by Denny Olson

Denny Olson at the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area on Jan. 17, 2022. (JP Edge photo)

Sometimes those of us in Audubon might get a bit complacent about why we are here. Birding is fun, our programs are entertaining and very informative and our social get-togethers for events or a field trip give us a sense of comradery. But because we live in a place where natural beauty is nearly mind-boggling, and our mission is to help conserve that natural beauty and diversity for future generations, our primary focus and objectives in Flathead Audubon are to engage those future generations with the place where they live. As luck would have it, those goals present a great opportunity. If we can teach our young people using local examples, then learning becomes more concrete, less abstract, and much more effective. Place-based education is literally “in your face” and can’t be ignored. It also allows us to enlist millions of fellow “teachers” — the denizens of this natural world that surrounds us.

The most accessible of those teachers are birds. They are everywhere. We can learn about grizzly bears, or wolverines, or cougars, but most of us will never have  personal experience or exposure to them. Not true of birds. Four hundred billion of them, of perhaps 18,000 species, inhabit every square inch of this planet, from the Artic to the Antarctic.

As Auduboners, we just happen to be interested in birds. As educators, we look at Montana state standards in life science, earth and space science, math, engineering, social studies, arts and music — and we say, “Yeah. Birds can teach that!”

So, Flathead Audubon Society has put its meager “money where its mouth is”, and we have developed tools for learning that offer high potential for engagement, motivation, and a love of “knowing”. We also follow the reams of scientific evidence that show students are healthier, happier and (yup!) smarter when they spend significant time outdoors. Full disclosure: our curriculum and other offerings either have outdoor field trips inherent in the unit sequence, or they prepare students for outdoor experiences on their own. Our time, money and energy is spent on education.

Here’s a reminder of what we offer our younger Flathead citizens:

We have 18 Learning Trunks that can be checked out to classrooms for one or two weeks. Some are part of a four-unit sequence with field trips we have recently developed for 7th and 8th graders, but all of them can be used separate from the sequence. They offer quality hands-on experiences in the full cross-curricular experiences of science, technology, engineering, arts and math (S.T.E.A.M), with some history and social studies also in the mix. 

The pandemic years allowed us to produce Online Videos and Narrated PowerPoints. Our Flathead Audubon Society YouTube channel gives teachers instant access to Professor Avian Guano, Bir.D., our eccentric, slightly off-the-wall narrator of our Value of Birds trilogy — doing his own brand of “edu-tainment” for middle-school-and-up ages. The videos feature some gorgeous bird footage gathered by Birds in Motion, a local Montana nonprofit with the goal of video-documenting all of the bird species in North America!

Some examples:

“BIRDS ROCK!” (Video # 1 in the series, 15 minutes) Professor Guano outlines the seven ways that birds are critical to our survival and add joy and wonder to our lives. “BIRD TROUBLE” (Video # 2, 29 minutes) We have not been kind to birds in the past (30% of North American birds are gone since the first Earth Day!), and their future prospects are completely dependent on our own attention to science and evidence. Their life support system is our life support system. “BIRD HELP” (Video # 3, 28 minutes) The Good Professor shows us how we, with some minor labors of love, can make a big difference in the future of birds and the future of ourselves — with changes right at home! And, most of these simple changes are fun! The newest project, available in early summer 2022, will be “NATIVES RULE” , a video narrated by Prof. Guano and featuring local experts on the connections between native plants, native insects who eat those native plants, and native birds who eat those native insects.

And, our online narrated PowerPoints include Learning Bird Songs, Common Birds of the Flathead, and Sandhill Cranes: Voices from the Eocene. Our scripted PowerPoints for classrooms are: Ospreys: Ancient Fisher-Birds, Spring Waterfowl Migrations, Winter Birds of Prey and Bird Brains: a Sidelong Look at Bird Intelligence.

We also have monthly public program presentations every second Monday of the month,  free in-classroom or assembly programs, our skilled cadre of free Guides for school birding field trips, and our great Pileated Post and website.

At Flathead Audubon, we are busy — doing good.