Three days a week, Marie Muñiz, ecology student and campus chapter member at the University of North Texas, wakes up at dawn and walks around certain campus buildings looking for dead birds. More than a thousand miles east, Rebekah Davis, PhD student and native plant garden manager at the University of Central Florida, is restoring vital habitats for birds in her community. From the coastal shores of California to the Florida Everglades, student leaders are ensuring that birds and the places they need are protected through the Audubon on Campus program.
In 2018, the National Audubon Society launched the Audubon on Campus program to support and invest in the next generation of conservationists. Five years later and on the heels of Earth Day, the program is stronger than ever. There are more than 70 campus chapters across the country, and the Audubon on Campus program is currently working with 130 schools nationwide to activate their Campus efforts.
Students are creating bird-friendly spaces in their communities, working to affect local policies on climate and the environment, and engaging the people around them on environmental justice and climate justice issues. These student-led chapters create change on and off their campuses. One of the many ways they are doing so is through Bird-friendly Communities work.
This past academic year, Muñiz provided recommendations to the University of North Texas (UNT) based on her four-season study on bird-window collisions. After noticing a multitude of bird collisions around campus, she helped implement mitigation measures for the most problematic buildings. In addition to establishing bird-safety measures on campus, Muñiz and the UNT Bird Campus Committee, the Audubon on Campus chapter at the university, are improving and increasing bird habitat. The group installed bird nest boxes and established a small native plant garden on their main campus.
“The only way we can really combat [climate change] is through conservation efforts. Any way you can conserve even just a little thing like migratory birds, it helps out a little bit,” says Muñiz.
Student leaders are also restoring vital habitats for birds in their communities and helping their favorite feathered friends survive in the face of climate change by establishing native plant gardens on campus. At the University of Central Florida (UCF), Davis and Knighthawk Audubon are making sure that their school community understands the importance of native plants and their relationship to birds.
Thanks to an Audubon Plants For Birds Burke Grant, Davis and Knighthawk Audubon were able to restore eight acres of native plant habitat in the UCF Arboretum, integrated native plants along walking trails on campus, and created and maintained QR markers that allow arboretum visitors to learn about the plants and the bird communities they support. Davis credits the success of Knighthawk Audubon’s work to the level of autonomy the National Audubon Society gave her group.
“More than a hundred different species of birds come to campus, so it's really important for us to have native plants that they can come to when they're here. I am honored to be able to work with my fellow Knighthawkers and make that [native plant garden] a space for our favorite visitors,” says Davis. “[These projects] have given us a little bit of autonomy to make our own impact on campus and for conservation. It's given us a chance to educate other students, it's given us a chance to have really fruitful conversations with the arboretum and amongst our school community.”
At other universities and colleges across the country, student leaders are also leading Bird-Friendly initiatives on their respective campuses. Last month, Samantha Hughes, president of the Audubon on Campus Chapter at San Diego Community, and her group hosted and led an Environmental Justice Conference and last year they painted a mural depicting climate-threatened birds. At the University of Las Vegas (UNLV) and the University Nebraska Omaha, Kristen Tovar and Skyler Kane of UNLV Audubon Student Conservation Chapter and Madeline Eggink of the UNO Audubon Chapter worked with their members to establish a native plant gardens and regularly facilitate bird walks. And at Midwestern University’s campus chapter, faculty sponsor, Alexandra Goe is working with her group of students to create crossing signs for Northern Bobwhite Quail and establish avian window collision prevention measures on campus.
Davis, Muñiz, and Audubon on Campus chapter leaders’ work across the country exemplifies the phrase: There is more than one solution to preserving the places birds need. Each and every effort matters, whether that be leading bird walks, hosting conferences, establishing native plant gardens, and even just starting the conversation around bird-safety. Together, the Audubon on Campus chapters and the students who lead them will continue making lasting changes for birds and their own local communities.
Want to know more about the Audubon on Campus program? Here’s a list of resources to get you started!