Ask the Whooping Crane Expert
Laura Erickson
Open March 16 - March 30, 2012

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Meet Laura Erickson, Whooping Crane Expert
Ornithologist, Author, and Journey North Contributor

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 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 began working on a Ph.D. studying nighthawk digestion. Now I mainly write books and magazine and newspaper articles about birds, as well as serving as a bird speaker, educator and tour leader.

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

I am most proud of winning the National Outdoor Book Award for my book Sharing the Wonder of Birds with Kids.

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 on an August 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-bye, and then he 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 named Rosie and a beloved cat.

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 36 years, and in 2000 reached my goal of seeing 600 species in North America. Now I'm more focused on taking pictures of the birds I see. My favorite foods are pizza and ice cream. I like writing haikus 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."

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