Meet Laura Erickson, American Robin Expert
Ornithologist, Author, and regular Journey North Contributor
1) Any childhood
memory that was important in guiding you into your occupation?; how did
you become interested in this Field?
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 started
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 about
birds for Journey North, and work on books and magazine and newspaper
4) Favorite work story or experience: (One of your most exciting,
memorable, or exhilarating experiences in the Field!)
think winning the National Outdoor Book Award for Sharing the Wonder of
Birds with Kids is what I 'm proudest of
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 a Golden-crowned and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet land on
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
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 to
write a report 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--two sons and a daughter. We have a big dog named
Betsy and a little dog named Photon (named because she's like a tiny particle
of light and energy). I also have a parrot named Pickles and a lovebird
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 Kingbird
Highway by Kenn Kaufman, about how a teenager spent a year birdwatching
all over North America, seeing 671 species in a single year. I've been
birding for 25 years, and last spring reached my goal of seeing 600 species
in North America. Now my goal is to search for birds farther away. Next
stop: Costa Rica!!
My favorite foods are pizza and ice cream. I like writing haikus and watching
all kinds of movies.
- Click here to learn more about Laura, the wonderful books she's written,
and much more information "For the Birds".