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!
The Spark Bird Project's Ornithologist,
Dr. Sara Morris
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] https://rtpi.org/
"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!
Stephen N Anderson
Harrison Thomas Armstrong Reeds
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]
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
Illustrated Spark Bird Stories
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.