David M. Bird

As a high school student, David Bird asked his guidance counsellor if he could make good money as a wildlife biologist. The counsellor told him it wasn’t likely. “I was very money-oriented at the time, and I decided to shy away from wildlife, even though I still had a lot of interest in it.” Instead, David pursued his second love—fast cars. He enrolled in an engineering program to build cars, but within a month became disenchanted. Soon David found something that rekindled his childhood interest in birds of prey. After flipping through a calendar for the University of Guelph, David decided to transfer universities and specialize in zoology.

There he rediscovered his love of birds: “I had tunnel vision for birds of prey throughout the rest of my degree. I had a drive. I had a raison d’être.” Today, David is a full professor of wildlife biology specializing in ornithology at McGill University. He spends a third of his time teaching a range of students, which he enjoys. “I’m churning out disciples. They may not think exactly like me and that’s fine, but they’re people going out there and using the information I give to them.”

Another third of David’s time is spent as the director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre at McGill. He also has a large captive population of American kestrels, a small falcon, which attracts many scientists wanting to collaborate with him on a variety of studies. The final third of David’s time is spent attending department and faculty meetings. He enjoys this variety of responsibilities, coupled with the relative freedom of his job. “As a professor, I’m my own boss. There’s nobody making me punch in and out each day…I get paid to do something I love, and no two days are ever alike.”

One of the few drawbacks to David’s job is having to dispel the myth that professors are solely academics detached from everyday life. “I interact greatly with the outside world.” His interactions include writing columns for the Montreal Gazette and being involved with several ornithological societies. David’s activities reflect his passion for ornithology. “I’m not your average professor. I tend to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I like to strike a good balance.”