If you ever happen to stumble upon a large group of students all craning their necks up to the sky, know that they aren’t crazy — they’re just members of the bird club taking their morning walk.
The College of William and Mary’s Bird Club goes on bird-watching walks two mornings each week. Starting from the terrace, the club searches for interesting birds. The club also has destination bird-watching field trips, and even the occasional spontaneous chase when a rare bird is nearby.
Nick Newberry ’17, the current Bird Club President, founded the club during the 2014 spring semester.
“The point of it is to introduce bird-watching and bird conservation to different people, because there’s not a whole lot of opportunities for people to be introduced to it anywhere really,” Newberry said. “Especially for younger people our age.”
A club-wide email and Facebook post are sent out at the beginning of the week in order to let the members know which days they will be going on their walks.
There have been around 50 participants in the biweekly birding walks since last spring, ranging from beginners to bird-watching experts.
“Over 90 percent of the people have never done it before,” Newberry said. “What’s exciting for me is to really introduce them for the first time to it.”
Club social chair Catherine Cleary ’16 has been a member of the club since its inception. Prior to joining, Cleary had no experience with bird-watching, and believes it’s great for beginners to join.
“Even if you don’t know what something is, having an extra set of eyes to say ‘Oh, there’s a bird’ is helpful too,” Cleary said.
Bird Club vice president and publicity chair Marco Cunicelli ’15 had only a mild interest in bird-watching before joining the club, and broadened his knowledge about birds even more by going on the walks.
“I was in a class called animal behavior in the spring and you can see the class brought to life through the birds,” said Cunicelli.
Earlier this semester, some of the club members participated in an impromptu field trip in order to get a glance at a Sabine’s Gull. The Sabine’s Gull is a bird that usually lives in the Arctic Circle and migrates miles off the coast when it flies south.
“Two weeks ago there was a very special gull from Canada that was flying over, just for three days, so we rode the ferry to Surry back and forth four times to find this gull,” Cleary said. “We finally did see it.”
The Bird Club will be adding more events to its schedule — as its numbers increase — from field trips to the Eastern Shore to more social events.
“We tried, this semester, to do more stuff, like social stuff to make it like a real club,” Cleary said.
The club publicizes through word of mouth, Facebook and fliers. Its most effective form of advertisement, however, may turn out to be its walks through campus.
“We’ll be walking around campus during busier times and people will just stop and be like, ‘What’re you looking at?’, ‘Whats going on?’, and we can show them,” Newberry said. “Sometimes we’ll show up on Yik Yak with ‘I hope those people aren’t cloud-watching.’”
Erin Chapman ’16 joined the Bird Club as a continuation of her work at a wildlife center where she learned a lot about medical procedures on birds, owls and raptors.
“I went into [Bird Club] knowing how to do an eye exam on a bird,” Chapman said. “But I didn’t know how to identify species or what their calls were like so it’s very interesting to see the natural side of it.
Next year the Bird Club is thinking about becoming a club for naturalists, not just bird-watchers, where members will be able to look out for more things during their nature walks, apart from different species of birds.
“We got really excited about lichen and fungus on our last outing so it’s pretty much anything,” Chapman said.
The club will continue its biweekly walks, and beginners are free to join. No equipment is needed for new members, as Newberry brings binoculars and guidebooks.
“I’m excited for where the club is going for the future,” said Cunicelli.