Middle School advisories visit Woodys Pond to look for birds.

Middle School Birding Club generates interest in birds on campus and beyond

Slow down, observe, listen. At Colorado Academy, there are soaring, chirping, and fluttering rewards in taking that moment. Birds—attracted to our trees, grounds, and pond—flock to our beautiful campus.

Middle Schoolers now have a new appreciation for the wide variety of bird life in their midst—with the introduction of the Birding Club. During advisory time, students have been able to escape their screens and take leisurely walks to view, listen to, and identify birds they see.

“The Birding Club has been a nice way to have students tune into their surroundings,” says Forbes Cone, CA Director of Experiential Education. “Some of them have been going to CA since Kindergarten, but have never taken the time to pay attention to wildlife all around. An unexpected benefit has been the calm that I sense in our students as they search for birds and listen attentively for their calls.”

Seventh Grader Laura Noyes has loved birds since Lower School and has collected a mini library of bird books at home. Being part of the Birding Club has taught her more about identifying bird songs. She also appreciates being outside and relaxing while looking for birds. “You can do it wherever you are. It’s helped me remember that there is something to do during a pandemic!” she says.

The Birding Club has motivated Sixth Grader Alegría Monterroso to notice birds in her backyard and neighborhood. “I love all the shapes and colors, but most of all I love the sounds,” she says. The Club uses the free Merlin Bird ID app, developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to help identify birds by sight and sound. “I learned that a bird doesn’t have just one song or pitch.”

Ian Marzonie leads a group of Middle Schoolers on a bird watching outing.
Ian Marzonie leads a group of Middle Schoolers on a bird-watching outing.

Ian and Becci Marzonie, husband and wife, and beloved CA staff members, started the club. “We are super lucky to have such a great area for birdwatching,” Ian says, noting the many species discovered on outings with students. “We’ve seen Northern Flickers, House Finches, Black-Capped Chickadees, Song Sparrows, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Blue Jays, and my personal favorite, the Downy Woodpecker. On Woody’s Pond, we also get to see waterfowl such as Mallards, Northern Shovelers, the Hooded Merganser, and of course our famous CA residents, the Canada Geese! We also had a sharp-eyed student birder spot a Belted Kingfisher in the trees of Woody’s Pond.”

A Red Tailed Hawk perched near Wright Field at CA.
A Red-Tailed Hawk perched near Wright Field at CA.

On a recent birding excursion, the budding ornithologists saw a Red-Tailed Hawk perched up-close on the fence near Wright Field. The hawk stayed there for about 10 minutes, which Ian says is highly unusual. “It’s not very often that they will sit for that long, especially with an audience of Middle Schoolers.”

Ian hopes the club will help students gain a deeper connection with nature and realize the importance of being good stewards of wild places. Part of the Birding Club discussions focus on education, including learning about declining populations, due to human factors like habitat loss and pesticides.

Exposing students to birds through the Birding Club or backyard feeders allows them to appreciate their diversity. With more than 500 species in Colorado, Ian says they can then take their interest to the next level by beginning their “life list” of sightings. Project FeederWatch—also through Cornell—can jumpstart this process by providing posters of common regional birds to help with identification.

“I think the coolest thing is how excited they get when they successfully ID a bird,” Ian says, which can be done by ear as well as sight. “This is a great activity for families to participate in together.”

“Once a person gets into birding, people around them start to get interested too,” Alegría says. “Less than a week after I started, my mom got excited to look for birds with me.”

Students interested in joining the Birding Club should reach out to Forbes Cone.

A Red-Tailed Hawk takes flight over Colorado Academy.
A Red-Tailed Hawk takes flight over Colorado Academy.
Middle School advisories visit Woody's Pond to look for birds.
Middle School advisories visit Woody’s Pond to look for birds.