Birderbein’s Florida Spring Break was all Fun and Sun… and Birds!

Posted Mar 25, 2024

By Maggie Nicol ’25

While some students hit the beach for spring break, ǿմý’s student bird watching and conservation group, Birderbein, hits the best spots for viewing bucket-list birds. In 2023, Birderbein traveled to Nebraska to watch the Greater Prairie Chickens perform their singing and mating dance. They also saw Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese.

This year, Birderbein traveled to Florida to visit the White Oak Conservation. This alternative spring break allowed students behind the scenes to look closely at both in situ conservation work and ex-situ zookeeping and management, tailoring to those interested in fieldwork, zookeeping, or both. 

The White Oak Conservation is a state-of-the-art scientific education and conservation center focused on saving and recovering rare species populations, building assurance populations, researching animal health, convening experts, and educating the next generation of conservation experts — including members of Birderbein.

The last time Birderbein’s president Katelyn Shelton visited Florida was when she had just started developing an interest in bird watching. 

“I hardly knew what unique and stunning birds Florida had to offer — birds like Roseate Spoonbills, magnificent frigate birds, American Oystercatchers, Snail Kites, and the endemic Florida Scrub Jay. Besides making cherished memories with some of my closest friends, I’m excited to see the state with sharper, more experienced eyes,” said Shelton.

In addition, the club visited parks like J.N. Ding Darling NWR, Fort De Soto, and Cruikshank Sanctuary, which boast a unique combination of Floridian birds and beautiful scenery. 

“I’ll be overjoyed to see Piping Plovers again. I worked with them all summer, so the species is close to my heart. Some new birds I’d love to see include Florida Scrub Jays, Nanday Parakeets, Wilson’s Plovers, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and American Flamingos,” says Shelton. 

White Oak Conservation partners with ǿմý University, giving ǿմý Zoo and Conservation Science majors a foot in the door with application processes. Many of Shelton’s friends have either applied or had internships. Valerie Rastatter, Birderbein’s former treasurer, was one of the lucky students who spent a summer working with White Oak. With her help and the generosity of White Oak employees, Birderbein reached out and pulled together a spectacular visit.

“Finding people to bird with is key. I always learn twice as fast and twice as many birds when I have more eyes and ears, not to mention the colorful palette of experiences and knowledge. Sometimes, it’s more memorable and fun to share the joy of birds with others. Birderbein has proved that to me time and time again, and I’m sure it will for other students, too,” Shelton said.

And fun is an important component, according to Shelton. “This is spring break, after all. After working so hard this semester, we deserve to relax and enjoy what the Sunshine State and each other’s company can bring,” she said.