Ask the American Robin Expert
Laura Erickson
Open February 28- March 14, 2014

the Expert
Robin Q & A
Your Questions
Your Questions

Laura Erickson

Meet Laura Erickson, American Robin Expert
Ornithologist, Author, and regular Journey North Contributor

In February 2014 Laura became the first woman to win the American Birding Association’s highest honor: the Roger Tory Peterson Award. Congratulations to Laura on this sky-high honor!

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 started the B one, and read all the way through BIRD. That article was so fascinating! After that, I just read about birds over and over until I had memorized the whole long article about birds.

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. In January 2013 I spent a few days with him after not seeing him for over 51 years! He was just as wonderful as I remembered.

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; I soon started wondering about how their bodies worked, and started studying about that. I've been the science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and written a few books, including one for National Geographic.

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

I 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 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 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 little dog named Photon (named because she's like a tiny particle of light and energy). I also live with a screech owl named Archimedes.

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 birdingsince 1975, and still love seeing new birds and treasured avian friends. Now my goal is to search for birds farther away. Next stop: Costa Rica!!

My favorite foods are pizza and ice cream. I like reading about Ulysses S. Grant and watching all kinds of movies.

Laura Erickson

  • Click here to learn more about Laura, the wonderful books she's written, and much more information "For the Birds." Share Laura's 2013 Conservation Big Year here.

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