Bird Nerds Unite!

By Monica Anderson, Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Intern

What kind of lasting impacts do Los Angeles Audubon programs have for students from the urban core?  In her essay below, Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Intern, Monica Anderson, explains how she found out she was actually a bird nerd and how Los Angeles Audubon’s programs have helped shape her goals…

I’m a bird nerd; I just didn’t know it until last year.  Last year I started a project through the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program that asked, “How does bird abundance vary with human abundance within Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park (BHSO)?”  After a school year spent hiking, scanning with binoculars, and analyzing data, I concluded that birds were more abundant in areas with fewer people and more vegetation.  When I started, I knew nothing about birds, and I’d never thought I’d write about and study birds for a first job.  Growing up in Los Angeles, prior to this program I’d only known of two bird species: pigeons and “seagulls.”  I’d NEVER imagined doing this kind of work.  Of course, I wasn’t completely oblivious and could assume there are more than two bird species within this whole wide world.  But, a part of my study was to learn how to identify the birds of the Baldwin Hills.  I can now identify over thirty bird species within the Baldwin Hills, and am proud to be called a bird nerd!
To help with identifying and actually learning how to key into these birds, my supervisor gave me a CD filled with the birdcalls of common birds at BHSO.  That night, when I got home, I imported all of the songs onto my computer, and then synced them onto my iPod, with pictures matching the birds that I retrieved from the Internet.  The sounds were alluring and intricate.  I loved it.  Then, I devoted my time to memorizing the tunes and the bird that matched.  I love birds, and their songs inspired me to think about conservation in a new way.  Now, I am in my second year as an intern for the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program, and while working on the same project, I’ve added a new component that involves music―how can music teach people of the importance of urban habitat for birds and just to be more sensitive to nature in general?  With these new ideas, I plan to compose a song about birds and habitat conservation, and present it to three different audiences: Leo Politi Elementary, Dorsey High School, and Jim Gilliam Recreation Center’s senior citizens.  I love music, especially singing, so I thought a bird song would be awesome!  Throughout this year, I’ve been learning about music theory and collaborating with a Greenhouse program graduate who plays guitar.  I am currently working on a draft for my song.  Hopefully, my song will impact people in a way that they would actually want to start being more aware of the natural environment around them.
I want the people to see that wildlife and plants are important to preserve, protect, and conserve.  Plus, nature is a good way to escape from the urbanized world.  Before this program, I’d barely been to a nature park, and now I work at one.  Once the habitat is gone, it may not be back for years, or even generations!  For example, the formerly common bird, the Cactus Wren, is now locally extirpated at the BHSO because of a dearth of cactus plants.  Once you lose habitat, you lose animals, and nature.  Developing a connection to nature permits a person to open up to another reality.  Getting outside and out of the urban, fast lifestyle allows one to really slow down and appreciate the natural world.  If people can appreciate nature, then they’re steps closer to understanding the importance of conserving it.


Published Western Tanager Vol. 79 No. 4 March/April 2013