by Morgan Steele, Design Editor
To most students birds just fall into the background of the day-to-day, but to Junior Nora Livingston and Sophomore Austin Patton– self-proclaimed “bird nerds” and the only members of the College’s newly created Bird Crew – birds are so much more. Every day we hear birds and see them, they’re always around us but we aren’t necessarily aware of their presence.
“You can go your whole life seeing birds and hearing birds but not really seeing them,” said Livingston, Bird Crew student leader. “It gives me a better sense of place when I can recognize my surroundings, and it feels a little bit more like home if everything is familiar. A lot of students in Warren Wilson are interested in that sense of place and the natural intertwining of nature in their daily lives. Knowing about birds can help people feel that.”
Livingston hatched the idea for Bird Crew last fall in Santa Cruz Island, California where she conducted population studies on the Island Scrub Jay. A friend suggested that Livingston start a Bird Crew after observing her enthusiasm for birds and birding. Livingston proposed the idea to Lou Weber, field zoology and wildlife biology professor, and asked her to be the crew supervisor.
“We proposed the crew through e-mail while I was on Santa Cruz Island,” Livingston said. “It was approved, so I knew I’d be coming back to school with a new crew and one other crew member.”
To find another crew member, Weber sent out e-mails to a handful of students. One of those students was sophomore Austin Patton.
“My interest [in birds and birding] really only peaked near the end of my first semester here,” Patton said. “I had grown up with two parents who were ornithologists, and so of course as a kid was all I wanted to do was dislike what they liked.”
Despite Patton’s attempts to resist his parents’ bird-loving tendencies, he realized in the second half of his freshman year at the College that his childhood experiences with birds and birding really influenced him. One of his fondest childhood memories was when his parents were studying Worm-Eating Warblers. They would catch the birds and band them, and allow Patton, then a child, to hold them.
“That [memory] stuck with me since I was a kid,” Patton said. “Now that I got away from that whole background, I suddenly started to realize that I was paying attention to the birds… I wanted to know more about them, so I got myself a field guide.”
Patton had only been seriously birding for a few months when he received Weber’s e-mail searching for Bird Crew recruits.
“This opportunity was fairly ideal,” Patton said. “It was the embodiment of everything that I was interested in, the potential for research, the potential for banding… To be able to do that as a work crew and to get paid for it was too much to resist. As a learning experience and as an opportunity… I probably wouldn’t get later, I had to go for it.”
On Triad Day of this semester, Livingston and Patton sat down together for the first time and tried to answer the ultimate question: What would Bird Crew do?
“Were just developing the crew right now,” Livingston said. “It’s just beginning to take wing.”
Education quickly arose as the Crew’s first role. They are working on establishing a Bird Blog, on which they will post a bird of the week and answer any questions students ask concerning birds, such as species identification and how to care for an injured bird.
In addition to the blog, Livingston and Patton are leading bird walks in order to provide an experiential way for the campus community to learn about the birds that live on campus. They’ve led a few bird walks off campus and plan to continue leading weekly off campus walks and bi-weekly on campus walks. During these bird walks, Patton or Livingston lead students and faculty to designated “hot spots” – areas like Dogwood or the Farm where lots of birds can be found. Students are provided with binoculars and transportation.
“We’ll teach anyone who doesn’t know about birds what they’re hearing, what they’re seeing,” Patton said. “This gives people an opportunity to get familiar with birds they never have before.”
“Its just a nice way to be around campus,” Livingston said. “A lot of people go on walks but this is a little bit slower of a walk… You get to see things and learn things as well, which is really fun.”
If you want to go birding with Bird Crew, you can e-mail Livingston or Patton about going on bird walks. If you have a bird-related question, you can forward it to the Bird crew blog.
After a few weeks back on campus, Livingston and Patton started proposing different ways to utilize Bird Crew on campus. One project they’re considering, for example, involves researching the Savannah Sparrow Meadowlark, a field bird that sets up its nest in farm fields just before farmers cut the hay with tractors in order to make bales.
“This cuts up the nests to bits, totally throws off the parents, and oftentimes kills the young,” Patton said. “So my thought is that if we can establish a solid set of data for the fields on Warren Wilson campus, we can potentially redirect the farm crew to wait until a certain date to cut particular field because it may be a hot spot.”