HE reason for studying any bird is to ascertain what it does; in order to accomplish this, it is necessary to know what the bird is, learning what it is, being simply a step that leads to a knowledge of what it does. But, to hear some of our bird devotees talk, one would think that to be able to identify a bird is all of bird study. On the contrary, the identification of birds is simply the alphabet to the real study, the alphabet by means of which we may spell out the life habits of the bird. To know these habits is the ambition of the true ornithologist, and should likewise be the ambition of the beginner, even though the beginner be a young child.
Several of the most common birds have been selected as subjects for lessons in this book; other common birds, like the phoebe and wrens, have been omitted purposely; after the children have studied the birds, as indicated in the lessons, they will enjoy working out lessons for themselves with other birds. Naturally, the sequence of these lessons does not follow scientific classification; in the first ten lessons, an attempt has been made to lead the child gradually into a knowledge of bird life. Beginning with the chicken there follow naturally the lessons with pigeons and the canary; then there follows the careful and detailed study of the robins and constant comparison of them with the blue birds. This is enough for the first year in the primary grades. The next year the work begins with the birds that remain in the North during the winter, the chickadee, nuthatch and downy woodpecker. After these have been studied carefully, the teacher may be an opportunist when spring comes and select any of the lessons when the bird subjects are at hand. The classification suggested for the woodpeckers and the swallows is for more advanced pupils, as are the lessons on the geese and turkeys. It is to be hoped that these lessons will lead the child directly to the use of the bird manuals, of which there are several excellent ones.
The hen is especially adapted as an object lesson for the young beginner of bird study. First of all, she is a bird, notwithstanding the adverse opinions of two of my small pupils who stoutly maintained that "a robin is a bird, but a hen is a hen." Moreover, the hen is a bird always available for nature-study; she looks askance at us from the crates of the world's marts; she comes to meet us in the country barnyard, stepping toward us sedately; looking at us earnestly, with one eye, then turning her head so as to check up her observations with the other; meantime she asks us a little question in a wheedling, soft tone, which we understand perfectly to mean "have you perchance brought me something to eat?" Not only is the hen an interesting bird in herself, but she is a bird with problems; and by studying her carefully we may be introduced into the very heart and center of bird life.
This lesson may be presented in two ways: First, if the pupils live in the country where they have poultry at home, the whole series of lessons may best be accomplished through interested talks on the part of the teacher, which should be followed on the part of the children, by observations, which should be made at home and the results given in school in oral or written lessons. Second, if the pupils are not familiar with fowls, a hen and a chick, if possible, should be kept in a cage in the schoolroom for a few days, and a duck or gosling should be brought in one day for observation. The crates in which fowls are sent to market make very good cages. One of the teachers of the Elmira, N. Y. Schools introduced into the basement of the schoolhouse a hen, which there hatched her brood of chicks, much to the children's delight and edification. After the pupils have become thoroughly interested in the hen and are familiar with her ways, after they have fed her and watched her, and have for her a sense of ownership, the following lessons may be given in an informal manner, as if they were naturally suggested to the teacher's mind through watching the fowl.