A New Experience for Young Missourians: Missouri Young Birders Club

Remember when you first got into birds? It probably started with one experience or one bird that sparked a fascination and then grew through other experiences and the support of the birding community. Wouldn’t it be great if you had gotten into birds sooner? Think of how much better your ID skills would be! Maybe your love of birds started at a young age, but for me and for many folks that I know, the spark didn’t happen until later in life. The Missouri Young Birders Club (MYBC) would be a chance for young Missourians to ignite a passion for birds and the outdoors, and be able to share that passion with their peers.

The Missouri River Bird Observatory first got the idea to start a young birders club in the state a few years ago, but it wasn’t until this spring that the idea became a reality. The first young birders club was started by six students in Ohio with the assistance of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. They formed what is known as the Ohio Young Birders Club. Since then, young birders clubs have sprung up all over the country with the help of the YBC Toolkit developed by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This spring the Missouri River Bird Observatory hosted the Spring Meeting for the Audubon Society of Missouri. During the Spring Meeting, professionals from all over the state, and outside the state, gathered at a workshop to launch the Missouri Young Birders Club. The MYBC is a new program starting out under the umbrella of the Missouri River Bird Observatory and its mission is to bring together young Missourians to enjoy, experience and conserve Missouri’s birds and other wildlife. The MYBC is part of a framework called the Young Birders Network (YBN). The YBN aims to provide all the resources a young birder needs to know about a life with birds. The YBN is a community of young birders and Young Birders Clubs (YBCs) from all over the United States and the world. The YBN thrives under the philosophy that Young Birders Clubs encourage the next generation of naturalists to grow their interest in the natural world.

The Missouri River Bird Observatory aimed to start a Young Birders Club because Young Birders Clubs increase awareness and appreciation of the natural world and instill a conservation ethic in their members. Many young adults cite young birders clubs, camps, and other networking groups as a turning point for them in their career development. Young birders often have trouble finding similarly-minded peers and YBCs fill this niche.

Our vision for the Missouri Young Birders Club is to have a club that is by kids and for kids. Empowering Missouri’s youth is a large part of the MYBC mission. Youth members will be involved in making decisions for all aspects of the club, as well as have the opportunity to mentor younger naturalists. The club will provide field trips to local birding areas and opportunities for members to get involved with various aspects of conservation. Currently, we are recruiting students ages 8 to 17 years old. The goal is to establish local chapters in different regions of the state (Ex: Kansas City Region, St. Louis Region, Central, Southwest, Southeast, Ozarks). Local chapters will be guided by adult members, but spearheaded youth members. MYBC will also have a conservation focus. Members will not only be able to enjoy and experience Missouri’s birds, but also take action to conserve their habitats.  Examples of how this can be accomplished are assisting with habitat restoration projects and taking part in citizen-science programs such as eBird and FeederWatch. Our hope is to not only involve young Missouri birders, but any young person looking to enjoy the outdoors with their peers. We hope to involve students interested in art, music, design, technology, sports, cooking and any other interest they may have in additional to their interest the natural world. With this hope in mind, we plan to host various events designed to attract young audiences with a wide diversity of interests.

Although this is a big undertaking we have gotten a lot accomplished. There is a MYBC website (www.moyoungbirders.org), as well as a Facebook page and an Instagram account. Many promotional brochures and flyers have been distributed at various events and functions, including Pelican Days at the Audubon Center at Riverlands. Featured on these materials, and in this article, is a logo designed by Chelsea Mosteller of Columbia, a young birder who is also a talented artist and photographer. We have acquired 10 new Field Guides to hand out to any young birder that signs up to be a member, because want every member to have access to the resources they need to go birding not only with MYBC, but also on their own time.

In addition to the progress made above, we have held two field trips in the name of MYBC! The first was held at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Alton, MO (St. Louis Region). The trip was organized through St. Louis Audubon Society. A big shout out to Karen Meyer and Mary Dueren for coordinating this field trip and making it happen! Another shout out to Bill Rowe for accompanying us and getting the word out! We had two young birders at the event and even though our numbers were small, we had a fun, bird-filled trip! Birds observed include Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, a Baird’s Sandpiper and a Long-tailed Duck! The second field trip was held at Burr Oak Nature Sanctuary! Many Kansas City folks helped out with spreading the word about this event and getting it organized, but a huge shout out to Sara Scheil and Dianne Van Dien for going above and beyond! We had six young birders and twelve adults and mentors on our walk. Many stayed to watch the bird banding demonstration by MRBO afterwards. We have more events scheduled in the Kansas City area and further progress is being made in the St. Louis area. Events are also in the scheduling process for Springfield area and the Central Missouri region.

A great deal has been accomplished since that first workshop in the spring, but there is still a long way to go. If you are interested, there are many ways to help:

  • Promote MYBC! This could be at events you are volunteering at or spreading the word to any young Missourian you may know who might be interested. Ask Paige if you need promotional materials.
  • Donate new field guides for new MYBC members.
  • Donate old quality binoculars and/or scopes.
  • Lead a field trip in your area!
  • Let Paige know of any contact information to present in schools and/or clubs about this opportunity for students.

With your help, we can make the Missouri Young Birders Club a statewide phenomenon in which we bring together students of different backgrounds to enjoy, experience and conserve Missouri’s birds and other wildlife. Please don’t hesitate to contact MYBC State Coordinator, Paige Witek, to find out more about how to get involved! Email: paige.witek@mrbo.org

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