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Connecting with Birds is the Answer to Everything

Dr. James Kellam, Associate Professor of Biology

I laughed when I wrote the title to this submission. It’s an exaggeration that birds can solve everything in my life or yours, but for some people, it’s not too far from the truth. For me, my study and appreciation of birds is a spiritual endeavor. I feel close to God when I encounter birds with their deep, staring gaze; their work ethic and patience; and their colors and songs. I also know that getting outside to look for birds is good for physical and mental health. Looking for birds can be a solitary endeavor or a social one, all depending on what you want at the time. Then there’s the intellectual stimulation that comes from identifying what you found and figuring out why the bird was doing what it was doing. You see? I wasn’t exaggerating too much with my title. There isn’t much that birds cannot do for me. I even eat chicken!

If you’ve never considered taking up a birdwatching hobby, that’s okay. I hope every student on our campus finds ways to maintain and strengthen spiritual, physical, and mental health, while also deepening their intellectual understanding of life around them. People can certainly do all that without birds. But if you are looking for something new and different, then “birds” might be it. This is why I prepared a flyer to be placed in the welcome packet given to all incoming first-year students this fall.

My “Connect with Birds” flyer listed the times and locations of my weekly campus birds walks. It advertised the existence of a one-credit biology course called “World Series of Birds” designed to prepare students for a 24-hour competition in New Jersey at the end of the semester. It gave a link to a live-streaming bird feeder camera installed at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve for people to appreciate our birds ( It also listed a couple work-study jobs I have available to help me with my scientific studies. Finally, there is an Ornithology Program Schoology group I wanted to publicize. I know my flyer is probably long-forgotten now that the semester is half over and students are busy. But business is exactly why I’m writing now. Birds can help you relax, have fun, and learn something unrelated to your other schoolwork. Birds can help you.

And birds need your help as well. Insecticides have decimated their food supply. Their habitats have been drained, cleared, and paved. They are killed by outdoor domestic cats that are far more numerous than natural predators ever were. They get disoriented by window reflections by day and office towers by night, leading to significant mortality during migration. We still have lots of birds all around us today, but compared to 50 years ago, scientists estimate that there are three billion fewer birds living in North America today. Given all the benefits the birds can provide us, personally and collectively, I am afraid of what is to come. And this is the second reason why I’m writing now. If I can encourage other people to appreciate birds more than before, something really special happens. It’s the third and most important theme of our new college Core Curriculum—loving. If you start listening to the birds more, you will want to learn about them. And if you start learning more about them, then you will start loving them. And love is what will help them survive, because love is a verb. It is an action that people take, and with

love, the birds will be protected. None of this is exclusive to birds, either. By protecting birds we are also protecting all the other forms of life upon which they depend. The love and protection of life—in all its forms--is surely a mission to which we are all called.

Feel free to email to learn more.

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