For live links, click to: riverhouses.org/2019-quail
Every Friday we invite you and your students to learn about a different group of North American birds from your recommended homeschool 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. (We started this new feature at the beginning of this month with an introduction to your bird guide.)
This week’s group of families has a wonderful ten-dollar name: the “gallinaceous” birds, encompassing (1) the New World Quail; (2) the Curassows and Guans; and (3) the Partridges, Grouse, Turkeys, and Old World Quail (bird guide pages 54–67). Gallus is the Latin word for chicken, so the gallinaceous birds are the chicken-like birds, with generally plump bodies, small heads, short beaks, and rounded wings.
If you’re teaching smaller children, you can take our Friday Bird Families posts as opportunities to just use your bird guide as a picture book and spend a few minutes looking at all the wonderful wildlife. With older students, one of our objectives is to help them become fluent with a technical reference book that’s packed with dense information. Here are the introductions to these bird families, written in the guide’s customary telegraphic style — you’ll find them on pages 54 and 58:
“NEW WORLD QUAIL — Family Odontophoridae. New World Quail are their own family. All have chunky bodies and crests or head plumes. In N.A. [North America], most live in the West. Species: 33 World, 6 N.A.“
“CURASSOWS · GUANS — Family Cracidae. These tropical-forest arboreal birds have short, rounded wings and long tails. Generally secretive but highly vocal. One species of this family is found in the United States. Species: 54 World, 1 N.A.“
“PARTRIDGES · GROUSE · TURKEYS · OLD WORLD QUAIL — Family Phasianidae. Ground dwellers with feathered nostrils; short, strong bills; and short, rounded wings. Flight is brief but strong. Males perform elaborate courting displays. In some species, courting birds gather in communal grounds, known as leks. Species: 178 World, 18 N.A.“
When you’re training young naturalists, teach them to ask and answer from their field guide the very first questions any naturalist would ask about a new group — a group such as, for example, the curassow family. How many species are known? (54.) Are there any near us? (Only one occurs in North America; the individual maps will give us more detail.) What are their distinctive features? (Tropical forest dwellers, secretive, arboreal, long tailed — and so on.)
Many of the gallinaceous birds have played important roles in human culture for thousands of years. The domestic chicken is descended from the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus), a member of the Phasianidae that is native to Asia. Different species of pheasants, quail, grouse, and partridges are raised or hunted for food and ornament all around the world.
Pick a representative species 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 the state bird of Pennsylvania: the Ruffed Grouse (page 62).
All sorts of biological information is packed into the brief Ruffed Grouse species description in your bird guide — can your students tease it out? How big is this bird? (17 inches long.) What’s its scientific name? (Bonasa umbellus.) What does it sound like? (A vocal clucking, but also a loud drumming with the wings by the males.) Will you be able to find this species where you live? At what times of year? (Study the range map and range description carefully to answer those questions, and see the book’s back flap for a map key.)
The drumming courtship call of the male Ruffed Grouse is one of the characteristic sounds of northern North American forests.
You can do a little ten-minute lesson like this with any of the species in your bird guide that catch your interest. If you live in Alaska why not pick out the Willow Ptarmigan (the state bird), or if you’re in California, the California Quail (the state bird there). The domestic turkeys we eat are all descendants of the wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), the largest gallinaceous bird in North America (and the species that would have become the U.S. national bird had Ben Franklin had his way).
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 examples and 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. 🦅
❡ State birds: Six members of this week’s bird families are United States state birds: the Ruffed Grouse (PA), California Quail (CA), Willow Ptarmigan (AK), and Ring-necked Pheasant (SD), and the Rhode Island Red Hen (RI) and Delaware Blue Hen (DE). The last two you won’t find in your bird guide, however, as it includes only wild, not domestic, species. 🇺🇸
❡ 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, and 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. 🦃