For the Birds Radio Program: Ms. Peterson's Class

Original Air Date: Feb. 1, 1995

When Sneakers the Blue Jay visits a fourth grade class, everybody starts to talk—including Sneakers. 3:52

Audio missing


One of the funnest things about knowing a lot about birds is that sometimes I get to talk to kids about birds. Two weeks ago, a friend of mine named Kyle invited me to visit his fourth grade class at Congdon Elementary School in Duluth. The kids in Ms. Peterson’s class are writing reports about birds, and also making wonderful three-dimensional representations of state birds which were hanging up in their classroom when I visited.

I didn’t come to the class alone–I brought Sneakers, my licensed education Blue Jay, who absolutely loves fourth grade. I told the kids the story of how I got her–her nest was knocked out of a tree when she was tiny, and I raised her and her three surviving brothers and sisters. The other three were perfectly normal little Blue Jays, but Sneakers was only interested in people, so when it came time to release her, she just wouldn’t leave.

I told them how she followed some kids to Lakeside School once and flew into an open window into a first grade class to the children’s delight and the teacher’s shock. Ms. Peterson’s class’s favorite story was about how Sneakers hates crayons. When she was little, she often watched my children coloring. They’d start out with a perfectly normal piece of white paper, and then do something until the paper wasn’t white anymore–it was all colorful. Sneakers knew it had something to do with those crayons, but no matter what she seemed to do with them, her paper always stayed plain white.

So she took a particular dislike to crayons. Naturally, the kids in Ms. Peterson’s class wanted to see exactly what a Blue Jay who hates crayons does when she gets one, so a nice girl named Kathryn donated a purple one. Sneakers grabbed it, held it with her feet, and pummeled it with her beak until it was chopped to smithereens. Kathryn kept a little shred of the crayon wrapper as a souvenir.

Then we watched slides of some of the birds the children will see when they visit the Environmental Learning Center in March. Sneakers didn’t like the sudden change in focus from her to some two dimensional birds on the screen, so she decided to make a few vocalizations to attract attention to herself. Sneakers often whistles at home, and a few times she’s whistled in bookstores or bird feed stores while accompanying me at book signings, but she’s only whistled once in a classroom–that was in Mr. Ahlen’s fifth grade science class at Ordean Junior High School in Duluth. She apparently wanted Mr. Ahlen’s class to maintain their unique status, so she didn’t whistle in Ms. Peterson’s class–instead, she did something she’s never done in public anywhere before–she talked. As clear as a bell, the kids all heard her say, “Hi,” and “C’mon!”

The kids had learned a lot about birds in their class unit, so they had many good questions and interesting comments. They’re at an age where they aren’t too self-conscious yet, so they pretty much all joined in when we did loon calls and owl hoots. Sneakers found the whole adventure great fun, and is more certain than ever that fourth grade is a neat place to be. Sneakers has long been ready for school, but not even Ms. Peterson’s fourth grade class is ready to take on Sneakers as a full time student. She’s a pretty smart cookie, but she needs to learn a few things, like building her vocabulary a bit, how to hold a crayon properly, and how to open the door to, and actually use, the girl’s rest room.