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This Birder Started at a Young Age

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: Amelia Marchese
Age: 12 ½ years
Hometown/neighborhood: Homer Glen, IL
What is/was your profession? Student in 7th grade
Number of years birding? 4 years

Why did you start birding?

I have always been interested in nature and animals and when I learned more about birds they really appealed to me. When I first started being interested in birds, I would spend my spare time in my room reading through bird guides like they were chapter books, discovering all of the different species, what they look like, all of the different colors and the amazing variety of birds there are.

What was your first birding experience?

I went to the International Migratory Bird Day event at Sagawau Environmental Learning Center and there was a bird banding demonstration; seeing the birds up close, it was amazing. It felt like a fantasy.

What do you like most about birding?

The thing I like most about birding is when I read about or watch a nature program on different bird species and then I see the bird or behavior in real life in nature. It’s amazing.

What is your favorite bird species and why?

White-tailed ptarmigan, lives in the rocky alpine tundra which includes the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I observed them there; they were absolutely beautiful. I was able to see a mother and four chicks.

What species do you still want to see and haven’t spotted yet?

Black skimmer, part of the tern family. The lower part of its beak is larger and longer than the upper part. It skims the water with its mouth open at 90 degrees and as soon as it scoops up a minnow, it snaps its beak closed and either regurgitates the fish to feed its young or eats it itself.

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

The natural areas around Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, they have so many brilliantly colored different types of birds that you can see there. There are also bird banding demonstrations, the International Migratory Bird Day event and Hummingbird Festival. I have gotten to hold a hummingbird four different times.

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

I would say get out into the field with some binoculars and maybe a camera and spot as many birds as you can and identify them in a field guide. You can travel all over the country and see all kinds of birds. And it’s ok if someone calls you a bird brain; you should take it as a compliment because birds actually are very smart.

What is the most helpful tool you use as a birder?

Crossley ID Guide – Eastern Birds. It has photos, not illustrations. This guide doesn’t just show a male and female with an illustration, it shows multiple photos with different angles so you can identify the bird better.

How early or late have you gotten up/stayed up to go birding?

The earliest is 6 am. They are not lying when they say the early bird gets the worm, it’s true. If a beginning birder went out early, between 6 am-7 am, they would describe it as seeing hundreds of birds.

What type/brand of binoculars do you use?

I use a Celestron 8×25, my mom uses a Pentax 12×50, which are really great binoculars – my mom will help find different birds with her binoculars and then I take a look and help identify the bird.

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

Once when I was on a hike at Sagawau I really wanted to see a garter snake, but it was toward the end of the hike and I hadn’t seen one yet. Just then on the path in front of me and my mom there was a 4-foot-long garter snake that took up the entire path. It had bright neon green stripes and beautiful, healthy black scales. We had to sneak by it to get passed, which startled the snake and sent us running away – screaming and yelping with joy.

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

This is important, especially with a lot of young kids…don’t expect the birds to come to you. You have to be patient and wait for the birds to come you. If you use stalking techniques like predators do, you will be better able to view the birds.

I also think it is important to recognize that there are many endangered birds and other animals. When I grow up I want to be a naturalist and travel around the world filming and documenting nature, especially birds, and help save endangered animals.

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

My favorite time of year to go birding is actually summer. I find more birds in the summer because I have more freedom and more time to do the things I want. I do not have to worry about school or other distractions, and I can check many birds off my list.

If you were a bird what kind of bird would you be?

I would be a white-tailed ptarmigan and live a lifestyle where there are not a lot of predators to worry about. I would want to live in a national park free from hunters. I like the ptarmigan because they rely on camouflage – they are white in the winter and brown in the summer. They are very curious and are much calmer than other birds. They do not scare easily. They also like to hang out and coo to their chicks.

Do you bird alone or with others?

I like to bird with my family. We get all the equipment together and go out. My dad and I like to take photos and mom helps spot the birds and my brother comes with too. If we cannot identify the birds we write down a description of the bird and what it looks like and then we go back to the ID guide and have a friendly debate about what bird it is. I usually am the one to win.

I also just attended my first field trip with the Illinois Young Birders group. We were able to see many different hawks and I also added two birds to my list for the year – a ruby-crowned kinglet and a red-breasted nuthatch.

Did your family become interested in birds because of your interest in them?

My mom and dad always were involved in nature and took us to national parks and nature preserves, but they use to say “oh it’s just a bird.” It wasn’t until I took an interest in birds that they became more involved in birding, and my dad likes to take photos of birds. They tell me all the time how amazed they are on how knowledgeable I am about birds, and I tell them I really just like to research and read about birds. That’s how I know so much.

How has birding affected your daily life?

Since I developed an interest in birding, we have put out many different types of bird feeders at our house to attract different species of birds. We have thistle feeders for goldfinches, and a post with a tray that we made to provide peanuts for blue jays. The blue jays will start calling to each other when we put out the peanuts, and then will almost line up, like an airport runway, and fly in and take one whole peanut and fly away. Then the next blue jay will fly in. It’s really amazing. And we also have hummingbird feeders and suet cake feeders, too.

We have also put up decals on our windows to stop birds from crashing into windows and being stunned or even killed. This is a really serious issue because the window gives a reflection of the bird’s environment and then they end up crashing into it. After adding the decals to the windows, it has reduced the amount of crashes significantly.

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.