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This Weekend: Young Birders Flock to Cornell Lab

participants at 2011 Young Birders Event
Participants at the 2011 Young Birders Event.

A highly accomplished group of young birders will gather here at the Cornell Lab this weekend for our fourth annual Young Birders Event, sponsored this year by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics.

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Their agenda is packed with opportunities to go birding—but they’ll also spend time inside, learning about bird-centered careers from professional ornithologists and students here at the Cornell Lab. They’ll get to try their hand at recording birds in the field with professional sound and video equipment; and they’ll learn from our experts about Neotropical birds, taxonomy, the night-flight calls of migrants, and the art of field notes and sketches. (Read more about the 2010 and 2011 events.)

Admission to the Young Birders program is competitive, and enrollment is limited to 10 students each year. In their applications, this year’s 10 expressed a common theme: their hunger for contact with others their own age who are as passionate about birds as they are. “Birds are what I think about during the day and what I dream about at night,”  wrote one eleventh-grader from Ohio.

Each of the teens has something else in common—they’ve put their passion into action. Many are already licensed bird-banders, lead bird tours, or have set up birding clubs for young people in their area. They are dedicated eBirders, submitting observations to the online checklist program, sometimes on a daily basis. They run birding blogs, write for birding newsletters, and take their own pictures of birds.

And they have big dreams. They want to be field researchers, become involved in wildlife conservation, or teach. They are fascinated by bird diversity, flight, and sound. They have favorites: gulls, owls, warblers. They are as diverse as the birds they love but united in their profound attachment to birds. In some cases, birds have been a bridge to normalcy in the face of injury or illness.

“Many times I was overwhelmed by the task before me and what I was bound to face,” says a Connecticut ninth-grader dealing with serious health issues. “Birds were my allies. I had so many experiences where I was reminded how special life is and how I must fight for mine every day, just like the birds do.”

“These young birders will be the next generation of leaders in ornithology and conservation,” says the Cornell Lab’s Jessie Barry, one of the hosts of the event. “Though we started this event in 2009 as a way to connect young birders with each other and inspire them, we come away just as inspired by their passion and enthusiasm.”

If you know of a promising young birder in grades 9 through 12, tell them about the Young Birder’s Event and have them contact Jessie Barry at to find out more about the 2013 session.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library