For live links, click to: riverhouses.org/2019-pigeons
Every Friday we invite you and your homeschool students to learn about a different group of North American birds from your recommended bird guide (riverhouses.org/books). It’s a great way to add a few minutes of informal science, geography, natural history, and imagination to your homeschool schedule throughout the year.
This week’s bird family is the Pigeons and Doves (Columbidae). You’ll find them on pages 72–79 of your bird guide.
If you’re teaching younger children, you can just use your bird guide as a picture book and spend a few minutes each week looking at wonderful wildlife — all kinds of birds they may see one day. With that, your little lesson is done.
With older students, one of your objectives should to help them become fluent with a technical reference book that’s packed with dense information. Here’s the guide’s introduction to this week’s bird family, written in the customary telegraphic style — you’ll find it on page 72:
“PIGEONS · DOVES — Family Columbidae. The larger species of these birds are usually called pigeons, the smaller ones doves. All are strong, fast fliers. Juveniles have pale-tipped feathers and lack the neck markings of adults. Pigeons and doves feed chiefly on grain, other seeds, and fruit. Species: 318 World, 19 N.A. [North America]“
When you’re training young naturalists, teach them to ask and answer from their bird guide the first questions any naturalist would ask about a new group. How many species? (318 in total.) Are there any near us? (Yes, 19 species in North America, and the individual maps will give us more detail.) What are their distinctive features? (Strong flyers, feed on grain and fruit, often have distinctive neck markings, and so on.)
Pick a representative species or two to look at in detail each week and read the entry aloud, or have your students study it and then narrate it back to you, explaining all the information it contains. This week, why not investigate one of the most widespread birds in the world, thanks to human agency: the Rock Pigeon or Rock Dove (page 72).
All sorts of biological information is packed into the brief Rock Pigeon species description in your bird guide — can your students tease it out? How big is this bird? (12.5 inches long.) What’s its scientific name? (Columba livia.) Will you be able to find this species where you live? At what times of year and in what habitat? (Study the range map and range description carefully to answer those questions, and see the book’s back flap for a map key.) Do the males and females look alike? The adults and juveniles? What song or call does this species make? (The text and illustrations should answer all these questions.)
Although the Rock Pigeon is one of the most familiar birds in the United States, it is not native to North America. Like the House Sparrow and the European Starling it was introduced from Europe and has spread across the North American continent, and to many other places in the world as well. Rock Pigeons originally inhabited mountains and rocky cliffs, but over the course of history they’ve discovered that tall buildings and the roofs of human houses can serve them just as well.
For another familiar member of the Dove family that every American homeschooler should know, take a look at the Mourning Dove, which occurs across the entire United States (bird guide page 78). Mourning Doves are smaller than Rock Pigeons, they’re generally sand-colored, and they have a distinctive long tail.
And have your students note that the name is Mourning Dove, not Morning Dove — from their plaintive call.
You can do little ten-minute lessons like this with any of the species in your bird guide that catch your interest. For example, the Band-tailed Pigeon is a large native species of the west coast, similar to the Rock Pigeon; the tiny Inca Dove of the Southwest has distinctive scalloped plumage; and so on.
In all these Friday Bird Families posts, our aim is not to present a specific set of facts to memorize. We hope instead to provide starting points that you and your students can branch away from in many different directions. We hope also to show how you can help your students develop the kind of careful skills in reading, observation, and interpretation that they will need in all their future academic work.
What ornithological discoveries have you made in your homeschool this week? 😊
❡ Homeschool birds: We think bird study is one of the best subjects you can take up in a homeschool environment. It’s suitable for all ages, it can be made as elementary or as advanced as you wish, and birds can be found just about anywhere at any season of the year. Why not track your own homeschool bird observations on the free eBird website sponsored by Cornell University. It’s a great way to learn more about what’s in your local area and about how bird populations change from season to season. 🐦
❡ Words for birds: You may not think of your homeschool dictionary (riverhouses.org/books) as a nature reference, but a comprehensive dictionary will define many of the standard scientific terms you will encounter in biology and natural history, although it will not generally contain the proper names of species or other taxonomic groups that aren’t part of ordinary English. (In other words, you’ll find “flamingo” but not Phoenicopterus, the flamingo genus.) One of the most important things students should learn to look for in the dictionary is the information on word origins: knowing the roots of scientific terms makes it much easier to understand and remember their meaning. 📖
❡ Come, here’s the map: Natural history and geography are deeply interconnected. One of the first questions you should teach your students to ask about any kind of animal or plant is, “What is its range? Where (in the world) does it occur?” Our recommended homeschool reference library (riverhouses.org/books) includes an excellent world atlas that will help your students appreciate many aspects of biogeography — the science of the geographical distribution of living things. 🌎
❡ Rivers in the sky: How many birds are migrating this week? You can find out from the BirdCast website, also sponsored by Cornell University, which offers daily bird migration forecasts in the spring and fall for the entire United States. 🦅
❡ Nature notes: This is one of our regular Friday Bird Families posts. Why not print your own copy of our River Houses Calendar of American Birds and follow along with us. You can also add your name to our free weekly mailing list (riverhouses.org/newsletter) to get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox all through the year. 🐦 🦅 🦉 🦆 🦃