Spark Bird stories are as varied and unique as the spark birders who tell them and the birds they are about.

Come back regularly to see new stories shared from The Spark Bird Project!

Spark Bird Story Prompt

Your spark bird story is the story of the bird/moment/experience that got you hooked on birding. Your spark bird memory likely stands out to you as a specific event or incident that occurred at a particular time and place that you have thought about often. It may stand out to you for a particular reason - perhaps it was especially good, particularly vivid, important, or memorable, or occurred during a challenging time in your life. It is likely a memory that you remember clearly and that still feels important to you even as you think about it.

Please be elaborate in your telling of this experience. But also don't feel like you have to answer each of these questions or in this order - they are just ideas to get you started! What was your spark bird? Did you see it in person or learn about it in a field guide, video, podcast, work of art, lecture, etc.? What happened? Where were you? What was the setting like? How did you come to be there? Were you alone or with others? If you were with others, who was with you and what, if any, was their role in your experience? What were you thinking and feeling in the moment? Why do you think this particular experience was a spark bird moment for you? What does it say about you, your connection to others, and/or your understanding of the world? 

Tell your story in your voice as you might to a friend while you are driving back from a morning of birding or waiting for spring. 

The Spark Bird Project's Ornithologist,
Dr. Sara Morris

“When I was seven, my dad received a copy of Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds for Christmas. I spent many evenings pouring over the book. At my first Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS) meeting, I saw two birds that had totally intrigued me - a Painted Bunting and an Ovenbird - right at the hotel. When I went to tell others about the birds, they were shocked that an elementary school student would know Ovenbirds (and the green version of Painted Buntings). After my birds were confirmed, I was "taken under the wing" of several GOS regulars who also later introduced me to bird banding. So the book was a spark, and the Ovenbird and Painted Bunting are still what I consider to be my spark birds.” [age 7] 

Roger Tory Peterson's Iconic Spark Bird Story

“As we entered a wood lot on the crest of the hill near the reservoir, I spotted a bundle of brown feathers clinging to the trunk of a tree. It was a flicker. I thought it was a dead. Gingerly, I touched it on the back. Instantly, this inert thing jerked its head around, looked at me with wild eyes, then exploded in a flash of golden wing and fled into the woods. Ever since, birds have seemed to me the most vivid expression of life.” [age 11] 

Arthur Pearson, CEO,
Roger Tory Peterson Institute

"I don't recall how old I was. Late teens, early 20s, maybe. Anyway. Unexpectedly, my parents had gifted me a pair of binoculars for Christmas. I don't recall "asking Santa" for them. I had no interest in birds. Neither did anyone in my family. So, it was an unusual gift. Sometime the following spring, I grabbed the binocs and headed to the local Izaak Walton preserve. I knew of the preserve because it was located next to the Little League ballfields at which I'd played as a kid. I'd hang out at the preserve every once in while, but, still, I had no specific memory of it until I got my binocs. That first spring with the binocs, soon after I'd arrived at the preserve I spotted some movement in a tree adjacent to one of the small lakes (historic barrow pits, actually.) I managed to get my binocs focused on what was moving just in time to see a blue, large-beaked bird dive from a branch into the water. In a flash, it emerged from the water with a small, wriggling fish in its beak. It returned to the same branch, perched, and proceeded to whack the fish against the tree branch until it stopped moving to it could be swallowed down. Wow. I was hooked. Later, looking it up in some bird book -- I don't recall which one -- I learned the bird was a belted kingfisher. Whenever I see one, I always flash back to my "spark bird" moment at Izaak Walton Preserve.” [age 20

Did you know? Roger Tory Peterson has a deep connection to both our founding partners!

Founding Spark Birders

Founding Spark Birders are sharing their stories during the soft launch of The Spark Bird Project in spring/summer 2022! Many thanks to them for the gift of their stories at the start of the project!

Ellen Tomczak

We built a house in a rural area, moving from the city. I received a bird feeder and bird seed as a house warming gift. I put it up in my yard. One day I spotted a beautiful bird I had never seen before. I had to buy a book, since it was the spring of 1995 and I couldn't google it. Next came binoculars. I began to see more and more birds. I was hooked! I joined a bird group through our local science museum. I have been birding ever since that spring day. I have traveled around the United States with this group, searching for new birds to see. My life list is just under 500 birds. My spark bird is the Rose breasted grosbeak.  [age 43]

Patrick Quinn

My spark bird story occurred on the shoreline of beautiful Chautauqua Lake in Western New York.

Growing up in Pittsburgh and spending most of my adult life in Bucks County, PA, I've always loved birds. As I got older I found I had a deeper interest and appreciation. I always loved when male Northern Cardinals would visit my feeders, and American Goldfinches made me gaze with delight. But my spark bird moment happened as I sat on my back deck sipping coffee in the second year of my retirement.

Depending on the time of day, the shores of Chautauqua Lake can be a literal bird circus. From the annoying early morning cawing of crows, to the sparrows, finches, mourning doves (always two), to the turkey vultures that are flying over as I write this, to the amazing osprey and bald eagles that often show up just after the osprey. Once, I saw an osprey snag a big perch by our dock only to have a bald Eagle swoop in and steal the fish from the osprey!

I feel like I'm starting to ramble so I'll get to my spark bird moment. Sitting on the deck, maybe 40 yards from our dock, I spotted a bird perched on one of the poles of our dock stanchions. Next thing I witness is this bird diving into the water like a missile. A BIG splash followed by the bird landing on our dock with something in its mouth. It then proceeded to brutally beat the crayfish on the wooden dock. If it was a boxing match the referee would have stepped in and stopped the fight. This bird was kicking the sht out of this bad luck crayfish. Finally, the bird devoured the crustacean and flew to a tree limb above the water.

The Belted Kingfisher created my spark bird experience. I still sit almost every morning lakeside with my binoculars. When I hear, or see a Belted Kingfisher I always hope for another show. I'm rarely disappointed. I've seen multiple minnows, tiny snakes, and even a small perch suffer the same fate as that crayfish. Now I drink my morning coffee from a mug with a Belted Kingfisher image, fingers crossed, waiting for the star to show and the show to start. [age 62]

Allen Carter

My spark birds were many. The pair of Baltimore orioles in their hanging nest in the giant elm that towered over the 2 lane highway near my house. The elusive scarlet tanager whose song I kept hearing in the woods across the road from my house and which I finally glimpsed after careful stalking. The flocks of evening grosbeaks that flooded our feeder in the dead of winter. The raucous bobolinks in the alfalfa field down by the river. Or the redstarts that flashed their colors in the riverside brush. All learned from my little Golden Guide to Birds. [age 10]

Stephen N Anderson

I was about 3 years old, growing up in an apartment in Jamestown, New York. There was a bird nest outside my window. One day , the bird that had been sitting in the nest was away, and one of the two blue eggs started to open. A little bird nose came out. It was like magic. In just a little time this tiny bird crawled out of the egg. Now I knew what eggs were because we had them some days for breakfast. But I had no idea birds lived in them! That fascinated me. Birds became something I looked for.

Several years later, in Washington Junior High School my algebra teacher, Claude Parker, was a bird watcher and frequently interrupted the class to direct our attention to a bird flying in and out of the bushes outside our first floor classroom, reinforcing my teenage mind away, temporarily from girls and football to birds. It remains in me today after a few years as journalist at he NYT in Manhattan and subsequent positions in Philadelphia, setting my own consulting business in San Francisco and after 26 years there, returning to a cottage in southern, New Jersey with three bird feeders on three sides of our house where we can watch. [age 3]

Joanne Goetz

My sister and I grew up on a large dairy farm on Route 39 near Forestville, NY, in the Town of Hanover, Chautauqua County, New York. In addition to the dairy cattle there were also other animals on the farm such as workhorses. We also had chickens with a chicken coop. That was my first experience with feathered creatures. I still remember how much I enjoyed going to the chicken coop to watch the chickens and we even had our pet chickens. I became aware of other birds on the farm such as the Barn Swallows swooping in and out of the barns to their nests. I enjoyed seeing the Eastern Bluebirds perched on fence posts. I loved hearing the Mourning Doves cooing in the distance. But through the years I especially remember our mother pointing out birds to us especially an Eastern Towhee that was scratching around in the grass in back of our house. That really caught my attention to birds and I can call that my spark bird. I was about 12 at the time. After seeing the beautiful towhee my interest in birds continued to increase and still continues today at age 83.

I also must mention our first bird books that we received when we were very young. They were a series of four bird guides and I still have three of them: The Yellow Book of Birds of America, The Blue Book of Birds of America and The Green Book of Birds of America. They are not in very good condition, but somehow I have managed to keep them through these many, many years. They are the only books that survived out childhood and look very worn.

Through the years I have continued my interest in birds by attending birding classes and many workshops sponsored by different organizations. My husband and I also did much traveling to great birding locations throughout New York State as well as other states including Maine, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. My sister and I also went on a birding tour to Arizona. Through the years my husband and I have birded by county in New York state. Of the 62 counties in the state we have birded in 47 counties. One of our favorite locations has been Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge and we birded there several times. Although we aren't traveling much now we are still delighted to have so many good birding locations right here in our own Chautauqua County, New York.

For many years I was a member of the Lake Erie Bird Club. I am so grateful for all that I have learned through my membership in the bird club. Birding through all of these years has been a terrific experience - and continues to be. And it all began so many years ago with the Eastern Towhee back on the farm.  [age 12]

Harrison Thomas Armstrong Reeds

Since I've been a young kid, I've always been fascinated by birds, birds and fish. I don't remember a specific time that made me fall in love with them at all really. My Grandmother, a great Canadian and concert pianist, gave me a very special gift when I was visiting her and my Grandfather. It was a tree, with many beautiful animals to go with it. I've always found woods mystical, eerie, serene, timeless, and intriguing. For a child like myself, it was the perfect gift. I took it down the hall and into a bedroom of their house, and spent time just looking at the figures, my mind enamored, eyes glowing, just in awe. In the woods, of course, there are birds, constantly singing away. I've been interested in knowing which bird sang which song, what they look like, for the entirety of my life. Now I am older, with the freedom to explore almost at will, and I try to take those liberties as often as I can. And when I am out there, at peace with everything, those same birds that captivated my thoughts in that spare bedroom at my Grandparents' house, still captivate me now.  [age 3]


As a young child living in Lackawanna NY, I enjoyed the occasional visit of hummingbirds and cardinals to my family garden as something colorful and exotic, beyond the starlings and house sparrows. But my "spark" occurred after we had moved to Hamburg, specifically Lakeview, NY. There my parents had bought a house on a wood lot that had lots undergrowth. I was walking up the driveway when I spotted a small bird feeding in the gutter of the house. It was striking, yellow with black around its face. I rushed to tell the others and grab a bird book, as we called my fathers field guide, and found I had stumbled upon a hooded warbler, of all things. The hood hooked me for life. It made me think of all the birds that were out there, waiting to be found by me, or not, as chance would have it. [age 16]


My interest in birds started around 10 years old when my mom put out a bird feeder. That Christmas I got the Golden Guide to the Birds of North America. I used to peruse every page of that book, dreaming of seeing the birds we didn't get at the feeder. I grew up in Cheektowaga, near the airport. When I was 13 or 14, I was playing street hockey with a group of friends in early May. I noticed a small bird in a young maple tree and to my surprise and delight, it was one of the "dream" birds and one I never expected to see, a Blackburnian Warbler! One of the guys playing was a closer friend also interested in birds and I yelled "Blackburnian Warbler!". We both stopped and watched it while the others thought we were crazy. From that day I began more seriously watching birds. [age 13]


One of my best friends, who is a bit older than me, had a reputation for "bird watching". As someone who did not come to fully appreciate birds growing up, this struck me as odd. I cannot recall the exact moment but I remember when my friend invited me along for a trip. He said we would get in the car, go to an area with a stream, and check out an area that's known for birds. We pulled onto the road and every minute we stopped to see what bird was flying, perched, or just sitting in the water. He would help me with the binoculars and say, "Hey, look there". At first, I was saying to myself what in the heck are you looking at? It took me some time but then I quickly felt the rush of trying to find the next bird.

It was a few minutes later when my friend pointed and said look there. It was the first time I saw a Kingfisher. He was the most interesting bird I've ever seen and just beautiful. From that moment on, I was hooked. Everywhere I drove I always have my binoculars and we are always on the look for hawks wherever we drive.

For me, birds highlight what's best in the world. Beauty, curiosity, and nature. This was the first bird moment that changed my life and made me appreciate the world in a whole different way. [age 22]

Katelyn Davis

When I was around 7 years old I had a memory card game with all sorts of animals. One of those animals was the Common Loon. I would play with the cards all the time and it became my dream to actually see a Loon in real life. Years later when I was around 13, I went tent camping in the Adirondacks. We stayed along a lake and that was when I heard the song of a Common Loon for the first time ever. While we were kayaking I even got to see them up close! At night, they would do their wail call and I would hand whistle to get a response for hours. I still did not fully get involved in "birding" until 2018 when I was 17. There was a big weather related fallout during April of 2017 that caused 8 Common Loons and 2 Horned Grebes to land on the small pond in my neighborhood. I was so excited seeing them there and had never realized they could even be seen in our area. This sighting put me in contact with other birders and opened me up to the birding world. Before that I could have never imagined how many other people shared the love of birds. Since then, I have seen many birds and a lot of really cool and rare ones, but hearing the call of a Common Loon never gets old to me and takes me back to my first experience with them. [age 7]

Antonio Xeira

During a spring vacation trip in 1983, I took a picture of a small bird perched on a bush. One day, at a friend's house, I found an edition of Roger Tory Peterson's Birds of Europe, beautifully bound in leather. I asked him to lend me the book and when I got home I checked the picture against the guide, and identified the little bird as a European Stonechat. I had such fun in the process that from then on I never stopped. The photo can still be viewed here [age 23]

Harley Winfrey

In 1998, my girlfriend and I went to the Everglades for a camping trip over Spring Break. She was taking an Ornithology class and was keeping a bird list for the trip. One night we were camping on a shell island with scattered palmettos and we could hear and barely see a bird skulking in a thicket of leaves. We saw the bird in bits and pieces but couldn't get a great look at it. We flipped through every single page in her Golden Guide to Birds until we finally figured out that it was a Gray Catbird! The experience was so satisfying and memorable that we both became lifelong birders and have both found careers as wildlife biologists. Puzzling out the identity of a mysterious bird is still something we enjoy when traveling to new places. We have now been married for more than 20 years and we have taken our kids on many birding trips! [age 19]

Pam Harland

My grandfather invited me to join him for the day on Plum Island (MA) because he heard a King Eider had been spotted there. He showed me all of the popular birding spots, shared his binoculars, and taught me how to use his bird book. Near the end of the day, I was walking along a path by myself when I saw a huge face staring at me from above. It was a Short-Eared Owl in a tree about 10 feet away from me. It took flight and we stared at each other as it flew away. I felt as if this bird had seen deep into my soul! I was stunned and breathless by the time I caught up to my grandfather to tell him my story. He did not see the King Eider that day but did see it several times afterward. My spark bird was a combination of the elusive King Eider and the all-knowing Short-Eared Owl. [age 19]

Sarah Hutchinson

My spark bird was an European starling. I had always loved birds and animals, but didn't know too much about them and honestly wasn't able to see many of them because my eyesight was so poor. For many reasons in my past, I never wore the right prescription of eyeglasses until four or so years ago. While I was walking back from the optometrist with my first properly-fitted glasses, one of the first things that I noticed was that starlings were specked. I had never known that, though I had "seen" starlings before without glasses, and observing how beautiful they were for the first time--glossy night-sky feathers percolated with with "stars"--was incredible. It was like something that had been mysterious about the world was suddenly revealed to me, the curtain had been pulled back, there really was so much of the world that I had never seen before. How much more was out there? The experience of seeing a starling clearly for the first time pushed me into buying my first pair of $25 binoculars to see if birding was something that I could get into. It stuck. Birding now plays an important role in my life, helping to ground me in the movements and seasons of the natural world, and has also given me the tools to begin to "read" a forest, marsh, field, or waterway. Learning to name the birds that I see has continued to help me see more and more of the world, the same as the first day that I saw my starling . [age 26]

Robin F.

My spark bird was the American Redstart. I was hiking with a friend at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in late spring 1998. I had already started doing a little birding casually, but was mostly interested in large, charismatic birds like eagles at the time. As we walked down the trail, we noticed this bright flash of orange and thought it must be an oriole. As we got closer, I could tell it wasn't, but I had no idea what it actually was. I just knew it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. We stood there for a long time watching it do its display, and I was completely fascinated by it. As we continued our hike, we saw the eagles and herons we had come there to find, but I couldn't stop thinking about that beautiful little bird. I went back to that trail several times that year trying to find it again, but I never did. In the process, I started noticing all sorts of other small birds I just had never paid attention to before. I was hooked. I bought my first "good" field guide - a Peterson's Guide to Birds of the Northeast, and starting birding regularly. It wasn't long before I had my first Sibley's Guide and a pair of binoculars, gleefully heading out on the trail every chance I got to learn as many birds as I could. It was several years before I saw another redstart, but every time I see one now I think back to that magical moment when I realized just how beautiful and exciting birds really are. [age 23]

Jay Burney

I was born and grew up in New England. New Hampshire to be exact. My family were outdoor people and from the time I was a month old, I was experiencing the outdoors regularly. I remember my earliest experiences in the context of trees, fields, beaches, sky, wind, and rain and snow. Birds and butterflies, chipmunks, squirrels, fish, all made part of my world. Both my mother and father were artists, my mother creating beautiful enamels that often had nature scenes, and my father a woodcarver. He often focused on birds and I remember a beautiful cardinal and a chickadee that he made, which I could hold in my hands. These carvings and the enamels caught my imagination, intrigued the young me me to no end. When I was about 4, I developed a focus on certain living species, and certain individuals. We had a family of chipmunks at one of our summer cabins and my grandfather would feed them and they would come close to us. I was fascinated. A bird species that caught my attention was the Bluejay. It both carried my name, and was beautiful, noisy, and always seemed to be involved with the business of other birds at the bird feeders and with other animals including the chipmunks. This bird vocalized loudly including scolding, warning, and singing sounds that included imitations of other birds. I had a large tree outside of my bedroom window in Concord N.H. One of the constant visitors to my window, on a branch just outside was a Bluejay. I think that this bird visited almost every day in the fall and winter of my 4th year. It would preen and call, fly away and fly back, and sometimes stare at me even as I stared back. We had a feeder nearby and this brought a lot of birds, but this one Bluejay seemed to favorite the branch outside of my window. One day I was sleeping under a tree at this camp and I was woken by a screaming Blue Jay. When I looked up I was literally surrounded by 8 cows that had escaped a pasture and were grazing on the grass that surrounded me. I yelped a little bit and my grandmother came running out of the cabin to rescue a frightened little Jay. From that day on I learned that Blue Jays have a warning call. And it woke me. I had become very interested in Bluejays, and as a result over the next few years, many other birds and bird species that I observed almost everywhere. Chickadees were very friendly and my grandfather taught me to hold seed in my hand and feed them from my hand. Robins, Canada Geese, crows, and cardinals were always around. One of my grandparents favorite birds, that they told me about was the Bluebird. However in these days of the late 1950's and for decades thereafter they had vanished and so the bluebird story was more like a fairytale. My grandparents lamented this vanishing and told me about how the Bluebirds had always been the harbingers of spring in their youth. Thinking and learning about that brought me seriously to nature studies. I was reading Rachel Carson by the time I was 10. I started studying science, natural science, and even in elementary school I was winning science fairs about things like clean water and Karner Blue Butterflies. It took decades, until the late 1970's early 1980's before I actually saw my first bluebird. This was in Western New York. I had been working as a volunteer at Beaver Meadow Nature Center and my friend, Ana Mae Bacon, then a 90 year old naturalist, introduced me to a bluebird restoration project (and wood duck projects also). We built boxes for both. One day we saw a bluebird visit one of the next boxes. That was the beginning of a wonderful relationship to these beautiful birds. Today it is difficult to go out almost anywhere anytime of the year, in a rural area and not find a bluebird. Just this week, late March 2022 I have encountered dozens of these birds, singing, checking out next boxes, from Allegany to Letchworth, Montezuma, Beaver Meadow, Beaver Island, Iroquois, and Knox State Park. The vocals of this beautiful blue bird are quite different from the Blue Jay. While the Blue Jay is loud and confrontational vocally, the Blue bird has a soft, gentle, sometimes wistful call and song. I tried to upload a short video of a singing Bluebird that I recorded yesterday, (154 MB) just to provide a bookend experience for this narrative, but it would not take the video. My spark bird, the blue jay, introduced me to life long engagement, and I think, on this day as I reflect, that it helped me be involved in the restoration of bluebirds, Wood Ducks, and a life long commitment to advocating for vanishing birds. [age 4]

Meaghan Boice-Green

I grew up in an old house that was not in great shape when we moved in. From one of the upstairs bathrooms, you could see the roof of a one-story addition that had been added to the house at some point; it wasn't heated when we bought the house so we didn't use it for much. It eventually became our family room, but until that renovation happened, every spring starlings would nest in the eave of that roof. I would stand in the bathroom and watch the parents feed the babies and see how the babies changed as they grew.

Starlings tend to get a bad rap, but those starlings sparked an interest in nature in me. I paid more attention to the other birds and creatures in our neighborhood, and wondered about how those birds raised their young. [age 7]


we were at the Cleveland museum and in the outside area, and there was a peregrine falcon in a enclosure. it was the first time I saw one in real life. it was really amazing and i have loved birds ever since. [age 7]


I was born loving birds, I can't remember a time I did not love birds. [age 0]

2023 Spark Birders

New Spark Birders from 2023

Hedy B.

It's a bit petty, but one sister of mine seemed to know a lot about birds and I got jealous and wanted to know as much! I started looking at backyard birds and in nearby parks, got a bird guide, signed up on some birding websites so I could learn more. I joined a birding challenge that led me to different parks and I learned about different birds in the area. My really great finds were a scarlet tanager (I was so excited!) and a very rare, for my part of the country, Ibis and then a Spoonbill. These were really exciting finds for me! I'm still learning and gaining knowledge, thanks to some sibling rivalry!  [age 42]

Alida Franco

My spark bird experience can be described as twofold: both experiences occurring about 20 years apart. someone had suggested a trip to Monte Vista, Colorado to view the sandhill cranes, which was something previously unheard of to me . but I invited a couple of family members and we headed out to the area which was about a 3 and 1/2 to 4-hour drive. It was March and overcast. when we arrived at the wildlife reserve, we were amazed to see thousands of birds dancing and karooing in an elaborate symphony of sound. It was just mesmerizing. But low and behold, in the middle of the entire group was a single whooping crane, whose code of white feathers stood out dramatically amongst the grayness of its surroundings . I was really taken by the whole experience, the beauty of it all, and the power of nature to an excite and captivate.

My second spark bird experience was equally as amazing. I was on sand Padre Island to visit a friend and had a lot of time on my hands so I would walk up and down the beach endlessly . I was fascinated with the shorebirds, and in particular the sanderlings that just raced back and forth chasing the waves . I was in total delight watching their behavior. they were just so incredibly charming! of course, I enjoyed the other shorebirds as well, as there were many. But this particular bird caught my eye and stood out. They just seem so enchanting! I ended up purchasing a drawing of those same sanderlings from a local artist, and this frame drawing now hangs in my bedroom for viewing every day. It was this second experience that finally launched me into the activity of birding. I haven't turned back since then. [age 50]

Rafaela Spalding

I'm from southeast Brazil, I'm autistic and birds are my "special interest."

When I was a child, all I could talk about was animals, especially birds. None of my family members understood much about birds, but my grandpa liked to support my passion. He gifted me a book about the birds of the Atlantic Forest. It wasn't a field guide; it was actually a hefty book with a single bird species per page, but it quickly became one of my most cherished possessions. I ran around with that book, attempting to identify all the birds around me. Due to the impracticality of the book, I rarely managed to determine the species before the bird flew away.

One day, while observing birds at my grandpa's house in the city of Ubatuba, state of São Paulo, I spotted a stunning blue bird I had never seen before. It was larger and more vibrant than the familiar Blue Dacnis (Dacnis cayana) and had the loveliest white belly. I hurriedly flipped through the pages of my large book... until I found it: a swallow tanager (Tersina viridis). I successfully identified it before it took off, allowing me time to admire that beautiful specimen. After it flew away, I couldn't contain my excitement and spent the day telling everyone I met about what I had seen. That experience changed my life forever, and I became a dedicated birder... well, as dedicated as a 6-year-old with very limited autonomy could be! [age 6]


I remember laying on the sofa, lazily scrolling through YouTube, when I stumbled upon a video titled something like "Cockatiel repeating songs" and I was intrigued by the way the parrot sang, the look on its face, the composure, overall by the way it looked and behaved. And one video lead to another, until this interest I had developed into a full blown passion for birds, shaping my dream to become a biologist into becoming an ornithologist working for a bird sanctuary / rehabilitation center for birds of prey.

That video shaped me so much that I became the "bird guy" in my friend group, and everyone around me asks me to identify birds every time they get the occasion to. I love it, I love lovings birds as it helped me come out of a dense cloud of uncertainty of what to do in the future.

I'll forever remember cockatiels being the first bird I was hooked on. [age 11]

Lauren Ledesma

My spark bird was introduced to me by my 1 year old. We moved into a new house with huge windows and surrounded by shrubs and trees. He was entranced by the little birds that hopped around and sang. He would babble at us about the birds and I knew I wanted to encourage any natural naturalist tendencies. So I looked up the name of the little birds. White-crowned sparrows! We then identified the mourning doves and scrub jays that occasionally visited. The floodgates opened! We have an identification guide and a "Common Backyard Birds of Northern California" and multiple bird feeders. Over a year later and we are landscaping our backyard with natives for pollinators and birds and we have a designated "bird watching chair" and bird art all over the windows. My almost 3 year old has mostly moved on to trucks but the rest of the family are confirmed backyard birders! [age 32]

Nicole Alexander

I took an ornithology course in college because I liked the professors, not necessarily birds (I was always a "reptiles" girl). I already owned binoculars that I used for stargazing so I went out on my old one day to look for birds, in the winter of upstate New York. I walked through the snow until I saw a group of birds on a small, leafless tree with red berries at the edge of campus. I looked through my binoculars and was shocked to see bright red and yellow spots on what I assumed was going to be a drab brown bird. "What IS that?" I also saw that the birds had a crest, like a cardinal. I thought only cardinals had a crest. "What IS THAT?" I frantically flipped through the pages of my eastern bird guide, terrified the birds would fly away before I could identify them. [age 22]

Benjamin Costello 

We have a Holly tree just below my bedroom window. One day in mid-February, I was in my room when I heard a very loud and repetitive bird song. The bird kept singing loudly for maybe 10 minutes. I had never really paid attention to birds and bird song before, but this was so noticeable and long, I decided to walk outside to the tree to see if I could find the bird. In the tree was a male Northern Cardinal, and he sat there singing his song on an early spring-like afternoon for another few minutes. I thought it sounded pretty and also as though I could hear his longing for spring and for companionship, and that resonated with me. At the time, I had just started going on walks in my neighborhood to relieve stress and anxiety, and suddenly I found myself noticing all the Northern Cardinals calling and singing since I now knew what they sounded like. And as I got familiar with Northern Cardinals, I wanted to see if I could find some other birds, so I grabbed a field guide and went to the local wetlands, where I quickly found three Red-bellied Woodpeckers calling and chasing each other, presumably trying to establish territory. It was fascinating, and I had to know more and I had to start paying attention to the drama and beauty of the natural world that I had never noticed before. I signed up for Ebird...and then a few days later, everything shut down because of the pandemic, and I had basically infinite time to explore empty trails all day. I'll call both the Northern Cardinal and the Red-bellied Woodpecker my dual spark birds for that reason. [age 23]

Kayla Fisk

My spark bird is the chuck-wills-widow. My family always had bird feeders and were casual birders for as long as I can remember. I of course, joined in, but what started the spiral of obsession was one nice summer night. I like most warm nights, had my window open, listening to the eastern whip/poor-wills and calling (which I didn't learn til much later in life was unusual, that this bird that I took for granted wasn't so common everywhere) and American woodcocks displaying. That night though, I heard a different sound, very similar to the whip-poor-will, but something was off. I remember getting out of bed and waking my parents to tell them there was a weird bird outside. I don't remember how I figured out what bird it was at that time, this was before Merlin and eBird and back when you called a number to leave a recording on a phone number to report any rare birds. Eventually my parents agreed on my possible id and the next day mentioned it to a friend who also was a birder, they of course didn't believe my id at first either, I was just a kid after all. After a day or so to think on it, they realized I knew what a whip-poor-will sounded like, I would know what wasn't one, and decided to swing by that night, after all, it would be nice to hear a whip-poor-will at the very least as they were very uncommon in the region. The surprise was evident on the friends face when, just as I said, a chuck-wills-widow and several whip-poor-wills began calling several yards away from us. Many calls were made, people notified and the next several nights our long driveway was full of cars from people all over the state for this mega-rarity. People from Cornell, birders of all skills and ages. Until then I really wasn't aware of how deep this bird 'obsession' could be, I really hadn't thought about how their were careers around them, how many birds were really out there and the community that was build around people's love for these amazing creatures. This very lost bird had introduced me to the birding community. It was also an awesome bonus to stay up past my bedtime to listen to all these peoples birding stories as they waited for the Chuck-wills-widow to begin calling each night for more than a week. [age 12]


My spark birds. I have two. 

The first one. 

When I was 10 years old, my parents rented an old house surrounded by a neglected apple orchard, a huge vegetable garden gone to weed, thickets of raspberries and redcurrants and scrubby woods with giant puffballs and fungus scabbed trees that could have been extras in a horror film. It was located halfway up a hill on a narrow one-way street with no neighbors or street lights. No one came to our house on Halloween, it was deemed too scary even by my friends. 

The house had been the first schoolhouse in the area, built in the 1800s. It had been added onto in a slapdash manner - the bedrooms upstairs were reached by a staircase that had been put into an old closet and was steep enough to qualify as a ladder, as we often put our hands on the upper stairs when climbing up and went down backwards. 

It had last been the home of a University professor of biology and his family.The professor had made brown and cream tiles for the fireplace surround showing the evolution of life from amoebas to dinosaurs, to mammals, apes and humans. When he passed away, his wife rented the old creaky house to us and moved to a cozy apartment.

We didn't know much about the birds that filled the woods around us, so my parents bought a little feeder and put it up outside the kitchen window, and a Golden Guide to identify our guests. We saw all the regular feeder visitors and wrote the dates in the little Golden Guide. 

The house had a screen porch on the side surrounded by thick bushes I now know were yews.There was a cherry tree overhanging it and lilies of the valley around the ankles of the porch steps. One summer, a pair of Cardinals decided this was an ideal site to set up house and raise the kids. My parents decreed the porch off limits while the Cardinals raised their brood, so we watched the progress through the bubbled old glass of the living room window. The slow motion count down was excruciatingly long to my young self, from nest building to incubation to finally, the first chirps and squeaks as bug deliveries were shuttled in by the parents. All we could see at first were the tips of beaks above the edge of the nest. As the chicks grew, heads began poking up, yellow rimmed gapes pointed to the incoming mom or dad. 

We watched the whole cycle of nesting to birth, to mousy brown and still flightless youngsters hopping around inside the shrub white their parents tried to herd them back to safety. And then they were gone and we could go out on the porch again. They had become "our" cardinals during the summer and we speculated if visitors to the feeder on the other side of the house were our family. 

My second bird. 

Two years after we lived in the school house, my parents bought an old farmhouse on a former sod farm just outside the city. The derelict barn still stood behind the house, a magnetic attraction for kids. We climbed the beams and played in the piles of hay in our own private kingdom. The road in front of the house was dusty gravel and a few minutes walk out of the back door brought us to corn fields of the next farm. We had no neighbors until the former farm was subdivided and houses began to be built.

I would take the dog and go on long rambles into the countryside, along the lightly traveled roads and across the fields. These walks didn't have a particular purpose, I just liked being outdoors seeing how things had changed since I last walked that way. 

On one ramble in early winter the road was slicked with a skin of ice and the grasses were crunchy underfoot and etched with frost crystals. An ice storm the night before had silvered the landscape. At the top of the hill I saw a puddle with a bubbly white crust of ice begging to be stomped. Twigs from a small shrub had bent into the puddle from the ice weight. I noticed a small blob of feathers stuck to the ice where the twigs bent over. I looked closer and saw a sparrow, ice dusting its feathers. I picked it up, thinking it had frozen, but felt a small pulse of life. I stuck the soggy bundle of fluff inside my parka against my chest. As it warmed, it began to stir, not with fear, but more nestling into the comfort of the heat it was receiving. I talked to it as I walked and felt its spark returning. After a while it shook itself as if to say, OK I'm back, so I lifted it out and let it sit on my palm, almost weightless now that it was dry. It sat very calmly for a few minutes then flew off. I wished it a happy life and continued my walk, but it was a changing experience, to feel that tiny life resurrect over my heart. 

Neither of these sparks immediately turned me into a passionate birder, as I was occupied with teen drama, moving away for college and the not terribly exciting life of a broke 20 something in NYC. I wasn't aware of the birds packed into Central Park because that oasis in its concrete surround didn't fit my stereotype of where you find birds. But the embers still simmered and when we moved to Long Island, which felt like a place where I could find "real" nature, I put up a feeder at our new house and bought a guide book, Roger Tory Peterson's this time, as I was ready for much more information. And the birds came, each with unique qualities observed from the kitchen window. I made notes in the margins of the guide book, and felt the urge for more, to see those birds that were in the book, but not my yard. I joined the local Audubon chapter and went on walks, learning from the more experienced birders who were happy to share their passion. Eventually I became an experienced birder, though there wasn't a moment that I could pinpoint that transition, and there is still so much more to learn and see. Now I pass it along as a trip leader, assuring new converts that everyone starts from square one, makes mistakes, and expands their knowledge. That it's a process that can take a lifetime, but a lifetime of excitement and challenges with every season. [age 10]


I was working as a young field biologist surveying for wildlife in Polk County, FL. There were pastures with open fields. I started noticing small hawk like birds hovering above fields. It wasn't one of my target species but for some reason I had to know what it was. After that I starting finding myself noticing more and more birds that I had to know. The rest is history! [age 25]

George Crafts

My "spark bird" was a book: Audubon's "Birds of America ". Looking through the many beautiful drawings it contains, I was utterly fascinated, and that attraction to birds has never left me. I first saw the book in my grandfather's home when I was a child. "Dee Dee" as we called him was one of my heroes in those days. He and grandmother lived 800 miles away from us, so we only saw them once a year. While we were visiting I would spend hours going through his large collection of picture books about animals from all over the world, but "Birds of America" was my favorite. I remember especially being impressed by the wild turkey, the first picture in the book, and the magnificent dark eagle, the one he thought was a new species. The drawings of birds now extinct also had a powerful impact on me. Many years passed before I actually began to explore birding, but I know that book is behind it all - and now I have my own copy! [age 6]

Jennifer Fendya

It was early in the pandemic - 2020 - and I was walking in Forest Lawn cemetery in Buffalo, NY. I can't recall the exact time of year, but I know there were leaves on the trees and it was a beautiful sparkly day. I grew up with a backyard bird feeder my parents tended daily and I knew the birds common to our area, like robins, bluejays, cardinals, crows, seagulls, sparrows, and can identify those with iconic visuals like hawks, herons, goldfinches and woodpeckers. But on that day in Forest Lawn, when I saw a blue flash whizz by me along the Scajaquada creek bed making a "chittering" call, I called back, "Kingfisher!!!" I wasn't sure where my response came from, as I'd never owned a birding guidebook or remember encountering this particular avian performance before. I thought about the Fisher King of Arthurian legend, protector and embodiment of the land, and also about being thrilled as a child by the daring aerial acrobatics of the Blue Angels. After sitting for a while to watch the noisy back-and-forth fly-by, enraptured and entertained, I had enough descriptors to Google my new friend. I was bursting with excitement when "Belted Kingfisher" turned up, so, proud of this personal "first," I texted friends and family my good news and received back their kind congrats. I felt extremely joyful, even without knowing that I'd just met my Spark Bird! [age 57]


Saw a family of crows attacking a Merlin hawk while the hawk tried to hunt.  [age 15]

Ellen Tomczak

We built a house in a rural area, moving from the city. I received a bird feeder and bird seed as a house warming gift. I put it up in my yard. One day I spotted a beautiful bird I had never seen before. I had to buy a book, since it was the spring of 1995 and I couldn't google it. Next came binoculars. I began to see more and more birds. I was hooked! I joined a bird group through our local science museum. I have been birding ever since that spring day. I have traveled around the United States with this group, searching for new birds to see. My life list is just under 500 birds. My spark bird is the Rose breasted grosbeak.  [age 43]

Kathy Contrino

My spark bird is the Bald eagle. When I was a child eagles were endangered due to pesticides. I knew they existed but had never observed one in the wild. My first observation was at Iroquois NWR. I cry sometimes when I see them in the wild. I know their continued existence is a testament to what we can do if we set our mind to it. Resilience is a choice and we can all make that choice in the face of climate change.   [age 8]

Judy Liddell 

Four years before I retired, I 'stumbled' into birding. While I had been fascinated with birds - even using them in my home décor, I never thought I had the patience to really slow down and pay attention to them.

That all changed when I had my knees replaced in early 2002. My friend Barbara, a long-time birder, hung some seed bells in the bushes outside my bedroom window - and I started paying attention to my visitors. I found a field guide that had belonged to my Dad and tried to identify my new friends, calling Barb frequently to tell her about what I was seeing. Heartened by my enthusiasm, Barbara hung a suet cake in the bush, and soon a Curve-billed Thrasher paid a visit.

I was enthralled. Here was a bird that was not little and seemingly drab - but larger, with a yellow eye and long curved bill. I was hooked.

As I recovered and learned to walk again with two new knees, I went to the Rio Grande Nature Center on the weekend, walked slowly, and then sat on a bench and tried to identify birds. I devoured Kingbird Highway and took my field guide to bed every night to study. This was the beginning of what would become my 'second career' when I retired 4 years later. [age 59]

Mimi Darragh 

In May of 1974 after graduating from college, a group of us traveled to Canada. We were able to find a fisherman to take us out around Bonaventure Island off the coast of Quebec. Since it was nesting season, we could not land on the island but there were thousands of seabirds flying all around us: gannets and murres mostly and of course we were looking for puffins that were pretty rare at that time. It was the experience of all the birds flying, soaring, diving all around us that hooked me to find out more about birds. [age 21]

Haley Pond

I first got into birding during my senior year of high school when I took a Zoology class through Jamestown Community College. The entire spring semester of the class was spent studying birds! Our teacher, Mr. Jankowski, gave us weekly ID, sound, and scientific name quizzes. I always hated taking quizzes, until they were about identifying birds. It became almost like a game to me, and I completely fell in love with trying to identify birds and their calls. Mr. Jankowski was also my golf coach, so we spent a lot of time birding while on the golf course and on the drive to matches. I realized I was hooked on birds when I spent more time birding during a golf match than actually playing golf! Golf courses and my high school biology class are really where I found my passion for birding.  [age 18]

Illustrated Spark Bird Stories


I went to an avian zoo and took my camera with me to practice making pictures of animals.

A raven immediately caught my attention by looking straight at me.

I grabbed my camera and shot some pictures. 

When the raven started to pose and show me his/her feathers I was stunned!

I knew these species were smart but not like this. 

Ever since then I always kept love and adoration towards these black, often misunderstood birds. [age 22]

Alexandra Bradley

I was working at Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation as an Interpretive Park Guide between the years of 2018-2021. I had an interest in birds minimally but didn't really put effort into learning about them until I saw the resident mated pair of Ravens at Grandfather Mountain. What drew me to these birds was how seemingly charismatic they were. And they were oh so fun to watch! The Ravens had a particular spot they hung out which was right next to the peak I monitored, so I got to see them almost everyday. On windy days, they would often fly around the peak together, showing off their impressive diving and barrel roll techniques. Hearing their raspy calls in the morning always got me excited to start the day. They eventually had babies and explaining to people the weird screaming they were hearing was juvenile ravens and not screaming children really stuck with me.

When they weren't hanging out in their usual spots, they would hang out near the bear habitats to steal food from the bears when possible. There was one specific bear in particular that they would steal from; an older female black bear named Gerry. Gerry didn't always eat her food in one sitting, so oftentimes the ravens would wait for Gerry to walk away before sneaking down to stuff their throat pouches with as much food as possible before Gerry returned. One particular day, I was assisting the habitat staff with bear feeding. One of the staff members fed Gerry on her typical rock and we watched the ravens descend like normal. Gerry decided to hang out near her food on this day. When Gerry would turn away from the pair, one of the ravens would quickly try to sneak in to steal food before she looked back at them. If she turned too early, the raven would quickly turn and walk in the opposite direction. When Gerry turned away once again, the raven would resume it's attempt. This happen multiple times until both ravens had sufficiently stolen enough food to be satisfied and fly away. It truly showed the personality and intelligence of these birds while giving my coworker and myself a good laugh. It honestly reminded me of scenes in movies/tv shows when someone was trying to steal something and would look away whistling if it seemed like they were about to get caught.

While I have since moved on from Grandfather Mountain, I still look back fondly on those ravens. My former coworkers will give me updates on them, letting me know what they've been up to and what people/animals they've harassed. Every time I visit, I still get excited when I hear them call or see them flying over the peak. I have since developed a love for all birds but I can say with confidence that my favorite bird to this day remains the Common Raven. I even got a raven tattoo, solidifying this sentiment.

The picture I have attached is one the ravens flying over the peak with it's feet down. It was a particularly windy day and they were putting on a particularly impressive show for the people visiting the mountain that day.

James Van Gelder

In sixth grade it was customary for students to go for a week to Camp Bernie- a traditional sleep away camp in rural New Jersey. Although there were a few bright spots, as a shy socially awkward kid it was mostly tough going. One morning there was a bird walk, scheduled for what seemed to me an ungodly early hour. In reality probably 6:00 AM or so. Having always been an "animal kid" with a passion for natural history ( mostly herps ) I was eager to go. Birds were animals too! Not sure if any other birds were seen, but at one point a Pileated Woodpecker was spotted and I caught a glimpse of it zipping through the trees. I remember it being described as a "rare bird" This was the point at which I started to become a birder.