For the birds: Farmington High opening one of the only in-school aviaries in the nation

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Courtesy of Farmington High School

FARMINGTON, Utah (ABC4) – It seemed that one of the newest high schools in Davis County was destined to have a strong connection to the avian world.

Farmington High School, which opened in 2018, was built about a mile away from the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area on Glovers Lane, an 18,000-acre wetlands region known as a hotspot for migratory birds and birdwatchers.

When the administration presented a list of options for the school’s nickname while the building was under construction, the bird-related mascots filled the ballot including Eagles, Firebirds, and Ducks. Ultimately, the Phoenix, a bird from Greek mythology that rises from the ashes of its own combustion, was chosen to represent the students.

While there are no actual Phoenixes at Farmington High School (after all, it is a mythical creature), the building will soon boast a collection of exotic birds in a student-built and managed aviary. According to the Davis County School District, Farmington High will have one of the only aviaries in a high school throughout the entire country.

Adam Blundell, the school’s head science teacher, who instructs a course on ornithology (the study of birds), believes Farmington High’s bird obsession is a natural result of its location near the Waterfowl Management Area.

“It’s located right by Farmington Bay. I mean, it is the absolute best place in the world for high school to study birds,” Blundell, who has a background in zoology, states. “It’d be equivalent to building a high school in Moab, you might as well offer geology courses, right?”

Blundell is also confident that a high school ornithology program is “super rare” in the United States, adding that his class offerings are extremely popular and often have a waitlist of students trying to learn more about birds.

As part of his curriculum, Blundell takes his students on field trips nearly every two weeks, to visit the wetlands and see the waterfowl just down the street. He’s struck up a friendship with the area’s wildlife education center coordinator, Billy Fenimore, who says the students from Farmington High make up a large part of the center’s visitors, even after class lets out.

“It’s kind of cool because we have a variety of other folks from the public out here visiting and all suddenly see all these teenagers, and they’re like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ and they’re excited to see the kids in high school are interested in the wetlands,” Fenimore tells ABC4.com.

Wanting to expand his ornithology program to include more rare and exotic birds that aren’t native to Utah, Blundell proposed building an aviary in a seldom-used conference room in the school. To his surprise, the school board thought it was an excellent idea.

Getting the artificial habitat ready for a pair of red and green Macaws from South America, some Fischer lovebirds from Africa, and a bunch of Eastern rosella birds and Grasskeets from Australia has been a project involving the entire school. Students from the shop class framed and built the structure, art class students painted a mural for the walls, and students in computer science class designed an interactive app for the touchscreen in front of the exhibits.

The students will also take charge of maintaining the exhibit and caring for the animals, even during the summer months. Blundell says this will provide invaluable training for any Phoenix coeds looking to make a career in the bird world.

It’s a great setup for the birds as well, he adds.

“All of them are birds that cannot be released into the wild. Some of them are captive-raised, some of them are just simply foreign birds who would not survive in our area and our climate,” Blundell explains. “In a way, we’re sort of a rescue facility and an adoption service for some birds that are really in need of care. The students love doing it and it provides job training for future careers.”

As someone who has made a career in ornithology, Fenimore feels inspired seeing a new generation of teenagers who are interested not only in birds but in better understanding the nature that immediately surrounds them.

“These young kids who are going to be our future and will be the voice for the wetlands, these lands, and the Great Salt Lake and can help educate mom and dad and grandparents or those folks around them,” he gushes. “These guys are the ‘Champions of the Wild’ as I call them and we’re going to rely on them for the future and to take care of this place.”

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