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Bruin Birding Club builds community through campus bird walks

Bird watchers look up at the sky through binoculars. The Bruin Birding Club hosts bird walks every week for new and experienced bird watchers alike. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Christopher Mancini and Hayley Prinstein

Nov. 28, 2023 8:06 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 28 at 10:46 p.m.

At 8 a.m. in the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, only the birds are awake. But every couple of weeks, the birds aren’t alone.

The Bruin Birding Club – a student-run organization dedicated to making bird-watching more accessible on campus – meets every week at the Botanical Garden, Sage Hill or on North Campus for a bird walk to help spread awareness of birds and their habitats. The club also creates a community for those interested in conservation to learn and collaborate in, according to its website.

[Related: Sage Hill provides space for native biodiversity on UCLA campus]

Russell Stottlemyer, the club’s co-president and a third-year ecology, behavior and evolution student, said he thinks that there are various factors – such as the natural environment, the birds and other bird enthusiasts – that lead people to attend a bird-watching event.

“Seeing the incredible stuff we get, even right here in the middle of an urban campus, led me to want to join,” he said.

The club’s events bring together UCLA students, faculty and residents in the surrounding community. Emma Hwang, a first-year ecology, behavior and evolution student, said she joined the Bruin Birding Club to feel more connected to her two pet parrots at home.

Hwang added that she sees bird-watching as more than a hobby because she is thinking of becoming a veterinarian.

Xinran Yang, an electrical and computer engineering doctoral student, said she enjoys walking with other people who share her appreciation for birds. She added that the walks provide an outlet to focus on something besides her studies.

Yang said the bird walks are also a good form of recreation, adding that she felt that bird-watchers of all levels were welcome at the event. She also said she enjoys speaking to club members such as Stottlemyer who have more birding experience.

(Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
A bird is pictured. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

“They can actually spot birds that you can’t usually spot on your own,” Yang said. “They can introduce you to other content, related stuff – not just the birds, but also the surroundings.”

Stottlemyer added that being more mindful of the birds in his everyday life has contributed to his well-being by allowing him to be more focused on his surroundings.

In addition to providing mental health benefits, the bird walks also have scientific value. Club members make checklists on the eBird platform – an online community-based database dedicated to sharing bird sightings – of the birds they see while on their nature walks, which allows them to contribute to ongoing scientific research, Stottlemyer said.

According to the eBird website, there are an estimated 141 species of birds in the Botanical Garden alone.

(Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
A bird in a tree is pictured. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

“Those checklists that we make … go to larger databases that are accessed for various real research projects,” Stottlemyer said. “That’s a good way for really anyone to get involved in a community science initiative.”

Beyond the UCLA campus, the club has also explored other parts of Los Angeles through its events, including the Malibu Lagoon and Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, according to its website.

Stottlemyer said the bird walks are open to anyone who would like to learn more about birds or enjoy the nature around campus. He added that he hopes to spread the joy that can come with being more aware of the natural environment.

“You don’t necessarily need to come to one of our events. You don’t need to have binoculars. All you really need is a willingness to do it,” Stottlemyer said. “That’s what’s great about birding – you can do it literally anywhere because there’s birds everywhere.”

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