College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Bird Is the Word

Birders student organization takes flight

May 22, 2015 | By Sara E. Baker Courtesy of The Daily Mississippian

COURTESY: OLE MISS BIRDERS Ole Miss Birders meet at Hurricane Landing Sunday.

Ole Miss Birders at Hurricane Landing | Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Birders

In September 2014, the University of Mississippi welcomed its newest student organization: the Ole Miss Birders.

The Ole Miss Birders are a group of students looking to expand their knowledge of birds and bird watching. They also hope to share this knowledge with other students and citizens of Oxford.

“We’d like to raise education and, at least, awareness of birds in Oxford,” said Cullen Patrick, biology major and vice president of the Ole Miss Birders. “We hope to have some philanthropy events for endangered species, especially those from Mississippi and around Oxford.”

Though this group is just starting out, the enthusiastic leaders are ready to take on the challenges of a new organization.

“It’s a new club, we’re just getting off the ground. It’s been in the works since Aug. 25, but became official at the new club orientation,” said Nick Dugan,  dietetics major and president of the Ole Miss Birders. “The club itself is growing really fast. We’ve put a lot of work into it, and it’s good to see the turnout. Over 75 people have liked our page on Facebook. We would love more student involvement.”

While there are many organizations on campus that focus on animals and animal welfare, the Ole Miss Birders are the first to take on the study of birds.

“It’s a great way for college students at Ole Miss to do something new, something different,” Patrick said.

Though some students may be skeptical of bird watching for fun, the organization’s leaders gave many different reasons to get involved.

“It’s a really cool way for everyone to hang out,” Dugan said. “Even our Facebook page is fun and full of bird puns. I’d encourage other students to really give the club a chance. If going out and looking at birds isn’t your thing, it’s a multifaceted organization. We want to have something for everyone, with fundraisers and other events. It’s not just a one-sided coin.”

Jason Hoeksema, associate professor of biology, is faculty sponsor for the Ole Miss Birders.

“Birds are really awesome,” Hoeksema said. “When you start to recognize the birds around you, it makes life more fun. You can take that skill with you anywhere in the world. Any club that fosters that is great.”

In the time since their formation, the Ole Miss Birders have taken on volunteer work at the annual Hummingbird Migration Celebration with the Strawberry Plains Audubon. Some members were able to work with kids through education fun, while others helped to “band” hummingbirds, in a process used the further the information to be collected about each bird.

The Ole Miss Birders took a trip to Hurricane Landing for their first live birding experience.

“Hurricane Landing is a backwash and sandbar at Sardis,” Patrick said. “It’s the season for waterfowl migration, but Sardis always has a good waterfowl population. This is our first event to hang out with Jason (Hoeksema) and learn about how to birdwatch.”

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The Hurricane Landing event also allowed new students to get an idea of the Ole Miss Birders organization and what they do.

“The group just sounds interesting,” said Jimmy Artis, MFA candidate in poetry. “I’m a grad student here and grad students often have a tendency to focus on just what you’re doing and not being a part of the community. The Ole Miss Birders is a different way to get involved.”

In the future, the Ole Miss Birders plan to take several more trips around Northern Mississippi and hold workshops in partnership with Delta Wind Birds, an organization founded by Hoeksema, which would be free to students.

The group also looks forward to fundraising for wildlife conservations and hope to implement bird boxes throughout Oxford that would encourage birds to stay within the town and be used to learn more about bird populations.

The Ole Miss Birders are excited to get the student body involved in raising awareness.

“We’re really excited to hit the ground running,” Patrick said. “We hope to have some future events with Greek life on campus. One possible event might be a bird housing competition between fraternities, to get more people involved.”

Students looking for more information on the Ole Miss Birders should check out their Facebook page.