Meet Three of NYC's Young Birders

Thu Lan Perales-Nguyen, Tamrat Gavenas, and John Dean © Lark Song Media/Karen Benfield


This article appears in the Spring 2021 issue of The Urban Audubon.

By Rebecca Minardi

In our work to protect birds and the natural spaces they need, few efforts are more important than introducing young people to the joy and wonder of birding. NYC Audubon’s Kids Member program provides guided children’s walks, while our Feathered Friends program provides after-school fun (and is “going virtual” this spring). Below, three past and present KIDS Members share some of what they’ve learned along their birding journeys . . . so far.

At 8 years old, Thu Lan Perales-Nguyen (now 11) correctly disinguished the exotic Mandarin Duck drake (left) from the native Wood Duck drake (right). Photos: Hong Nguyen, Melody Andres

Thu Lan Perales-Nguyen, 11, became a birder in second grade. It all started during a discussion with her sister: Thu Lan posited that pigeons must be smart in order to survive life in the City; her sister was not so sure. A trip to the library and several books later, Thu Lan won the argument and had a new hobby. Her mother, Hong, says that birding has become a great way to spend time together, especially early in the morning. They’ve found the New York City birding community to be very welcoming and willing to share its knowledge with them.

Thu Lan and her mom recall a visit to Central Park in 2018, when a Mandarin Duck was a frequent visitor there. Having encountered a small crowd oohing and aahing over a lovely bird they believed to be the Mandarin Duck, Thu Lan stepped up and politely insisted that the group was in fact admiring a Wood Duck. She remained firm despite others’ protestations, until vindicated by a second observer who confirmed the species mix-up. (A few days later, after several attempts, she got to see the actual Mandarin Duck.)

Hong notes that though her daughter is small in stature, she has considerable knowledge—and adds that when travel is again possible, Thu Lan will make sure to research what bird species can be seen on their next vacation. Hong says that birding has become a family pastime and helps them all spend more time outdoors. Thu Lan is considering pursuing ornithology as a career and would like to tell other kids that birding is easy and something you can do anywhere, even in New York City. “The City is busy and noisy, and it can make you feel small. But the pace in slower in the park, and the birds and squirrels don’t care who you are.”

Tam Gavenas became a NYC Audubon KIDS Member as soon as he could: he received his member certificate as a present on his eighth birthday. Photo: M. Gavenas
Tamrat (Tam) Gavenas, 13, says that though he’s always been interested in birds, it was also in second grade that he really caught birding fever. His teacher asked everyone to choose a New York City bird to study, and Tam chose the formidable Great Horned Owl. Though he hasn’t seen one in his home borough of Manhattan, he’s spotted one upstate. He says it’s definitely the bird he’s studied the most, and he is especially interested in owl feathers. “Imagine you’re a mouse and an owl silently flies up on you,” he says, and explains how an owl’s feathers are structured so that its wing beat is silent. Tam likes to watch hawks and raptors stalk and capture their prey; once in Central Park, he saw a Red-tailed Hawk nab a rodent. We joke that Central Park could use a few more hawks to cut back on its over-abundance of rats.

Tam is excited that NYC Audubon’s Feathered Friends After-School Birding Club will soon offer virtual birding meet-ups, in hopes they will inspire other kids to look at the science behind birds. Like Thu Lan, Tam would like to study ornithology in the future, with a focus on birds’ flight patterns and migration habits. “I kind of want to study how climate change impacts bird migration; will they start staying in one place or continue heading south?” This is an important question, and we are glad this next generation is thinking about such issues.

John Dean meets a colony of Gentoo (pronounced “JEN-too”) Penguins, which live in Antarctica and on the islands of the Southern Cone. Photo: Steven Dean

John Dean, 12, remembers first getting interested in birds when he was just 4. He birds in the parks near his home in Brooklyn and especially enjoys Prospect Park, where Dennis Hrehowsik and Bobbi Manian of the Brooklyn Bird Club lead walks. During migration season, John gets out at least once a week; his favorite migrant to spot is the colorful Blackburnian Warbler. He also has a soft spot for penguins. Before the current travel restrictions, he was able to visit several penguin colonies during a trip to Antarctica with his family. When we can travel again, he would love to visit southern Texas during spring migration.

John notes that birding has gotten him more interested in protecting the environment (he doesn’t like it when people let their cats outside, for example), and like his fellow young birders, is considering making birds a part of his career. When asked how he would get other kids interested in birds, he says that he would take them somewhere “normal,” such as a park, ball field, or their own neighborhood, just to show them that birds are “wherever you are.” This is a great reminder to all of us who may be homebound or at least neighborhood bound; no matter where you are, there are birds!

Might you or someone you know (between the ages of 8 and 12) like to become a NYC Audubon Kids Member? NYC Audubon's Kids Memberships are FREE and include a welcome letter and membership card, The Urban Audubon, The eGret eNewsletter, invitations to Kids Member walks, and a 30 percent discount on most local trips and classes. Learn more about NYC Audubon's Kids Member program.