Students with a unique shared hobby are finally flocking together at Binghamton University.
The BU Audubon Society, a bird-watching club founded last year, has been officially chartered this spring as a Student Association (SA) organization and a recognized chapter of the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bird conservation.
Club president and founding member Lisa Viviano, a junior majoring in biology, grew up with birds as pets and was inspired by her mom’s affinity for wild species.
“It’s just always been this passion for them, to a point where in high school, everyone called me ‘Bird Lady,’” she laughed.
When Viviano arrived at BU as a transfer student during her sophomore year, she heard from a roommate that the National Audubon Society had emailed the environmental studies department looking to set up a BU chapter. Viviano contacted the society’s outreach associate and started planning a bird club at BU, meeting other interested students through classes, mutual friends or professors. The club recruited members last spring, started SA paperwork over the summer and began hosting events this past fall.
The club usually hosts outdoor bird-watching excursions, along with occasional indoor activities like October’s “‘Fall’ in Love With Birds” event, where attendees made bird crafts out of leaves and learned about feather structure.
Sage Daughton, club secretary and a senior majoring in environmental studies, said outdoor events are the most rewarding.
“It’s definitely fun to have meetings and apply more educational initiatives, but it’s a whole other thing to go out and see the birds yourself,” she said. “We’ve definitely had some really cool experiences, even in the Nature Preserve, that you wouldn’t expect.”
Standout sightings from this year’s excursions included a pileated woodpecker that the group tracked for a long time, an osprey and a massive flurry of snow geese disturbed by the overhead passing of a bald eagle. This March, the club participated in the “Big Duck Day,” an annual road trip to Lake Ontario led by several BU faculty members. Julien Shepherd, an associate professor of biology who teaches Biology 379: Biology and Conservation of Birds, not only leads birding excursions, but supplies club members with leftover binoculars and facilitates interactions between his students and the club.
Viviano said faculty engagement has been crucial to the club’s success.
“[The Big Duck Day] was a spectacular event because we were joined by some expert birders and professors at BU, and we saw literally thousands of birds,” she said.
According to Viviano, the club’s role as an official Audubon conservation chapter also requires it to spend time on educational outreach. For example, in an effort to highlight bird-related conversation issues, club members have tabled with Audubon reports about migratory birds and climate change.
“[The National Audubon Society] is going to provide us with resources, information and grants we can potentially apply for, so people can get really involved and learn more about how they can help,” Viviano said.
Adrian Burke, vice president of the club and a senior majoring in biology, said belonging to this larger organization has connected the group with nationwide initiatives.
“They have a number of conservation initiatives they’re working on already with other campus chapters, and also the National Audubon Society as a whole, so they kind of have the groundwork laid out,” he said. “Now that we’re a chapter, they can add us to their efforts.”
The club has attracted some seasoned enthusiasts. Burke has been birding for six years, starting in high school with trips to Central Park. However, Viviano says it’s not just for experts.
“We wanted to have a lot of entry-level events, so a lot of people who have this spark of interest can have it develop into a hobby,” she said. “While it’s mostly [environmental studies] and [biology] majors, we’ve gotten some biochemistry and [mathematics] majors, and some people who are really in it for the photography.”
Viviano said the club has garnered more interest than she’d expected — its GroupMe chat consists of about 60 members, and there are about 100 members on its Listserv.
“It seems like whenever we set up these events, we expect to be out for maybe an hour or two, and then it extends into, ‘Oh, you guys can leave if you want, but we want to see some owls, maybe,’ and it’s just the energy that we’re met with that gets me every time,” Viviano said. “It’s gotten much more attention than I could’ve ever hoped for, and I’m so grateful for that.”
Burke said the community surrounding the activity has made it even more enriching for him after years of experience.
“I’m always going out there and seeing the birds myself, but it’s something way better when I get to share it with people,” he said.