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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Ornithology takes flight for Grinnellians

When walking back to Main Hall from ARH, the first thing that Dylan O’Donoghue ’11 notices is the pecking noise in the bushes outside of Mear’s Cottage. She then tries to identify with greater specificity exactly where the pecking is coming from. She learns that the loud hollow tapping is a woodpecker, a common bird on campus, and continues to try to identify it based on weight, color, and distinctive marks. “There’s very rarely large woodpeckers,” O’Donoghue said. “That’s sacred sort of shit.”

Dylan O’Donoghue is a birdwatcher.

O’Donoghue began birdwatching when she was in first grade after learning that she was allergic to most household pets’ fur and saliva. As a result, she was only able to have birds and lizards growing up. “What really sucks is that those are the really wack animals to play with,” O’Donoghue said. “I found that studying birds was my way of playing with them.”

However, O’Donoghue’s hobby soon turned into a passionate lifestyle. When she entered her senior year of high school, she started birdwatching with her teacher, who was once the president of the New York Audobon Society.

“It was always him and this one other teacher throughout high school who were really into bird watching, so we’d always go together,” O’Donoghue said. “When I wanted to do an independent study, he told me, ‘this is what you have to do to become good.’”
O’Donoghue’s life adapted to birdwatching; she woke up at 6 a.m. to find birds and entered in bird watching competitions in order to hone her birdwatching skills.

Although O’Donoghue doesn’t now wake up at six in the morning to bird watch, she still observes birds around campus and tries to identify them either on purpose or accidentally. “When you walk outside, you’re hyperaware of birds, it’s kinda like voices in your head,” O’Donoghue said. “The birds are always singing songs and doing stuff, so it’s kind of hard to carry on a conversation outside because I’m always paying attention to the birds.”

O’Donoghue’s casual birdwatching is frequent enough so that she is able to give names to the individual birds she sees and remembers. “Each bird has a unique voice, “ she said. “If I see the same bird or hear the same voice over and over again I’ll name it, usually like Bob or Jared.”

Though O’Donoghue names specific birds like old friends, for fellow birdwatcher Joey Wendel ’11, birdwatching takes on a different role in his life. “Birdwatching is a sport,” Wendel said. “I try to bring a notepad, binoculars and write down the attributes of the bird.”
Wendel, like O’Donoghue, is an avid birdwatching enthusiast who also began birdwatching in childhood. His mother was the President of the Birdwatching Club as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, while his Dad would birdwatch frequently. “On road trips they would always point out birds and we’d stop to look at them,” Wendel remarked.

For Wendel, birdwatching doesn’t fill a pet void but instead he admires birds for their natural beauty. “ Birds are really mysterious and beautiful,” Wendel said, smiling. “I guess it’s the mystery element, you see something that’s so colorful and beautiful, it’s just so incredible to see it and appreciate it.”

Both O’Donoghue and Wendel’s love of birdwatching caused them to form the birdwatching club at Grinnell. Even though the club only consists of the two of them and a handful of their friends, they have plans to continue birdwatching and hopefully get more members of the Grinnell community involved as well. “We’re not sure what it’s going to amount to,” Wendel said. “Even if it’s not a very organized club, we hope that it’s a way for people to communicate birdwatching, and organize birdwatching trips outside of Grinnell.”

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