Bird Count

I have a special connection to Susan Edwards Richmond’s Bird Count. We’re in the same writing group. The same day that she brought Bird Count to group to be critiqued, I had realized that no one had written a book about the combinations of ten. I had an inner battle with myself because I didn’t want to tell her about the idea, I wanted to pursue it myself. But if I didn’t share it, I would feel dishonest. So, I told her no one had written a book about the combinations of ten. She politely told me that was not the book she wanted to write, and that I should write it. Thank good-ness we both followed her advice. Now there’s two great books out there instead of one!

In Bird Count, Ava, a young citizen scientist, participates in Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count which is “the nation’s longest running community bird science project.” This year will be its 120th year! But as Susan explains in her interview below, Christmas Bird Counts happen all over the northern hemisphere.

Since Bird Count provides teachers with a wonderful opportunity to introduce tally marks to their students, I wanted to share this text with a younger group of students. So, I read the book to a second grade class at my school. The students tallied the birds as we read. But they were even more excited to learn that Susan lives in the same town that our school is in. It’s not often that students get to explore a book written by their neighbor. Our second graders had some questions for Susan:

Here are Susan’s answers: (The transcript is below the video).

Kate: Hi, Everybody! This is Susan Edwards Richmond, the author of Bird Count, and she is here today to answer the questions that Mrs. Flynn’s class asked after hearing her book being read. Welcome, Susan!

Susan: Welcome, Kate! Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this. I’m very excited to hear the questions.

Kate: Great! Well, our first question is, “Why did you write this book?”

Susan: Well, the bird count is something that is a real event that takes place every year, and it’s something that I participate in. It’s called the Christmas Bird Count because it takes place around Christmas, usually a week or two afterwards. Everybody goes out and counts as many birds as they can see or hear. I just thought it was an exciting thing to write a book about for children because everybody can participate. You don’t have to be an expert. Everyone can go out and count the birds. It’s a great way to get out in your own environment.

Kate: Wow! That’s great. I didn’t realize that it took place after Christmas and not before.

Susan: It can actually take place at different times in different places depending on  where you live. It’s not just a Massachusetts count or local count. It’s hemisphere wide. So people are counting birds all across the United States and even in Canada, Central America and Mexico. So, each area has the option to choose. I think the count times are something like between December fifteenthth and January fourth. You can pick whatever date works best for your community.

Kate: Wow! That’s amazing! I didn’t realize so many countries participated in the bird count.

Susan: Yes, it’s a really exciting way to connect when you think about people doing it in all types of climates and regions, different languages, very different types of birds and habitats.

Kate: What if people want to learn more about the history of the bird count?

Susan: So, there is a long history. It actually has been going on for more than a hundred years. It started in about 1900. There is an excellent book called Counting Birds by Heidi Stemple that will take you through the history of the bird count.

Kate: Wow! Thanks so much for letting us know about another great resource that we might want to check out as educators. I really appreciate that.

Susan: Yes, well I always like to point readers to different opportunities and share the wonderful authors that are out there.

Kate: Another question our readers have is, “Don’t all birds fly south for the winter?”

Susan: That is an excellent question. Because I used to think that some birds flew south because it was cold. But as I learned more and more about birds, I realized that the birds really don’t care about the cold. What they care about is food. So, the birds that fly south are the ones that cannot find the food source in the winter, when it is very cold or snowy or icy. So, think about birds who like to eat insects. Do you see many insects in this type of weather? No. So, the insect-eating birds like warblers and certain types of thrushes and other types of songbirds have to fly south where it’s warmer and insects are still active. Whereas birds who are eating maybe some fruit that might still be remaining on the trees or seeds or nuts, they are more capable of staying around and finding their food sources. Of course, birds like woodpeckers who do eat insects they drill deep into the bark of the tree. Those insects are still there and available.

Kate: Wow! I never thought about that how woodpeckers stay ,but the other birds who eat insects have to fly south.

Susan: Yep. That’s right, and some birds can adapt a little bit and have over the years. Birds like bluebirds and robins who used to fly south more, now we have a lot more ornamental trees and so they’ve switched their food source in the winter into eating more fruit and less insects. Then, in the spring they’ll go back to eating more insects again.

Kate: Oh, wow! That’s neat. So, some birds eat some insects and some berries. So, they can have a little bit more flexibility.

Susan: That’s right. Some birds are omnivores. They maybe eat a little meat, a little protein and a little fruit.

Kate: Wow! That’s awesome. Thanks for teaching me that. Another one of our readers wants to know, “How come you did not include a glossary in the back of the book?”

Susan: That’s a great question. I think that we were talking, when I was talking with my publisher about what we should include as the most helpful back matter, the thing that came up most, the vocabulary that was most different, were the names of the birds themselves. So instead of having a vocabulary of concepts and terms, there weren’t too many terms that weren’t explained in the book, but there were a lot of bird names that would be new to our readers. Instead, we made kind of a field guide in the back where you could learn more about all the species of birds that are named in the book.

Kate: That makes a lot of sense. It’s so great that students can actually take this book with them outside and they could use as a field guide right now to see what birds are here in central Massachusetts.

Susan: Well, that’s what I’m hoping when people read the book that they will get excited about finding out what’s in their own environment, and use it kind of as a guide and an inspiration to head out into the wilderness. Or, if they are interested they can actually make their own tally sheets and field guides. On my website there’s some information about how to do that and some sample card templates.

Kate: Oh, that’s great. Thanks for letting me know. I’ll be sure to link to your website in this blogpost

Susan: Great. Thank you so much.

Kate: You’re welcome. So, we have one last question. One of our readers wants to know. “Do the different groups compete against each other to see who has counted the most birds when you gather together at the end of the day to celebrate?”

Susan: That’s a great question. There are a lot of different kinds of bird counts, and there is a bird count in the spring where we do compete to see how many different species we find. But, the bird count that we do at Christmastime is really a census which just means that we’re trying to cover as much territory as we can and count as many birds as possible. So, we’re really just kind of going out in each group. Each team is covering a certain area. It’s sort of like puzzle pieces fitting together so that we can count all of the birds in the whole community, and then all the birds in the whole county and state. Finally, at last, we hope as much as we can in the whole hemisphere. So, the party at the end is less of a competition where we’re seeing who won or who didn’t win, but more a chance to celebrate and share stories. If anyone had some particularly wonderful findings of different birds, they can tell about that as well.

Kate: Well, thanks so much for joining us today Susan and congratulations on your book, Bird Count.

Susan: Well, thank you, Kate. This has been a real pleasure.

Kate: Take care.

Susan: Bye-bye.

If you would like to enter a win a signed copy of Bird Count, please leave a comment below. One winner will be randomly chosen. If you’re on Twitter, find my tweet @katenarita about this post, retweet it and tag a friend for a second entry. Good luck!

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