by Anna Murphy
Americorps Urban Environmental Educator and
Young Birders Leader
From the Olympic Coast to a grand tour of Eastern Washington, teens in Seattle Audubon’s Young Birders program have birded a lot of ground in the past few years. This program is an after-school club for teens aged 13-18 who are interested in birding and conservation, and field trips are an important element. Two years ago, I had the privilege of taking on leadership of the Young Birders. Before the pandemic, we would come together for monthly meetings, outdoor group activities, and scientific monitoring throughout the school year. When the pandemic hit last March, the state of Young Birders seemed uncertain with the switch to all-virtual group gatherings.
The saying “birds bring us all together” couldn’t ring more true, as this group of teens hasn’t let distance get in the way of coming together for the love of birds. From Seattle to as far as Olympia and Portland, Young Birders flocked to the challenge and created a virtual community space to connect with each other. Between monthly Zoom meetings, the teens used Slack, an online communication platform, to share their individual birding adventures and artistic creations, and to debate the identities of mystery birds.
Now in my second year, I see a new generation of energetic bird lovers. These teens express their appreciation of birds in many ways: through art and photography, by launching and leading their own birding club at school, and by volunteering at a bird sanctuary. I am struck with their capacity to combine their appreciation of birds with an awareness of the threats birds face. Young Birders are acutely attuned to issues like habitat loss and climate change, and understand that birds play an important role in ecosystems around the world.
Teen birder Marie felt the loss of habitat close to home. Marie joined Young Birders six years ago, looking for a way to connect her life-long love of birds with others her age. As she went birdwatching in her Seattle neighborhood, she observed trees being cut down. Marie saw the loss of habitat as a significant threat to birds. In response, Marie helped convert her front yard into a native plant garden. Over the years, Marie and her family have excitedly counted an ever-growing number of visiting bird species, with the latest yard count at 60.
When Marie reflects on the future of these birds, she hopes to see Seattle as a city that serves both birds and people, providing native vegetation and space for birds to feed and nest.
It can feel overwhelming to think about the many hazards birds face in our urban environment. But the next generation of birders, like Marie and others, are mobilized by their awareness of these threats, and use their knowledge and creativity to actively support bird conservation. The resilience of these teens coming together in a pandemic is reflected in the birds flocking together in Marie’s yard in a changing world. I feel hope seeing the Young Birders unite in a shared purpose.
Oregon Junco nest discovered in Marie’s yard after adding native plants which provide additional food and nesting opportunities to birds.
Three bird-attracting native plants to add to your yard:
attracts grouse, pheasants, flickers, robins, thrushes, bluebirds, waxwings, grosbeaks, juncos, and hummingbirds
attracts sparrows, juncos, finches, and hummingbirds
attracts robins, waxwings, juncos, towhees, and sparrows
Native plants from Gardenia.com
More in this issue of EarthCare Northwest
Former Young Birder, Rebekah Graham, reflects on her time camping and appreciating nature with Seattle Audubon, and how that laid the foundation for her current work to redefine “outdoorsy”.
The next generation of bird advocates share with us their hopes for the future of bird and people.
Seattle Audubon established the NextGen Advisory Council in the fall of 2018, to elevate the perspectives and expertise of young professionals and student activists.