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This article appeared in the "Editor's File"
in The Textbook Letter, March-April 1998.

Birdbrains

William J. Bennetta

They're here again, folks: Them Harmonizin' Injuns! This time we meet them in Globe Fearon's schoolbook Exploring American History, where they not only live "in harmony with nature" but also display their knowledge of bird lore.

On page 27 of Exploring American History, we learn how the Amerindians of southeastern North America were able to "protect their corn crops from blackbirds and crows." During the day, it seems, the Indians scared the birds off by making loud noises or waving pieces of cloth, and at night they "built bonfires to keep the birds away."

Poor Indians! They could have got more sleep and could have saved a lot of firewood if they had noticed that blackbirds and crows (like all the other grain-eating birds of North America) are diurnal and forage only in daylight. At night these birds retire to their nests or roosts. Virtually the only birds that might have been feeding at night, and that might have been repelled by the Indians' fires, were owls -- the very birds that, by destroying nocturnal rodents, could have helped the Indians to "protect their corn crops."


William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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