Topics fly in class focused on birds


Alexander Miles

Ms. Mary Anne Webber, education director at the Houston Audubon, shows a barred owl to students in the class, “Birds of a Feather.”

David Liu, Alexander Miles and Ian Overman, Contributors

One might never expect a bird known for its aggressiveness to be near campus, even less inside classrooms. 

But, in the interim course “Birds of Feather,” students made up-close observations of aggressive birds such as the Mississippi kite from the comfort of their classroom seats. 

In “Birds of Feather,” a course taught by English teachers Mr. Ryan Call and Mr. Evan Chastain, students learned how to identify birds through flight techniques and bird calls. 

They also learned from Mary Anne Weber, education director at Houston Audubon, who returned to campus, bringing a barred owl named Brazos, a homing pigeon named Covid, and a Mississippi kite named Skeeter. 

“Our mission is to positively impact birds and their surrounding habitat and bird conservation is a core part of that,” Ms. Weber said. “There are three ways we do that. Through education, advocacy, and conservation, actually directly preserving acreage and then managing that acreage.”

Ms. Weber said her favorite moments from the audubon were people’s reactions to birds they’ve never seen before.

“We have a program called Bird Tails for our senior citizens who are suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Ms. Weber said. “And especially with the seniors who are in memory care facilities and can’t leave, they get so excited when they see a bird and remember things from their childhood.”

Students in the class also admired nature by bird-watching in the backyard, a plot of land owned by the school along Buffalo Bayou. After taking a short walk, they began to identify birds such as the ruby-crowned kinglet and white-throated sparrow purely from chirps and flight patterns. 

Gustavo Neumann, a junior in the class, said he has learned how to differentiate birds from each other and has helped identify some birds during the walks in the backyard. 

To document the birds they see, the students recorded their observations into eBird, an app that offers help to scientific communities and conservationists on bird populations in the area. 

Students gained knowledge about practical reasons for bird watching, but they enjoyed another benefit as well. 

“It’s just a relaxing class,” Neumann said. “Going outside to the backyard every day makes this class so much more enjoyable compared to my other classes, which are usually inside all the time.”