How Early Bird is using birds as a window to nature education

Early Bird has recently curated Prakrutiya Pettige, a nature education kit in Kannada, and given them to 500 of Karnataka’s Arivu Kendras or Gram Panchayat libraries

Published - April 16, 2024 09:00 am IST - Bengaluru

Wetland birds poster.

Wetland birds poster. | Photo Credit: Early Bird

“We can’t really hate birds,” says Abhisheka Krishnagopal, Programme Manager, Early Bird, an initiative by the Nature Conservation Foundation, which aims to introduce young people to the wonder of birds. 

White-cheecked Barbet.

White-cheecked Barbet. | Photo Credit: Early Bird

Birds, besides being integral to the ecosystems they inhabit are, after all, a vital part of our collective culture—whether it be in our sculptures in ancient monuments or our traditional textiles. Not surprisingly, they are essential characters in mythologies and stories, capturing the human imagination because they are so aesthetically appealing and capable of flight.

It also helps that they are so easily accessible. “You don’t have to go into a forest to see them. You can spot them from the window of your house,” says Abhisheka, who feels birds are a wonderful window to nature.  

Arivu kendras launch event.

Arivu kendras launch event. | Photo Credit: Early Bird

It is why birds are easy to introduce to children, helping foster a lifelong sensitivity and awareness about our natural world. In keeping with this idea, Early Bird has recently curated Prakrutiya Pettige, a nature education kit in Kannada, and given them to 500 of Karnataka’s Arivu Kendras or Gram Panchayat libraries. “This project aims to encourage rural librarians to take on the role of bird educators to help children develop a deeper connection with nature through birds,” she says.  

Once the children become familiar with the birds around them, she hopes they can start monitoring the local birds in their village. This way, these libraries can be both a space for documenting biodiversity as well as a hub of knowledge exchange related to nature, she says, thus “motivating children to become stewards of their local biodiversity.” 

Librarians workshop.

Librarians workshop. | Photo Credit: Early Bird

How it began 

In late 2023, Abhisheka and Garima Bhatia had gone to meet Senior IAS officer and Additional Chief Secretary, Panchayati Raj, Uma Mahadevan Dasgupta, who had played a vital role in the Oduva Belaku (the light of reading) movement of Karnataka. “During COVID lockdown, she had revived5,600 libraries across the state, and we had heard about it,” Abhisheka recalls. “We thought we could meet her and see if there is a possibility of introducing nature education into these libraries.” 

Uma Mahadevan, she says, was very interested in the work Early Bird had been doing; so, she suggested that, as a pilot, Early Bird supply learning resources to some of these libraries. “She asked us to put together a proposal on how we could go about this,” states Abhisheka. “We curated the materials we planned to provide these libraries, and then have a hybrid training programme online and offline.”

Greater coucal

Greater coucal | Photo Credit: Early Bird

The initiative involved travelling across the state and conducting in-person workshops in all 31 districts of Karnataka, training 16-20 librarians in each district. “We collaborated with 11 external resource people (bird educators of Karnataka) who underwent training conducted by Early Bird on how to connect children to birds through art, games and nature walks,” she says. Since the 2024 Lok Sabha elections were around the corner, the team was asked to finish the training before the model code-of-conduct came in place, she adds. “We trained 500 librarians in the month of March,” she says.

facilitators at Early Bird.

facilitators at Early Bird. | Photo Credit: Early Bird

Conducting multiple workshops 

By the end of February, the Early Bird team began travelling across Karnataka, to different districts, offering one-day in-person workshops to the librarians of the 500 libraries finally chosen. “The Zilla Panchayat helped organise the workshop,” says Abhisheka, who designed the workshop. One of the challenges she faced was to design it taking into account that some of these places may not have a projector or even power. “The workshop included games, art activities, nature journalling and bird watching that didn’t require technology,” she says.

Kannada flashcards.

Kannada flashcards. | Photo Credit: Early Bird

The team drew on existing material such as the Early Bird’s flashcards, posters, pocket guides, games and learnings from their Birding Buddy workshops to come up with teaching methods and techniques for children. “Our materials are fun to learn, and we always wanted it to reach kids in rural areas,” she says. 

According to her, the current education system often takes children away from nature, even if they are surrounded by it. Often, since they end up gleaning their knowledge about wildlife from books rather than their immediate environment, “they know more about zebras and giraffes and hummingbirds than the birds in their backyards,” says Abhisheka. Using games and activities to expose them to their local ecosystem is very powerful because it helps children stay more engaged. “Lecture sessions don’t help. Before children gain knowledge, it is important to hold their attention and focus,” she says, pointing out that when children start having fun, learning comes automatically. 

Greater coucal.

Greater coucal. | Photo Credit: Early Bird

Why libraries 

While direct outreach has always been an important aspect of the Early Bird Programme, in general, it usually involves reaching out to teachers and educators. “Somehow libraries never struck us; we looked at them as a space for books and where people could come and read,” she says. “We could never imagine it to be this interactive space.”

 Early Bird’s focus on using libraries was surprisingly effective. “The enthusiasm I saw in the librarians was addictive,” Abhisheka says, recalling how they (the librarians) told her about children hanging in the library all day and not wanting to go home. “There is so much happening. It is not just about books, but also about activities and interactions.” 

Bird art at the librarians workshop.

Bird art at the librarians workshop. | Photo Credit: Early Bird

The 500 librarians who have attended the workshops are currently working with children and putting their skills to use on the ground. “We have given the librarians small assignments to see if they’re facing challenges, and they have to report back to us if they are facing challenges,” she says. 

Abhisheka also hopes to take the programme to even more libraries after the election. The project, funded by the Karnataka Panchayat Raj Commisionerate, is still in its pilot stage now. However, if successful, there is a possibility that it will be taken to all the Gram Panchayat libraries in Karnataka. “Reaching close to 6,000 libraries is a wonderful thing,” believes Abhisheka.“It is almost like you are taking nature education to every corner of the state this way.”  

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