Birds of a feather…

Dino - Cambridge
Entered on January 2, 2009

I believe in curiosity. The world around us is replete with wonder. I am enthralled by the diversity of life and it’s intricate, interwoven relationships.

America beckoned me at the age of 19 when I left my home in rural Kenya, with the help of my American foster parents, to attend college in the Midwest (Indiana University). A few days after I arrived, I met a group of birdwatchers. These were strange, obsessed people who rambled through woods vying for glimpses of warblers or gawking at a flock of geese flying in perfect formation.

Naïve, shy and so obviously foreign, I found it hard to make friends. But incredibly, among the birdwatchers I found instant acceptance. We were bound by a common love of nature. At our very first meeting, I was seized by hand and led to the edge of a river. “Look, look!” they whispered, pointing excitedly while pushing me through the foliage.

Hidden, cupped among the twigs of a maple leaning over the water sat a tiny, exquisite lichen-clad nest. A whirring of wings cut through the air above me. I watched and marvelled as the smallest bird I’d ever seen, a female ruby-throated hummingbird, zipped down, hovered, perched and proceeded to feed her even tinier youngsters. My heart leapt with joy to witness something so wondrous.

I come from a country where poverty, ignorance and rampant globalisation feeds desperate cycles of over-exploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources with a corresponding decline in the quality of life.

I believe that science and conservation can contribute to improving human life, livelihoods and environmental sustainability. This is why I am pursuing a further education. Today I work with rural communities adjacent to wonderful natural areas, drawing links between nature and human livelihoods.

From the birders I learnt an important lesson on the importance of love as a first step in making a difference. Dozens of different kinds of warblers and other birds make their way through the great temperate woodlands of North America each spring. They bring incalculable joy and delight to thousands of birders who watch them and listen for their sweet songs.

In Indiana, adulation and concern for ‘our songbirds’ as the migrating birds are fondly called, has led to a grassroots conservation movement that spans the globe. Birdwatchers, of all ages and means, raise money through sponsored walks and by pestering their friends and families. Pooled, these resources go towards protecting rainforest habitat in Central America where the warblers over-winter.

Local communities receive support for education, infrastructure, training and much-needed incomes from eco-tourism. The joyous songs of warbler will be a part of the spring woodlands for many years to come and the cycle of poverty and destruction is halted.

Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is a thing with feathers…” Today, as I walk to class each morning, the shrill cries of a Blue Jay, as it sweeps above the busy road, the chortling of starlings on the roofs and the frenetic scrabbling of sparrows as they scrounge in the flower beds adds something immeasurably wonderful to my day.