Let’s go birding together – Jessie Barry’s thoughts about the birding community

giugno 08 2020

#Bird watching #GoBirding

Let’s go birding together – Jessie Barry’s thoughts about the birding community

Most birders are very social beings. Going birding together is just double the fun. You can learn so much from a fellow birding companion or a mentor. Unfortunately, going out together is not possible everywhere now. But, no need to fret. Let’s still be connected through our team spirit and citizen science efforts.

Having started birding at a very young age, renowned ornithologist Jessie Barry has benefitted greatly from the tremendous support given to young birders by the community. In this interview, she shares her view of the birding scene and how together with the team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology they are trying to foster an even closer-knit birding family.


How would you describe the birding community?

It is a community of passionate people, who love birds and who have a great team spirit.




When and how did your passion for birding start and when did you first enter the birding scene?

My great-uncle Tom was an ornithologist. He had been inspired by his mother, my great-grandmother also called Jessie Barry, who was a birder. She had been encouraging her son to watch birds. He took this plunge into ornithology and studied geese in the Canadian Arctic. My grandfather would go visit these field sites and come back with incredible stories about wolverines in abandoned churches, and polar bears walking through their tent. As a child, all I wanted was to go to the Arctic to study birds too.

In sixth grade, I was supposed to be reading in class. Most kids chose a novel, yet I went for a field guide. My science teacher noticed that I was reading a bird book and he became my mentor during middle school and high school. We had a bird club where we would go out during lunch to watch hawks.

By the time I was 14, I had the opportunity to go to an American Birding Association Convention where I met David Sibley, Steve Howell and Jon Dunn – all the people that had written the books that I had read. That was my first taste of the national birding scene.

During my undergraduate years at the University of Washington, I began exploring the scientific side of birding when working with Seivert Rower on molt-migration studying passerines in Southeast US during summer time. I wrote my first paper and got a sense of what it is actually like to be an ornithologist.

I always had and still have this strong wish of getting more people excited about birds. Luckily, I found my home at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It offers this amazing combination where birding meets ornithology and where we can engage a community to collect scientifically valuable data. It is the perfect spot for me to be able to use science to inform conservation and most importantly to engage people in that process.




Were there any people that guided you and encouraged you to become the professional birder you are today?

There have been so many people that really helped me tremendously in my teens (13-20 years), like Steve Howell, Michael O’Brien or John Dunn. They recognized my passion and were so supportive. So, making those connections and learning from them really set me years ahead in my current path.

If you are lucky enough to start young, as I did, there is a lot of active support for young birders. I benefitted so greatly from this fantastic community and programs that were available for teenagers, so that I was not just off on my own. I had friends my age across the country who were birding too. Even though there was no one at my school per se, there was AOL instant messenger. We would chat and talk about everything from where we wanted to go for summer camp to what rare birds we wanted find next. I think it is just so important for young birders to find that community. So I am trying to figure out: How can we connect those young birders who do not have anybody to share it with yet? What online platforms can be provided to help them connect?


Are you trying to contribute to that community feeling?

Yes, definitely. My husband and I are running a young birders program at Cornell. Each summer, we invite 16 high school students from around the world to the Cornell Lab and these young birders can explore careers involving birds. It is very near and dear to our heart to be able to offer that opportunity to the next generation. In the end, about a third of those students visiting actually later join the Lab as fantastic, enthusiastic students who contribute so much to projects. For Merlin, e.g., the undergraduate students have gathered thousands of photos, edited sounds and created the database that powers the app. It is great that they can be part of it.

We love to show them that there are different ways to have a career involving birds. There is not just the researcher-scientist. That is just one path. You could also be working in multimedia, creating films. You could be in science communication. You could do computer science developing or designing applications… There are so many options to have birds be part of your professional life.




Who are your favorite birding companions?

At birding festivals and events, I get to take out people of all skill levels. It is really fun for me to understand where people get started. I love to watch people use our tools to watch birds. My husband is really into birding and so are some great friends we have. At Cornell we get to see all our birding friends during the week which is wonderful, but it is also important to me to take some time off. On the weekend, we go out and get away from the buzz of the birding community. It is a challenge to go birding and not think about the tools we are creating, which makes it hard to disconnect from work.

Drawing birds takes me out of the work side of it. I also do a lot of yoga and go paddle boarding. With my paddle board, I can enjoy to go out into the marshes and see all those birds.


Thank you for your time and the interesting conversation.

For further information on Jessie Barry, go to: Birding for the greater good




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