Paintings, books, and waxwings with Olivia Bouler, conservationist

By Hugh Powell
Olivia Bouler
Olivia poses with her book before a portrait of Louis Agassiz Fuertes, one of the premier bird artists of the 20th century. Photo by Tim Gallagher.

About 400 people piled into the Visitor Center at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on Saturday. Maybe half of them were kids—tots in strollers, gangly 6-year-olds, a boy scout troop—and they had come to see a conservationist not much older than themselves: Olivia Bouler.

Olivia’s pledge to help during last year’s BP oil spill caught the hearts of the nation and has raised more than $175,000 for conservation in the last year. Now she and her family are on a short book tour in support of a compilation of her warm, brash, and somehow attitude-perfect paintings, Olivia’s Birds.

In person, Olivia was charming and effusive, as well as polite and down-to-earth. On breaks from book signing she flew a plush Pileated Woodpecker puppet around the Visitor Center, raising and lowering its red crest for effect. Later, she joined two of our visiting artists, Ernesto Hernandez-Fernandez and Jane Kim, and taught an art workshop with the visiting children.

I sat down with Olivia during a pause in the activity and heard a bit about her visit. The family was staying with Dr. Steve Kress, the leader of Project Puffin, whose office is at the Cornell Lab. Olivia’s younger brother, Jackson, has worked with Project Puffin, but he was most excited about Dr. Kress’s foosball table. They had spent the morning birding with our staff, finding a few Rusty Blackbirds along the trails. Olivia seemed most jazzed about a Cedar Waxwing and an American Kestrel—two birds she hadn’t yet seen in the wild, she told me.

In her first letter to Audubon during the spill last year, Olivia mentioned that she loved birds and dreamed of going to Cornell someday. I asked her if she still felt that way after all the commotion of the last year. “Oh you better save a place for me,” she said. “You haven’t seen the last of me.”

Then she gave everyone in the room a hug and left for a sightseeing tour of Ithaca. In a Facebook picture her mom posted later in the day, Olivia’s standing in front of a waterfall. The Pileated Woodpecker puppet is soaring over her brother’s head, and their dad, James, is still wearing his Cornell name tag. We’ll keep a place for them all.

See more photos from Olivia’s visit on Living Bird magazine’s Facebook page.

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