring sheets, the story behind various birds names and much more.

University of Michigan - BioKids
Designed for children, the site is broken up into five main categories: information, pictures, specimens, sounds and classification.