[CT Birds] Young People and Birds

Chris Elphick elphick at sbcglobal.net
Tue Jun 12 18:30:28 EDT 2007

Hi Jim, et al.

Unfortunately, I think there is some truth to your comments about field courses becoming increasingly less common at universities.  Luckily there are still a lot of exceptions, and as Jack Barclay points out UConn has managed to do a pretty good job of retaining field based experiences for students.  In addition to the many courses in NRME, the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology dept teaches an Ornithology Lab course (with a substantial field component), a summer Field Methods in Ornithology Course (running right now), as well as field based courses in Ecology, Summer Flora, Entomology, Herpetology, etc., etc.  Plus a fair number of undergrads get the opportunity to get involved in research work in people's labs.

The Center for Conservation and Biodiversity also runs identification workshops to naturalists of all ages - e.g. this week there is a pollinator workshop.

All of that said, though, I suspect that part of the reason why field-based courses have declined is related to demand - especially as field based courses are more expensive to run and state-funding of the college system has declined substantially meaning that more and more of what universities do is driven by student fees and where grant dollars come from.  If sufficient numbers of students don't want to take the courses, then they won't be taught (there are clearly other reasons as well, but demand is definitely one of them).  And the only way to generate demand, is to have students who get interested in nature at an earlier stage.

Which brings me to the Bioblitz, which ran this weekend.  The bird group found a total of 98 species in Middletown and the current all-taxa total stands at 2236 species.  Add to that 40,877 species of bacteria, a mite that is new to science, and several state-listed species, and it was a pretty good day.  Much more importantly though, this was an educational event.  Thanks to UConn's Dave Wagner, who organized the entire event, 40 kids from around the state got to team up with many of the top taxonomists from the Northeast to learn about all kinds of organisms.  Many other kids also got to learn about biodiversity through the school at which the event was held, or the public programs during the day.   These kids were a sign that there is lots of interest out there waiting to be tapped into.  

Of course, the Bioblitz is a massive event with 300 biologists involved, lots of public programming, generous grants from towns and industry to support the activities, etc.  But everyone on this list is capable of going to their local school to talk to kids about nature, leading bird walks in their local community, or taking young birders out with them when they go in the field.  I know that I don't do nearly enough of this, and I know that there are 101 excuses that I can make to explain why.  But, really the only way that kids will get interested is if the rest of us are there to show them why the natural world is interesting.  OK, sorry if I got a bit preachy!


Chris Elphick
Storrs, CT
elphick at sbcglobal.net

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