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Wednesdays, October 12 through November 16, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM | REGISTER NOW


Enhanced health & safety protocols in place for all in-person Curious Minds courses, including mandatory masking (except while eating or drinking) and physically distanced seating. Registration is limited!

Increasingly, research links exposure to nature with improved wellbeing. In particular, a recent study from Germany revealed a direct link between seeing birds and experiencing happiness. Why do birds, and the diverse and colourful landscapes they inhabit around the world, make us so much happier? This new series from Curious Minds favourite Julia Zarankin will explore the magic of nature and how appreciating its winged inhabitants—their strange behaviors, odd names, extravagant plumages and hairdos—invariably leads to a greater sense of wonder. Adapted from Julia’s memoir, Field Notes From An Unintentional Birder, a Globe and Mail best-seller, and spanning the realms of art, philosophy and natural history, this fun and uplifting course is perfect for nature lovers and newbies alike: a spirited celebration of what our feathered friends can teach us about the world and about ourselves.

This series is led by Dr. Julia Zarankin, a writer, lecturer and passionate birder who holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University. She enjoys teaching in venues across the GTA and has taught popular Curious Minds courses on topics like Catherine the Great and the Hermitage Museum and Literary Cities: New York, Paris, St. Petersburg and the Birth of the Modern Age.

Course registration: $69 (Hot Docs Members: $60, $48, Free)

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Curious Minds Speaker Series sponsored by

Hollywood Suite


October 12: Modern-day Dinosaurs

We’ll begin our journey through the wonders of the natural world by exploring the fascinating lineage of birds. We’ll travel back in time in order to get to know “archaeopteryx”, the earliest known bird, and trace the evolution of the species that we know today, modern day descendants of the dinosaurs!

October 19: Flight and Migration

Aristotle believed that swallows hibernated. Charles Morton thought that birds flew to the moon when they disappeared in the fall. Migration has long fascinated scientists, but the fanciful myths weren’t fully debunked until 1822. We’ll unpack the story behind how birds fly, why they migrate and what these crazy theories reveal about the humans who love them.

October 26: Vocal Divas

The magic of birds isn’t just about their extraordinary plumages; birds are also vocal wizards. The influence of birdsong on music runs deep and we’ll see how composers such as Mozart, Olivier Messiaen, and Emily Doolittle incorporate avian vocalizations into their work.

November 2: Extinction, Survival, Rebirth

From the dodo to the majestic ivory-billed woodpecker, we’ll get to know some of the species that we once took for granted, including the Eskimo curlew, the great auk and the passenger pigeon. Birds continues to be threatened today, most significantly by habitat loss and climate change, but we’ll also discuss several recent conservation success stories.

November 9: Feathers: The Most Vivid Expression of Life

Upon seeing the flash of gold when a northern flicker took flight, Roger Tory Peterson famously said that “birds are the most vivid expression of life.” Bird feathers are used for warmth, as well as courtship, display, aggression. Humans have been using feathers for self-adornment and as status symbols for millennia. We will also explore how the millinery trade and Victorian hat craze in the 19th century decimated bird populations, and with the intervention of women conservationists ultimately led to the Migratory Bird Act.

November 16: How, and Where, to Learn From the Magic of Birds

The class will end with some practical tips about how to look for birds and where to go in order to find them. We’ll also discuss the importance of protecting the common species to ensure their continued flourishing and survival.

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