This September, as college students across the country were settling back into the rigors of academia, Audubon campus chapter members at Rust College and the University of Mississippi reunited where their bond began in the spring: Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, Mississippi. The occasion? The 20th annual Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration Festival. The multi-day event at Strawberry Plains featured wagon rides, bird-banding demonstrations, live rehabilitated bird and animals, arts and crafts vendors, and Canon “Birds in Focus” nature walks.
During the festival, students from the University of Mississippi’s Magnolia Grove and Rust College’s Birds of a Feather campus chapters oversaw the Audubon tent. They educated festival goers about native plants, encouraged people to download Audubon’s bird guide app, volunteered at the kids’ activity tent, and shared information about their campus chapters.
Though it’s only been seven months since the Audubon on Campus program arrived in Mississippi, the young conservation leaders at both institutions have grown their membership and peers’ interest in birds.
Anish Bista, a mechanical engineering and computer science major at the University of Mississippi, first heard about the program at his job in the office of sustainability. Though he knew nothing about birds, his coworkers, Rachel Anderson and Emma Counce, president and vice-president, respectively, of Magnolia Grove Audubon, encouraged Bista to attend meetings, go birding, and participate in the Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration Festival. After just a few meetings and events, Bista is convinced. He says he wants to spread the word and encourage people like him—who know very little about birds—to not miss an opportunity to learn and socialize with an enthusiastic group of peers.
“Because of my technical background and comfortability with computers, I did not think birding and being in nature would be fun,” Bista says. “This has been a very short, but very interesting adventure for me. Birds are cool.”
According to Mitch Robinson, education manager at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, this was the most successful Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration in recent memory, in no small part due to the involvement of the “future leaders of Audubon.”
“Seeing the student chapter members represent Audubon at the organization’s largest nature festival was very humbling,” Robinson says. “The campus chapters’ work to date, and the work that they're planning to do in the future, is the definition of organic conservation work and community engagement.”
Just a week after the Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration Festival, some members of the two campus chapters met up at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center to help with fall migration bird banding. As the school year ramps up, so will the collaborative work: Magnolia Grove Audubon and Birds of a Feather will tackle projects like building Chimney Swift towers in their communities, advocating for pollinator gardens and more bird feeders on their campuses, volunteering at local park cleanups, and extending their engagement work to other places in Mississippi.
Claudia Brown, a biology major at Rust College and member of Birds of a Feather, says she learns something new every time she visit Strawberry Plains. “Mitch and my friends at Magnolia Grove Audubon are the most honest and reliable people to work with, and I am excited for all the activities planned for the year,” Brown says. “Every time we are here, we don’t want to leave. Strawberry Plains teaches you something new every time, and inspires you to take action for things you care about.”