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Bird Club’s ‘whole vibe’ is about walking, talking & spotting species

Grandville — Over a pan of freshly baked brownies, chemistry teacher Kristina Fitzgerald reviewed the rules of Grandville High School’s Bird Club for two students who were visiting for the first time.

“The biggest rule of birding? If you see something, you say something” while the group is out on their monthly bird walk, she said.

… And that’s about it for the rules of Bird Club.

“It’s a pretty low-key group, honestly — but a very authentic group,” Fitzgerald said. “I can’t tell you how many kids will show, but that’s all part of the fun. … It’s very much a club of, ‘Come bird with us! Or don’t! Either is fine.’ Which is really how birding basically is.” 

Every month while school is in session, a small (usually five to 10) but enthusiastic group of students gathers in Fitzgerald’s classroom for snacks and then heads out to the trees and wetlands behind the high school. They walk for 30 to 45 minutes, looking and listening for birds and helping one another identify the species — such as a house sparrow, grackle, osprey or heron — when one is spotted. 

Fitzgerald logs all the birds they find into the eBird app, developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The app uses data submitted by birders all over the world to track bird migrations, keep tabs on when and where certain species have been seen and develop conservation efforts. It also provides photos and audio recordings of bird songs to help birders correctly ID a bird in the wild. 

In February, Bird Club members also head to the Buck Creek nature trail to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a global four-day event where participants watch and log as many birds as they can find to help scientists better understand global bird populations. 

“(Birding) is a hobby that you can do when you want, how you want, if you want to be social or on your own,” said Fitzgerald, who discovered her deeper love for birding during the pandemic. “I like being out in nature, and I really like birds; they give me joy. So I thought I’d see if I had kids out there who might be interested in the same kind of activity and (Bird Club) kind of just fell together.”

‘I Just Think Birds are Cool’

Seniors Aly Gould and Cheyenne Grigoletti were the first two students to show up at Bird Club’s “official” (but never formal) first meeting three years ago, when they were sophomores. Both admitted they mostly came because they enjoyed hanging out with “Ms. Fitz,” but a genuine interest in birds and the club’s camaraderie has kept them coming back. 

Evangeline Herb, left, keeps an eye on a bird she found while Josh Lipscomb tries to locate it with binoculars

“I keep coming because of the atmosphere, and I also found that I really enjoy coming out here looking for birds, seeing if I can identify them,” Aly said. “We’ve also learned what different bird calls sound like, so I like seeing if I can tell what kind by hearing their calls. I don’t get outside much, so it’s good to get out and enjoy nature for a bit.”

Junior Claudia Harder, another long-time club member, has enjoyed birding since she was young and was excited to learn she could join a club of other like-minded peers. 

“I just think birds are cool, especially because they can fly and they’re so diverse — like, there’s so many different kinds of birds,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about my favorite kinds of birds, the corvids” — a family of birds that includes crows, ravens and magpies.

“One time, me and Ms. Fitz had a very deep conversation about crows and how intelligent they are — like, they can use tools like people or primates can, and they can solve puzzles. I did learn a lot that day.” 

During its three years, the club has built bird feeders, learned identifying features about the 20 most common birds, studied bird calls and learned how to use the eBird app so that the data they log can be most useful for scientists. On one eventful day, they even witnessed a Cooper’s Hawk attack a cardinal (the cardinal survived).

But mostly it’s about walking, talking, spotting birds and, just, “the vibe,” Claudia said.

“It’s just nerds that like birds, coming together to go stare at a little feathered creature in a tree,” she said. “I just think it’s awesome.” 

Read more from Grandville: 
Career options soar with high school’s new aeronautics program
Bulking up on their biology skills

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio


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