A Chirp Off the Old Block


When senior Josh Williams watched a birdhouse commercial on television one summer day, he didn’t anticipate the clear box to be a catalyst for a hobby he would enjoy for years to come.

“I was watching TV and there was a commercial for a birdhouse that you could put on your window so that you can see their nest,” Williams said. “I thought it was cool so I got one and from there on I thought it would be cool to attract birds.”

After experimenting with the birdhouse, William’s interest in birds sparked, despite the birdhouse experiment not working.

Williams began birdwatching in seventh grade and just a few years later introduced the hobby to his friend Vianey Ellison, and they now enjoy going to local trails and parks in order to discover new birds.

“We mainly go to the botanical gardens,” Williams said. “We’ve gone to Wildwood before and just trails around here basically.”

After years of observing and studying birds, both seniors have formed opinions for each bird.

“My favorite species of bird is called the white-breasted nuthatch,” Williams said. “They can walk down the sides of trees, they grip it with their feet. It’s like there’s no gravity.”

Much like Williams, Ellison has chosen a favorite species of bird based off of their unique characteristics and markings.

“Woodpeckers are my favorite. They make a lot of noises and they’re very colorful,” Ellison said. “They’re always red, black, and white. Males have a red spot.”

Throughout their years of birdwatching, or ‘birding,” as it is referred to by regular birdwatchers, both Williams and Ellison have learned to identify many species species of birds. Not only have they learned how to identify birds but also how to call them. Unlike Ellison, Williams is unable to bird call but he has found alternate ways of attracting birds.

“I just play the sound through my phone,” Williams said. “There is an official bird call tool, which is a little piece of wood with a metal piece that you twist. It makes high pitched sounds.”

Both Ellison and Williams are now able to capture the characteristics of birds through a camera lense, and photograph unique birds they see while birding.

“You have to set your camera to a fast shutter speed if you want to get a good picture of the wings but if you get the autofocus and press the button right when they get in frame you’re probably fine,” Ellison said.

During their expeditions there have been several memories that have made the experience worth while, sometimes they have even waited hours to get the perfect shot.

“I’ve sat in the bushes for an hour, waiting. It got really dark and I got tired of waiting, so I left,” Ellison said. “I never got the picture because it got way too dark and the pictures had way too much flash.”

Not only have Ellison and Williams waited out to get a picture, but they have also seen some unusual things as well. Both seniors have seen interesting birds in the wrong places.

“Vianey and I were in Atlanta and we saw, I think it was a Scarlet Tanager which is only native to the south east,” Williams said.

They have also shared interesting moments in which they have watched for a certain bird just to get not only an intersecting photos, but video.

“We had a box with birdseed underneath it and we had watched it for a couple of hours,” Ellison said. “When a bird would come in we would  pull a string and then the box would fall on top of the bird.”

After the birdwatchers had captured a bird they would videotape themselves releasing them. This would allow both seniors to create a interesting shot.

Birdwatching has not only inspired them to try a new hobby, but they also based a science fair project on birds. The project was based off the idea that hummingbirds are known to attack and the unfair circumstances created by the male hummingbird.

“We tested hummingbird aggression by changing the amount of food sources available to them,” Ellison said. “Over the course of our freshmen and sophomore year we tested increasing and decreasing the amount and found that although more feeders meant that there would be more food to share, they tended to cooperate.”

Through their years of observations and discoveries, Ellison and Williams went on to win 1st and 2nd over the timespan of two years in Animal Behavior at county, attended the state fair, and received a special award from the Conejo Valley Audubon Society.

From their research they concluded that time plays a large role, along with the consistency of where the feeders were.

Ellison points out how easy it is for anyone to start birdwatching.

“You can find any information online and you can always go out into the field with binoculars and a field guide and you’ll be fine,” Ellison said.

With only a camera, some binoculars, a field guide and the interest of learning about a species, seniors Vianey Ellison and Josh Williams has found a hobby that has inspired them to connect to nature.