In our Spark Bird series, we capture the "birding origin stories" of everyone, from ornithologists to bus drivers to comedians. Explore the Spark Birds using the links below.
Chidi Paige and the Yellow Warbler
When Chidi Paige moved from Nigeria to the U.S., she began running a youth STEM program and had to teach lessons on bird identification. She was in for a challenge: she had to learn the local bird species quickly. On a birding trip, she spotted a Yellow Warbler in a pine tree. The beautiful warbler got Chidi hooked on birding. She has designed several games to make learning bird identification fun for kids.
Rosemary Mosco's Bird and Moon
Rosemary Mosco was drawn to birds as a shy child, because they rewarded patience. In college, she struggled to connect with her classes in anthropology. She began volunteering with a group in Toronto that tries to stop birds from hitting windows. At the same time, she created a cartoon about a lonely bird that befriends the moon and flies around the city having adventures. She now combines art and science as a cartoonist and science writer.
Kira Jane Buxton's Crow Rescue
Kira Jane Buxton wrote two novels about a foul-mouthed pet crow navigating the extinction of humanity. But her love for crows began just a few years before writing the books. She found an injured crow surrounded by 60 others calling out in alarm. Though Kira was nervous, she took the crow to a wildlife rehabilitator. Sadly, the crow didn’t survive. But since then, Kira has bonded with her local crows and visits them regularly.
Drew Lanham Takes Flight
Acclaimed ornithologist and writer J. Drew Lanham’s obsession with birds began when he was a kid, when he wished to take flight alongside them. He tried out cardboard wings and an umbrella, trying to defeat gravity. He kept refining his designs and finding better jump-off spots. He eventually gave up on trying to fly, but he never stopped loving birds.
A Blackburnian Warbler’s Journey
Justine Bowe fell in love with birds when she was a kid, on a hike with her dad when she saw the fiery colors of a Blackburnian Warbler. Justine now manages the Bird Friendly Coffee program at the Smithsonian Institute's Migratory Bird Center, working with coffee farmers to preserve habitat for birds that migrate to Central and South America. In Colombia, she got to see Blackburnian Warblers spending winter on bird-friendly farms.
Nick Belardes and the Vermilion Flycatcher
Author Nick Belardes was walking at a park near his home in San Luis Obispo, California, when he saw a man who seemed in tune with birds. Belardes asked him what the coolest bird around was, and the man replied Vermilion Flycatcher. Belardes and his wife soon went out looking for the ruby-like bird, finally spotting it through rain and mist. He remembers that sighting as a turning point that drew him deeper into the world of birds.
Walter and Patch
Sculptor and musician Walter Kitundu first became enraptured by birds in 2005 when a Red-tailed Hawk flew four feet above his head. He named the bird Patch, after the white patch on the back of her head, and kept returning to the park to see her. Patch became used to Walter, accepting him as part of the landscape. He documented her transition from juvenile to adult, learning her quirks and mannerisms.
The First Robin of Spring
Rasheena Fountain studied environmental science and worked at her local Audubon Society. Now she writes about nature and diversity in the outdoors. And what got her interested in the first place? It all started in kindergarten, with a teacher named Miss Beak and the first robin of spring.
Birding from the Bus
Kelsen Caldwell drives a bus in and around Seattle for King County Metro. As a bus driver, sometimes there’s downtime if your bus is moving too fast. What do you do with all that extra time? If you’re Kelsen, you fall in love with birds.
Kaeli Swift and the Rooftop Crows
When Dr. Kaeli Swift was in college, she became obsessed with the Corvid family of birds, which includes crows, ravens and jays. She decided to study whether crows learn to recognize certain human faces as friendly. She tried putting a mask on a mannequin holding peanuts, but the crows spotted the trick right away. Swift had to find a creative solution.
Tig Notaro and the Dinosaurs
Tig Notaro is known for her acting, writing, and especially her deadpan comedy. Less well known is her love for birds. Watching the film Jurassic Park, she noticed how the dinosaurs were portrayed to move similarly to birds, and it piqued her interest. These days, she has bird feeders outside pretty much every window of her house, so she and her kids can always look out and see those modern-day dinosaurs.
Ryan Mandelbaum and the Great Blue Heron
As a kid, science writer Ryan Mandelbaum avoided birds, thinking they were gross and kind of scary. But doing a video project in journalism school, Ryan had to search all over to get footage of a Great Blue Heron. When Ryan found one in its nest, they were shocked at how majestic and beautiful the bird was. Years later, Ryan and their spouse go birding all the time, planning vacations around what birds they might see.
Olivia Wang and the Sky Dancers
When Olivia Wang was in college, she did field work with Northern Harriers. She remembers the first time she saw a male doing a courtship display known as sky dancing: “It's just all these aerial acrobatics and loops and dives. And it was just… breathtaking to watch — and it still is every time I see it.” She’s now a grad student at the University of Hawaii Manoa, doing research on the Hawaiian Short-eared Owl.
Diana Sudyka's First Bird ID
When illustrator Diana Sudyka was in second grade, she was given a Peterson’s Bird Field Guide. She still remembers making her first bird ID — a Brown-headed Cowbird. Even years later, Sudyka’s love of birds has stuck with her. She recently illustrated the children’s book, How to Find a Bird, by Jennifer Ward. So Sudyka’s work might go on to inspire more bird lovers — just like that guidebook.
Corina Newsome Meets the Blue Jay
In an ornithology class in college, Corina Newsome was introduced to the Blue Jay. After this, Newsome was determined to learn about the world of birds she had never noticed before. Now she’s an avian ecology graduate student and Community Engagement Manager for Georgia Audubon, where she can pass her passion on to others.
A Lifetime in Science
When he was just a kid, Gordon Orians kept notebooks about the birds he saw. And then he realized he could make discoveries – he could add to the body of knowledge and contribute to science. That opened a whole new world to him, and he has spent the rest of his life studying birds and the natural world.
Yellow Warbler © Skip Russell / FCC
American Goldfinch © Doug Greenberg
Gila Woodpecker © Mick Thompson
American Crow © xxmidnightxrainexx
Mallard © Robbie / FCC
Blackburnian Warbler © Ryan Mandelbaum FCC
Vermillion Flycatcher © Peder Toftegaard Olsen
Red-tailed Hawk © Walter Kitundu
American Robin © Kenneth Cole Schneider
American Crows at sunset © Lori / FCC
American Crow © Richard George CC
Northern Cardinal © J. Michael Raby FCC
Great Blue Heron © Andy Morffew
Northern Harriers © Tom Koerner/USFWS-Mountain Prairie CC
Brown-headed Cowbird © Kelly Colgan Azar
Blue Jay © Eric Bégin
Spotted Sandpiper © Phil Hauck