In the summer of 2015, the Sonoran Joint Venture, Ironwood Tree Experience, and Tucson Audubon Society received a grant from the Heritage Fund Program of the Arizona Game and Fish Department to implement an outdoor, experiential learning program for youth ages 12-18. The goal of the All About Birds EcoProgram was to teach participants about southeastern Arizona birds and habitats, contribute to conservation, and make connections between youth and professionals working in the field of natural resource conservation.
Over the course of 18 months, participants went on fifteen different outings where they hiked, collected data for citizen science efforts, and taught other young people about birds and conservation. Students birded in different locations throughout the Tucson basin and southern Arizona, including world renowned birding sites such as: the Patagonia Roadside Rest, Saguaro National Park, Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds, Mount Lemmon, Pima Canyon, and Tumacacori National Historical Park.
Students also visited urban sites, including Sweetwater Wetlands, the Kino Environmental Resource Park, and the University of Arizona campus. Visiting a combination of wilderness and urban locations helped students develop a solid understanding about habitat diversity and how it impacts bird distribution, and how we can take measures to conserve nature in our own backyards. It also taught them why southern Arizona is such an important place for birds and other wildlife.
Over the course of the program, students observed nearly 100 different bird species and submitted 15 checklists to eBird. By putting their observations into this database, students contributed to the scientific knowledge and understanding of birds in our region.
All About Birds offered skill development to youth at all levels. All participants learned about bird identification, the ecosystems of southern Arizona, and conservation issues facing birds and other wildlife in the region. Beginners gained foundational skills such as care and use of binoculars, basic points of bird identification, and general natural history observation. Intermediate participants worked on developing a keen eye for field marks to help with more advanced bird identification and learned to take field notes. Advanced participants gained skills in group leadership and mentoring, and more advanced bird identification topics. They also took a leadership role in using tools and technology for tracking of bird observations (e.g., leading the creation of eBird checklists for each outing, helping with the spotting scope, etc.)
At Saguaro National Park, students learned from park biologist Natasha Klein about issues affecting the Sonoran Desert and the Park’s habitat restoration and bird monitoring efforts. After the program, two of our students returned to the park on their own time to work with Ms. Klein in these activities as part of a special internship opportunity.
Students also assisted Tucson Audubon Society staff at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds by planting native species in a restoration area along Patagonia Creek. Students also learned about the different techniques and tools restoration ecologists are using in the region.
At the University of Arizona Genetics Core, Dr. Taylor Edwards taught students about the laboratory side of biology, and opportunities for studying genetics or biology in college. He shared the high-tech tools that the Genetics Lab uses and gave some concrete examples of how this work has supported things like desert tortoise conservation.
All About Birds students also had the opportunity to put their new knowledge into action by mentoring and teaching other teens, including refugee youth, as well as adults. These opportunities included leading bird walks at the Tucson Audubon Meet Your Birds event at Sweetwater Wetlands, and leading youth-focused birding activities at the 2016 4-H Cooperative Extension Earth Day.
One of the most important successes of this program has been providing a safe space where young people who are interested in birds and the environment can come together to share their passion and interests. For many of our participants, these field trips were the first time they had ever been with other young people with a similar interest in birds.
It has been particularly rewarding to see participants increase their comfort level and develop new outreach and communication skills, as well as improving their ability to relay an impressive amount of birding knowledge at such a young age.
Just read what some participants are saying about the program:
I have been in programs with Ironwood Tree Experience for five years. Most recently, I’ve been a part of the All About Birds trips. The impact that the program has had on me has been incredible. My ability to recognize and identify birds has grown immensely over the course of the time I’ve spent in the program. For instance, my knowledge of raptors was minimal before entering the program, and I am now capable of utilizing my understanding of field marks to distinguish between hawks and falcons, and even between species such as Cooper’s Hawks and Red-Tailed Hawks. My skill set has expanded, and I’m now capable of using many different pieces of equipment, including binoculars, field guides, spotting scopes, and online resources. I feel confident in teaching and leading others with what I’ve learned. I led multiple walks as a teen leader with the Tucson Audubon Society at the Meet Your Birds event in Sweetwater Wetlands.
~Hannah Love, 17
In 2014 I was given the opportunity to go birding for the first time as part of the All About Birds Program. On the first outing I went on, which took place in Pima Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, my eyes opened to a new world. Previously unseen beauties of the Sonoran Desert began to unravel upon my eyes. The desert never seemed so alive before. Being exposed to species like the Verdin, the American Kestrel and the Cactus Wren, along with birding experts, changed my perspective on the distinctiveness of this region of the world I live in. ~Alfredo Vasquez, 16
Want to learn more? If you or someone you know is interested, please join us for a trip this spring!