Bird Watcher's General Store

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Bird Classes at Home

Dear Bird Folks,

The pandemic has given me a lot of free time, so I’m thinking about taking a bird class online. Have you ever taken one and if so, do you have one that you would recommend?

– Paul, Pembroke, MA


Nope, Paul,

Even though I look like a college student, I’ve never taken a class online. Back when I was in school, online was where we hung our wet clothes. However, after receiving your note, I thought I should look into this topic a bit more. After all, there isn’t much to do outside right now. March weather is a bit like the reports on the virus. For every ray of sunshine, there’s a fair amount of gloom to deal with. Speaking of gloom: It’s pouring out this morning. It’s the perfect day to stay inside and research online bird classes. But first, I have to take my clothes off the line (offline?). They won’t dry very well in this rain.

After a quick search, I found a site called “Bird Academy.” Bird Academy is offered by Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology and should not be confused with “Early Bird Academy,” which I think is either a pre-school or a restaurant near any Florida retirement community. The Bird Academy has a list of twenty different courses that cover such topics as bird photography, bird songs and bird identification. The prices for the classes range from free for a beginner class, to $240.00 for a big time course in bird biology. The bird biology class sounded the most interesting, but it’s 100 hours long and with my short attention span, the pandemic would be long over by the time I finished it. Then I noticed a course entitled, The Wonderful World of Owls. This course costs $60.00 (ouch), but it was only three hours long, which is more my style; so I decided to sign up for the owl course at the Bird Academy. Taking this course could be challenging, as it’s been years since I’ve studied at an Ivy League school, and when I say “years,” I mean never.

Signing up for the course was fairly straightforward, except I had to create another dreaded password. I am so tired of doing that. Pretty soon we won’t even be able to yawn without entering a password. Speaking of yawning, that’s what I used for my password. (Don’t tell anybody.) I chose the owl class because ever since Harry Potter, folks have gone owl-crazy. I thought if I studied owls a little more, I would actually be able to help people with their questions without having to make up the answers like I usually do. (Don’t tell anybody.)

I’m a big fan of the Lab of Ornithology. Their All About Birds website is beautiful, really well designed and free. The Birds of the World, the Lab’s subscription site, is more in-depth and I use it all the time. A high percentage of the columns I’ve written have been based on info I’ve gleaned from this site. But I didn’t love The Wonderful World of Owls course and I’m not sure why. I guess I expected more from such a prestigious institution. To be fair, this was only one out of the twenty courses offered and I may have found another class more to my liking…I just didn’t feel like spending another $60.00 to find out. Instead, I contacted a friend who had taken the full-blown, and much pricier, bird biology course (he has more money than I do). He told me that he liked the course and found it to be “quite comprehensive.” So, the issue was probably just me…as usual. Oh, well. It looks like I won’t be receiving a degree from Cornell anytime soon.

As I stared at the Bird Academy’s website, trying to convince myself to try another class, I noticed a link that said “Videos.” I clicked on it and wow! There were dozens and dozens of really cool and super-informative videos covering all aspects of birding, and they were all free. That’s right. free, and there weren’t even any annoying insurance ads popping up to ruin them. I spent the rest of the day watching clips on everything from eagles, to loons, to flamingos. There were also segments on nest building, mating displays and song identification. There was even a lengthy show on woodpeckers and how they avoid getting brain injuries (and headaches) when they hammer into trees. I watched the woodpecker piece three times and now actually understand the topic well enough to write a book about it.

So far, my favorite video (I still have a lot more to watch) is one about the puffins on Eastern Egg Rock. Just six miles off the coast of Maine, Eastern Egg Rock was once a thriving seabird colony…until humans killed the birds for food and feathers. But in the 1970s, with the help of Project Puffin, an effort was made to re-establish the colony. The endeavor was successful and today thousands of seabirds, including terns and puffins, annually raise their families on Eastern Egg Rock. This story alone is amazing, but the video footage of the puffins was mesmerizing. I had forgotten how absolutely entertaining puffins are. They are like Pixar characters, only cuter.

You should totally check out Cornell’s Bird Academy, Paul. Whether you are in the mood for a structured online class or would rather sort through videos on various avian topics, the Academy will provide you with tons of bird info. I also suggest that you explore this site right now, while the weather is still iffy, because after watching a few of these inspiring clips, you will want to go outside and look for birds, rather than sit in front of a computer screen anymore. In fact, the sun has just come out here and I’m going birding right now…as soon as I hang my wet clothes “back online.”