Castillo Tribute

A Tribute to César Castillo

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César A. Castillo, a beloved member of New York City's birding community and an adjunct professor of biology and senior laboratory technician at Queens College, passed away from an illness on March 1, 2023. He was born in Calí, Colombia in 1980 and moved to New York City when he was four years old. César is survived by his wife Wendy, their three children, Giselle, Elyse, Santiago, and his parents, Nelsy and Rolando.
César's introduction to and love of nature began with his grandmother, Carmen Emilia, and grandfather, Victor Manuel, in Calí, Colombia. Carmen was a teacher and would introduce him to flowers and plants via scientific names. Victor sparked his love of birds on their daily long walks where he would quiz him on bird songs.“My love of natural history probably stems from early memories of being in my grandmother's backyard in Colombia,” César wrote in a post for Queens College’s Facebook page during Hispanic Heritage Month 2020. “Coming to the U.S. took me away from nature until I reached college. My mentors reintroduced me to nature and I was transformed from someone who thought going to forests was for native born citizens to someone who spends a lot of time in nature.”

Cesar became a botanist, birder, and naturalist, and loved to share the joys of birding and the natural world with others. With his remarkable memory and sense of direction, he could tell you exactly where he saw a bird, what it was doing, the exact time of day and how to get there. Fellow member of the Queens County Bird Club Donna L. Schulman wrote “My first memory of César is that of a tall, soft-spoken guy standing next to me in a long line of birders, searching for a Virginia’s Warbler—a “mega” find—in Alley Pond Park. César patiently pointed out the tiny bird in dense shrubbery, over and over.”
Cesar believed everyone should have access to nature and that birding could lead to a deeper understanding of local ecosystems and desire to protect them. A member of NYC Audubon’s board of directors, he was an active member of the organization’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility committee, and also served on the Conservation Committee and the Education and Public Program committee. NYC Audubon Board President Karen Benfield said “César's warmth and gentle demeanor made him an easy person to talk to and learn from.” She also noted that this generosity extended to an online community of citizen scientists.

César was immensely proud of his iNaturalist list. He entered 17,612 observations and leads the list for vertebrates logged in New York state. He also made more than 3500 identifications for others on iNaturalist, characteristic of his generosity and kindness. His last post was February 28th, the day before he passed away. “When I look at his entries, I picture him in nature, carefully chronicling the beauty he saw in the world.”