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This Birder Has Learned A Lot

As part of the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Bird the Preserves initiative, we are featuring one Birder of the Week September through October to highlight the unique experiences and diversity of the birding community. To learn more about birding or to attend an upcoming bird walk, visit our Birding Page.

Name: Stephany Virrueta
Age:  21
Hometown/neighborhood: Chicago, IL – Brighton Park
Profession: Student at Loyola University in Chicago
Number of years birding: 1.5 years

What was your first birding experience?

My first birding experience was the first day of my field ornithology class; it was a very small class just – three students, and our professor. We went outside and got right into birding. It was very difficult for me at first, but following my professor’s instructions I slowly but surely got the hang of it.

What do you like most about birding?

I enjoy birding because it is very relaxing to me. When I bird it is usually also an opportunity to spend time in nature and I always appreciate that because living in the city with a busy life, I do not always spend enough time outside.

What is your favorite bird species and why?

I have so many favorite birds, but my favorite species has to be the northern cardinal because it was one of the birds that I was familiar with, and because there is a small family of cardinals that frequents my feeders at home year-round and I love going out to watch them

What is your favorite place(s) in the Forest Preserves of Cook County to bird?

Really any place in the Forest Preserves is great for birding because all types of birds are in all the preserves, and I am happy even to watch house sparrows because I find bird behavior in general fascinating. I enjoy going to Little Red Schoolhouse especially when I bring my little cousins along for a short birding trip.

What would you say to others to get them to start birding?

Birds are such interesting creatures; once you start watching them carefully you start appreciating their beauty…

It doesn’t matter if you have never birded before or if you can’t identify any birds yet, it does not matter because when I started birding I could only immediately identify about five or six different species and now after just over a year I can identify about 200 different species. All it takes is a bit of patience and practice and you will be identifying birds in no time.

Birders often brave the elements to see birds, have there been any extreme weather conditions that you have birded in?

I have only been birding a bit over a year, but since I fell in love with birds I have birded in extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme wind, snow, rain, and very muddy conditions and although it can be rough it is worth it to see even a few bird species.

What type/brand of binoculars do you use?

I use Nikon binoculars, but I have also used Bushnell and they also work well.

How far have you traveled to go birding?

During my ornithology class we traveled all over McHenry County; and I have traveled to Belize and Mexico for birding, as well.

What is the most unexpected thing you have seen while birding?

The most unexpected thing I have seen while birding is snakes and one time a fox. That was awesome.

What is the most important lesson you have learned through birding?

The most important lesson I have learned through birding is that every creature is an essential part of the environment and the world, and we have to do our part to protect and preserve them. Becoming aware of any species is an essential start in conservation. Birding and my classes have introduced me to environment and issues currently affecting our planet and becoming aware of those issues has been so important to me. Birding also helped me connect more with nature and all those things together helped me decided to pursue a graduate degree in ecology. I will be applying to graduate programs in ecology soon, and I owe it all to becoming conscious of the environment and birding, which started that for me.

What’s your favorite time of year to go birding?

My favorite time of the year to go birding is the fall because the weather is perfect for being outside, but I actually also like going outside in the winter and watching all the birds at my feeders because we get very interesting visitors during the winter.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Support for the Bird the Preserves initiative was generously provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through Chicago Wilderness.