For the month of February, Mr. Curiosity and I decided to learn about ornithology and John James Audubon. I chose ornithology for February since the Great Backyard Bird Count occurs in the middle of February each month, and I thought it would be a great incentive for Mr. Curiosity to learn about birds.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is one of the first citizen science projects I was ever involved in. For the Great Backyard Bird Count, you spend four specific days counting the maximum number of each type of bird you see at a specific location, like your yard, and then enter them into the database that scientists then use to track changes in bird populations.
To wrap together science, history, art, and a biography, we also studied John James Audubon. We read a biography of Audubon and a picture book (The Boy Who Drew Birds by J. Davies), but what really got Mr. Curiosity excited was Audubon’s Birds of North America double elephant collection of folios. I brought the book home from the library and Mr. Curiosity immediately asked if he could draw the birds in the book. This sounded like an excellent example of project-based homeschooling, so I wasn’t about to say no. My contribution to the project was providing a link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where Mr. Curiosity could look up the life history of each bird. On most days since the beginning of February, he has drawn at least one bird and written down the conservation status, habitat, food, nesting site, and behavior. It’s an exciting day when he discovers a bird that is anything but of least concern in terms of the conservation status or has a new category for any of the other life history characteristics. At this point, he’s done 50 birds. One morning, he devoted the entire morning to birds and completed 12! Even though we’ve moved onto a new topic, Mr. Curiosity continues to add to his bird book. I do need to take the Audubon book back to the library this week, but luckily the Audubon Society has scanned all the images and made them available on the internet here. Mr. Curiosity is currently typing up the next 50 or so birds in the book to draw (look, now we’ve added typing to the skills practiced in this project!). If he’s still interested once that list is done, I’ll just check the book out from the library again.
In order to learn more about what makes a bird a bird and bird behavior, we picked up a couple of nonfiction books from the library. I couldn’t find any good children’s books, so they were written for adults. I just did a little picking and choosing and had Mr. Curiosity read bits and pieces from the chapters.
Watching Birds: An Introduction to Ornithology by Roger Pasquier was a bit dense, but it led to an interesting discussion of taxonomy and a side trip to the Encyclopedia of Life and some new mnemonics to learn the taxonomy tree order.
The Practical Ornithologist by John Gooders was the other books we used. This one was less technical than Watching Birds and had a lot more information about specific habitats you should visit to see different birds.