The systematic instruction of school children in bird study on a careful scientific basis in a large way really had its origin in May 1910, when Mrs. Russell Sage sent to the National Association of Audubon Societies a check for five thousand five hundred dollars with which to inaugurate a plan of bird study in the Southern schools that the writer had outlined to her. She desired that a special effort should be made to arouse interest in the protection of the Robin, which in the Southern States was at that time almost universally regarded as a game bird whose natural destiny was considered to be a potpie. Bird study, it is true, was at that time taught in many city schools, but usually the subject was given slight space in the curriculum, and for the children and teachers there was available only a limited literature, and it was of an inadequate character. A working plan was at once developed whereby literature, colored pictures of birds, and the Audubon button should be supplied to all the pupils in a school who enrolled themselves as members of an Audubon Class. Each member was required to pay a nominal fee, which, however, was much less than the cost of producing the material received in return.
During the school year that followed the matter was brought to the attention of many of the Southern teachers, and over five hundred Junior Audubon societies resulted, with an enrollment of more than ten thousand children. Following the course of instruction outlined in the literature furnished to the teachers, these children were taught the correct names of many of the common birds, and on field walks they learned to know them by sight. The dates when certain birds were last seen in autumn and first arrived in spring were noted and carefully recorded. Food was given to the birds in winter and bird boxes of various patterns were constructed and placed in parks, orchards, or woods where they would most likely be of service to birds looking for suitable nesting hollows. Bird study was correlated with reading, English composition, history, geography, and even arithmetic.
A Nation-wide Movement.So successful did this experiment prove that the Audubon workers agreed upon extending this same system into the schools of all the other States in the Union, and the various Provinces of Canada. The fall of 1911, therefore, saw plans well under way for a greatly enlarged scope of work. During the school year, which closed the last of June, 1912, the Association, at a cost of thirteen thousand dollars, enrolled 29,369 school children under the standard bearing the inscription ” Protect the Birds.”
The movement has continued to grow, and up to June i, 1916, there had been formed 27,873 classes with a total membership of 559,840 children. The Association is annually expending on this work $25,000 more than the children’s fees amount to. Of this amount Mrs. Sage continues to contribute one-fifth, the remaining four-fifths being given by an anonymous friend of children and birds. In supplying these pupils and their teachers with the necessary pictures, leaflets, and outline drawings of birds for colouring, over thirty-one million pages of printed information have been distributed. Pupils have taken hold of this bird study with great zest. Many a dull or inattentive boy, who had been a despair to his teacher and parents, responded to this real nature teaching which took him from his ordinarily uninteresting studies into the wide out of doors. Thousands of teachers have written letters filled with expressions of thankfulness for this opportunity which has come to them and reciting details of the variety of ways in which they have been able to make use of this plan and material for bird study.
What One Teacher Did.Here, for example, is one from Miss Beth Merritt, who teaches in a little school at Fountain City, Tennessee: I am very glad to write to you about the junior Audubon Class we had at school this year. We all enjoyed it exceedingly, and I am sure it did good in the hearts and lives of the little people who were members and in the bird world, too. A year ago I invited the children of some of the other grades to join our Audubon Class and we had over forty members. We had our meetings on Friday afternoons after school. The class was quite successful and we saw some direct results of its success. Several nest-robbing boys gave up that ‘sport’ altogether. One boy was instrumental in bringing about the arrest of some men who had been shooting song birds. This year I had the class only in my own grade the second. Almost every child in the room joined, making twenty members. 1 had daily periods for nature study and language, and every other Friday we used these two periods for the Audubon Class. The children were always anxious for the Audubon Fridays to come. They used often to ask, Is tomorrow Bird Day, Miss Beth?’ and if I answered in the affirmative, I heard ‘Oh, goody,’ and ` I won’t forget to wear my button,’ and ` I wonder what bird it will be,’ from every side. Rarely ever did we have an absent mark on Bird Day.
“After we had used all ten of the leaflets you sent us, we had lessons on some of the other birds, or, instead of a regular lesson, we went for a bird walk. I divided the class for these walks, taking ten children at a time. How excited they would get over the birds they saw! Nearly always they could identify the birds themselves, sometimes I helped them, some-times my bird book helped me, and sometimes we had to write in the notebooks, ‘unknown.’ I will not try to tell you about all the good results of our Audubon Class that I have noticed. The most important thing I think is that a few more children have a keen interest and a true love for their little brothers of the air. Last year a favourite pastime of a neighbour was shooting birds for his cat, and I think he was no more particular than his cat as to the kind of birds he destroyed. His little daughter was a member of the Audubon Class and this spring I notice our neighbour’s cat has to catch its own birds. Perhaps, if the little girl can be an Audubon member another year, there will be no more cat!
“A mother of another little member of the class used to delight in birds’ plumes, breasts, or feathers of some kind on her hat. Her spring hat this year was trimmed in ribbon. I have heard several bird lovers say that they have noticed more of our common wild birds about this place than there were last year, and they believe the Junior Audubon societies in the schools have brought about this happy state. When school closed many of the mothers came to me and said that they wished to thank me for what I had done for their children along the line of nature study, especially of birds. They said that they thought the Junior Audubon Class a splendid thing for their children. And I think it is equally good for the teachers.”
Another Junior Club leader, Miss Edna Stafford, a teacher in the public schools of Albany, Indiana, writes: “One day last summer a twelve-year-old boy was out in our street with an airgun shooting at every bird he could see. Recently this same boy came to me with a bird that was hurt, and in a most sympathetic tone said : ‘Who do you suppose could have been mean enough to hurt this dear little bird?’ Our study of birds in the Junior Audubon Class brought about this change in the boy.”
Junior Game Protectors.Another leader reported from Nashville that the one thousand junior members in the schools there had turned into voluntary bird wardens, and spied upon every man or boy who went afield with a gun. In a number of places the juniors have built and sold bird boxes by hundreds and used the proceeds for advancing the work. In one town the juniors had a most successful tag day, and collected funds that were used to buy grain with which to feed birds in winter. In Connecticut a most helpful and stimulating communication has been established between many of the classes. A junior class in the Logan School, Minneapolis, has even started the publication of a magazine called Owaissa, after the Indian name for Bluebird, as given in Longfellow’s “Hiawatha.”
Sending Birds’ Nests to City Children.Mrs. Anthony W. Dimock, of Peekamose, New York, makes the following interesting report:
“The Robin Junior Audubon Circle is composed of the boys and girls of three district schools in a Catskill Mountain valley. No one school has enough pupils of required age to form a circle, and the distances between them are so great that frequent meetings cannot be he d, but good work is being done.
“The most interesting feature of our work the past year was the collection of abandoned birds’ nests in the autumn. One school of five pupils collected over too nests. From these collections two selections of ten nests each were made, to be sent to New York City. One collection went to the Jacob Riis Settlement, and one passed through the hands of three kindergartens, interesting 100 children. To each nest was attached a coloured picture of the bird which had made the nest, and a description of its habits. Letters from the Settlement children and the kindergartners brought to the Circle expressions of delightful appreciation.”
The National Association of Audubon Societies, with headquarters at 1974 Broadway, New York City, makes the following offer of assistance to those teachers and others who are interested in giving instruction to children on the subject of birds and their usefulness.
To form a Junior Audubon Class for bird study, a teacher should explain to the pupils of her grade (and others if desired) that their object will be to learn all they can about the wild birds, and that every one who becomes a member will be expected to be kind to the birds and protect them. Every member will be required to pay a fee of ten cents each year. When ten or more have paid their fees, the teacher will send their money to the National Association, and give the name of the Audubon Class and her own name and address. The Association will then forward to the teacher for each member whose fee has been paid, the beautiful Audubon button, and a set of ten coloured pictures, together with the outline drawings and descriptive leaflets assigned to class study for that year. The teacher will also receive, free of cost, for one year, the splendid magazine Bird-Lore, which contains many valuable suggestions for teachers. It is expected that the teacher shall give at least one lesson a month on the subject of birds, for which purpose she will find the leaflets of great value as a basis for the lessons.
Rules for a Bird Study Class.If the teacher wishes, the Audubon Class may have a regular organization, and a pupil may preside upon the occasions when the class is discussing a lesson. For this purpose the following simple constitution is suggested :
Article 1 . The organization shall be known as the (give name) Junior Audubon Class.
Article 2. The object of its members shall be to learn all they can about wild birds, and to try to save any from being wantonly killed.
Article 3. The officers shall consist of a President, Secretary, and Treasurer.
Article 4. The annual fees of the class shall be Io cents for each member: and the money shall be sent to the National Association of Audubon Societies in exchange for Educational Leaflets and Audubon Buttons.
Article 5. The Junior Audubon Class shall have at least one meeting every month.
Although most of these classes have been and will be formed among pupils in schools, any one may form a class of children anywhere, and receive the privileges offered.
Subjects for Study.Besides the study of the particular birds in the leaflets, the following subjects may be studied with profit :
Birds’ Nests.In the fall, after all the birds have left their nests, the nests may be collected and brought to the schoolroom. Study them and learn that the Chipping Sparrow’s nest is made of fine rootlets and grasses, and is lined with horsehair; examine the mud cup of the Robin’s nest, the soft lining of the Loggerhead Shrike’s nest, etc.
Feeding Birds.In winter arrange “bird tables” in the trees and by the windows, and place crumbs and seeds on them; in summer put out bathing and drinking pans, note what birds come to them and how frequently, and report what you observe to the class.
Nesting Boxes.In early spring put up nesting boxes for Bluebirds, Wrens, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Martins, and other birds. The leaflets sent will be found to contain many suggestions about bird feeding and nesting boxes, and the proper way to make and place the latter.
Colouring Outlines.The children, using crayons or water-colour paint, may place the natural colours of the birds upon the outline drawings provided, using the coloured plates for comparison. This is one of the best ways to fasten in the memory the appearance of the birds, and thus quickly learn to recognize them in the field. Many teachers have utilized this as an exercise for the regular drawing hour.
Teaching Children Approved by the Government.Considering the importance of the subject and the success that the plan has met, it is little wonder that the Hon. P. P. Claxton, United States Commissioner of Education, early gave it his unqualified endorsement. In one letter he wrote:
” I consider the work of the Junior Audubon Classes very important for both educational and economic results, and I congratulate you upon the opportunity of extending it. The bird clause in the Mosaic Law ends with the words: ‘That it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days.’ The principle still holds. I hope that through your efforts the American people may soon be better informed in regard to our wild birds and their value.”
In America we have neglected the subject of protecting our bird life, and as a result in many sections we are suffering today from scourges of insects. Too long the careless and thoughtless have been allowed to wander aimlessly afield and shoot the birds that caused the winds of prosperity to blow. We must teach the children to avoid the errors that we have made. It is our duty to the child to give him of our best, and teach him with all his getting to get understanding.