Youth Spotlight: Lily Rerecich

Birds are some of the most exceptional, diverse, and fascinating creatures on the planet – there is a lot to learn and appreciate, and what I learn just inspires me to learn more.

Lily Rerecich, Travis Audubon Society

Local ninth-grader Lily Rerecich discovered a passion for birds early in elementary school. In the years since, her interest and expertise have grown, and you can now find Lily leading birding walks with Travis Audubon’s Young Birders Club. Below, Lily provides a treasure trove of suggestions for how Austin families can get started as birders, create bird habitat in their backyards, support safe migrations, and speak up to support healthy bird populations. Thank you, Lily, for sharing your knowledge, curiosity, and appreciation with us!

Tell us a little about yourself!

I have lived in and grown up in Austin since I was two years old, and it is certainly my home. Austin and its ecosystems are where I first started to become familiar with the outdoors, and I feel a strong sense of connection to this city. In my family, I have 2 great parents, one excellent little brother, and 3 lovable dogs. Besides being a birder, I am a Recurve Target archer, an avid reader, and a gardener. I enjoy writing, art, and walking.

My deepest passion is undoubtedly for birds and nature – I intend to become an ornithologist and dedicate my life to helping birdlife, humans, and the planet as a whole. I am a person with a curious, thoughtful, and rational mind. I have a deep sense of wonder and a wish to make the world a better place.

What, or who, first got you interested in birding? What sustains your interest?

I first became interested in birds when I was 7 years old. I found a nest of young Barn Swallows that sparked a passion that I have followed ever since then. Later in elementary school, I started to use binoculars and look at birds more. By the time I was in 4th grade, I had started birding more seriously. My interest is sustained by the fact that I love birds and by the continual variety and novelty that learning about birds offers. Birds are some of the most exceptional, diverse, and fascinating creatures on the planet – there is a lot to learn and appreciate, and what I learn just inspires me to learn more. Even people who don’t really like birds can find something to like somewhere in Class Aves, the taxonomic group of birds.

Moreover, people can also appreciate the crucial roles birds play in sustaining ecosystems and supporting a healthy environment – this is another reason I love birds: they are quite important! Many bird species are suffering declines as a result of human activities, and the hope that I can help birds is another important factor that sustains my interest. I think that this reason, along with my desire to share a beneficial and enjoyable activity with others, is why I lead bird walks with the Travis Audubon Society. I was already an active volunteer and member, and I was glad to progress to this opportunity.

lily birding

Describe one or two of your favorite bird species or spots for birding in the area.

I really struggle to pick just one or two favorite bird species, because they are really all cool. So, my favorite places to bird in Austin are probably the Commons Ford Prairie Metropolitan Park and Hornsby Bend. Commons Ford Prairie is probably my favorite, because it has a restored, native prairie, which is incredibly special and rare. It also has beautiful forests, and a section of the Colorado River flows through it, so it has a diversity of good bird habitat. There are a great variety of birds to see there! Hornsby Bend is excellent for seeing waterfowl, and it has some very rich woodlands and aquatic areas, so the abundance and diversity of birds there are great as well (it is also a waste processing plant, but it doesn’t smell very bad).

For families who are curious about exploring birding with kids, how do you recommend they get started?

I would recommend birding with a group like the Travis Audubon to learn from other birders – this is the easiest way to gain experience as a birder. I would also recommend paying attention to birds around you. Birds are everywhere! You can gain a lot simply from being aware – both in terms of knowledge and enjoyment.

As for resources, I would recommend the Cornell Lab Of Ornithology and its All About Birds website. The lab is one of the foremost bird centers in the world. It is an excellent organization that has so much information about birds, and lots of games, projects, and resources for kids and families. One of the Cornell Lab’s resources is a free app called Merlin Bird ID that helps birders identify birds – I would recommend it (you can also log bird sightings on Ebird). The Cornell Lab also has citizen science projects like Feederwatch that are fun, easy, and meaningful to contribute to. I think it makes the experience of birding richer to learn about the birds you see, so I would recommend reading about birds as well.

I think the best bird/nature books for families that I’ve read are: What It’s Like To Be A Bird (By David Allen Sibley), The Wondrous Workings Of Planet Earth (By Rachel Ignotofsky), and Natural World (By AJ Wood And Mike Jolley)However, there is still a huge wealth of bird books out there for people as kids grow older – so I encourage families to explore and read what interests them. In fact, I would also encourage families to seek more advice and knowledge as you bird, because there are a lot of very experienced birders who are happy to share their knowledge.

Finally, I would encourage families to enjoy birds from their own homes, and find fun engagement in making your homes good places for birds. Putting up a feeder, planting native plants, or making your area hospitable is very rewarding, and a fantastic way to get into birding from the comfort of your home. By doing so, you are making the world a better place for birds!

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What are some ways that parents and kids can support bird migration or advocate to protect their habitats?

Parents and kids can support bird migration by turning off unnecessary exterior lighting and covering windows/turning off lights at night. Birds are often attracted to artificial light at night, when they are migrating, and going lights out helps birds navigate safely and without confusion during and the possibility of deadly window collisions for birds sidetracked by artificial light.

Providing food and shelter in your yard is also very helpful for supporting exhausted migratory birds. Providing habitat for birds is a very important and positive method to help birds for the whole year – it is a crucial action that we can accomplish wherever we have the space to – yards, gardens, and more can become bird sanctuaries where we enjoy and protect the beauty of birds and nature.

There are many more ways to make your home and area bird-friendly, and I encourage families to explore and participate in these, because they provide a fun, meaningful way to make a positive difference for birds. You can also advocate for bird habitat by building habitat in the spaces around us and for protecting green spaces in your area.

A few methods for advocacy include writing to elected officials, communicating to the city council, advocating in community or neighborhood groups, participating in public feedback surveys, or testifying and lobbying about specific issues.

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