Midwestern Birds: Habits and Habitats

Written by Kat Kelley.

The Downy Woodpecker, the White-breasted Nuthatch and the Eurasian Collared Dove: just three of the intended 75 bird species we hope to find in this area in Dr. William Ahern’s class Midwestern Birds: Habits and Habitats. For the upcoming weeks, 13 students, mainly freshmen honors students, will be making the short trip out to the White Environmental Education Center and taking different field trips to look for and identify the different types of birds using Sibley’s Birding Basics: A Field Guide. The intention of the class is to identify 75 birds living in this area during the winter and develop a project that will, in Dr. Ahern’s words “increase appreciation for avian fauna.” Along with our time spent at the Environmental Center, the class will also be taking field trips to Carlyle Lake, the Mississippi River and other local areas.
A Eurasian Collared Dove in mid-flight. via ontfin.com


For our first two days of class, however, we didn’t go out to the Environmental Center. On the first day, Dr. Ahern took the class down into the Gullies with our binoculars to test our previous bird knowledge.  Although our adventure involved quite a lot of slipping in the snow, we all had fun exploring and listening to Dr. Ahern explain different ways to identify our flying friends.

Two lovebirds (Downy Woodpeckers) enjoy a romantic meal at a birdfeeder, via new-jersey-birds.com.


Our second day, though it was less eventful, was just as entertaining. We ate breakfast at Dr. Ahern’s dining room while he explained our plans for the day, then dispersed to different parts of his house to watch the birds flying around the feeders in his backyard. Eventually, the entire class ended up in front of a pair of sliding glass doors in his basement so as to watch the bird from a ground view. While we were watching, Dr. Ahern told us different ways to discern one type of bird from another. We learned how to identify a species by its flight pattern, how it interacts with other birds, even to see the subtle differences between male and females.

So far, this class seems like it will be hard work but at the same time entertaining and engaging and I am excited to see what new adventures Dr. Ahern has planned for us in the future.



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