American Robin
James C. Leupold - USFWS

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American Robin

Submit Your Questions
Paid subscribers only. Deadline April 3, 1998

Ask the Expert

Meet The Robin Expert, Laura Erickson

1) Any childhood memory that was important in guiding you into your occupation?; how did you become interested in this Field?

When I was very little, if I was noisy in the morning when my mother was trying to sleep, she'd make me come in her bed. I was never sleepy in the morning, so I decided to start reading the encyclopedias on her bed headboard bookcase. I started with A and read all the way through that one. Then I stared the B one, and read all the way through BIRD. That article was so fascinating that after that, I just read about birds over and over and over, until I had the whole long article about birds memorized.

I lived in Chicago, and didn't know how to learn about birds other than that enclyclopedia article, but I loved listening to House Sparrows cheeping at dusk, and robins and cardinals singing early in the morning. I spent a lot of time whistling to cardinals and getting them to whistle back.

2) Any person, role model or leading authority that greatly influenced you? (a parent, 6th grade teacher, scientist etc...)

My fifth grade teacher was very understanding about how I cared about animals but still wanted to learn all about them. When our class dissected worms, I had trouble choosing an earthworm to dissect, because I identified with them. He told me he would find me a worm that was already dead. Unfortunately, none of my teachers was a bird watcher or helped me learn more about them. But I'm proud that I figured out how on my own.

3) Your background: (job title, profession, education/training etc...)

I started out as a teacher, with a degree in elementary education and two years of graduate courses in environmental education, taking lots of zoology classes. When I was teaching junior high school in Madison, Wisconsin, I started writing articles about birds for the newspaper there. In Duluth, when I was staying at home while my kids were little, I started doing a little radio program about birds--soon people were bringing me hurt birds to take care of, and so I learned how to do it right and got a license to rehabilitate wildlife. This is how I got interested in nighthawks, from taking care of them, and soon started wondering about some things about how their bodies worked, and started studying about that. I'm sort of working on a Ph.D. studying nighthawk digestion right now, but haven't been able to devote any time to it in a while. Now I mainly write books and magazine and newspaper articles about birds, and talk about them to people all over.

4) Favorite work story or experience: (One of your most exciting, memorable, or exhilarating experiences in the Field!)

Every year I do surveys for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/National Biological Survey. I've had a lot of cool experiences--like imitating a baby raven and getting the parents to fly right down within inches of me, looking to see where I was hiding the baby. Once I whistled back to a Pine Grosbeak and it came closer and closer until it lighted right on my finger! I've had Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets land on me, too.

The first nighthawk I ever took care of was ready to be released in August, on an evening when lots of nighthawks were migrating. He flew up in the sky and headed west (to clear Lake Superior) straight into the setting sun. But suddenly he turned around and flew right back to me! He circled over my head two or three times, as if he really wanted to say good-by, and then left for good.

5) What advice can you provide to a student who might be interested in working in your occupation some day?

Learn as much about math and science as you can, and when you have a report to write about anything, try to have fun with it. Explain the things about the topic that really interest you, and write it in a way that tries to get your teacher really interested, too.

6) Any family members, including pets?

I am a mom with 3 kids--a 16-year old son, 14-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old son. We have a springer spaniel named Betsy. I also have a pet starling named Mortimer and a pet lovebird named Rosie.

7) Favorite book(s), Favorite food(s), Any hobbies?

I love reading just about any bird book. My favorites are The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds (it has just about EVERYTHING a person could want to know about birds), The Nights of the Pufflings, a really neat non-fiction picture story book about some kids in Iceland who save thousands of baby puffins all on their own every year, and historical stories by Patrick O'Brian, who writes about British sailing ships in the early 1800s. One of the characters is an ornithologist, and I love reading about the birds from earlier times.

My favorite foods are pizza and ice cream.

My biggest hobby is birdwatching. I also like writing haikus, playing role-playing games, and watching old movies.

Laura Erickson

To learn more about Laura, the wonderful books she's written, and much more information "For the Birds",click here for Laura's Website

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