During this spring’s three-week environmental studies course “Birds in Our Landscape,” Professor of Biology Mark Deutschlander and 10 HWS students traveled more than 600 miles to understand not only patterns and developments among bird populations, but what they say about the broader environment.
In examining population trends and geographical distributions of birds, students have a lens to explore the impacts of urbanization, pollution and pesticides, climate change and more. As the Maymester course description notes, “distributions of birds inform scientists about environmental change and the impacts of change on the function of ecosystems.”
Over the course of eight field excursions, students identified 83 species of birds, preparing them to pass two comprehensive bird identification exams. Students practiced communicating their findings through a number of writing assignments, analyzing and reflecting on bird biology, scientific literature and their experiences throughout the course. Their fieldwork and analysis was bolstered by screenings of three documentaries on birds and bird conservation, and a fourth film about competitive birding.
“To my pleasure, all the students report that the course opened their eyes to the birds around them — citing many new, exciting ‘facts’ they learned about bird biology and the environment — and many said they will continue to at least casually watch birds and even go out to find birds in their hometowns,” Deutschlander says.
Through Maymester classes, current HWS students and non-matriculated students take one course with an HWS faculty member over an intensive short-term “semester.” Maymester addresses several of the Colleges’ Curricular Goals and provides expert residential support to strengthen research, analytical and writing skills. The course offerings also provide a chance to explore personal interests and deepen each student’s connection to HWS and the context in which the Colleges have evolved.