Birding by Ear was a ‘Model’ Program This Year

A collage with Denise and a man holding a 3D model of a bird, A group birders looking upward, and peering into the distance,

The Council teamed up with Madison Audubon once again earlier this spring to present Birding by Ear, an education program we’ve been offering since 2018. This year’s class included an online educational session offered at two different times and two field trips to the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, located next to Lake Mendota on the UW-Madison campus.

This year’s event featured something novel: three-dimensional, life-size models of six bird species, ranging from a ruby-throated hummingbird to a red-tailed hawk. The plastic models were created by Patrick Collins, a graduate student in UW-Madison’s School of Human Ecology (SoHE), using sophisticated laser scanning and 3D printing techniques. The models added a new sensory experience to the mix that made the classes even more accessible to people living with vision loss.

“From the first time we taught this class, we knew we wanted to have some type of tactile component that would enhance the experience for all learners, particularly for new birders and/or folks who are blind or visually impaired,” says Brenna Marsicek, Audubon’s director of communications and outreach. “In 2018 and 2019, we borrowed bird specimens from the UW Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, which was very fun and beneficial for class participants. However, specimens are fragile and if they are on loan, it is a bit nerve-wracking to pass them around.”

A conversation ensued between Audubon and SoHE and an idea was born: Why not see if SoHE’s innovative students could create a durable alternative to the real things?

Collins stepped up to take on the project as a fun and interesting way to build skills while helping two nonprofits advance their missions.

“It was an absolute joy to work with Madison Audubon to bring these teaching aids to life,” Patrick says. “It was a fantastic learning opportunity that challenged my skillset and broadened my already vast love for applied arts.”

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Birding by Ear is that it is genuinely inclusive; it’s an activity that people with vision loss and those with unimpaired vision can fully experience together. That was not lost on Gil Halstead of Madison, a sighted participant at a recent Birding by Ear events. “The experience challenged me to hone my own auditory skills and get an even fuller appreciation of the birds that come to my feeder.”

You can learn more about how the 3D bird models were made by reading this post on the Madison Audubon blog.

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