How One Audubon Chapter Found Its Fountain Of Youth

The song of a Carolina Wren makes this homecoming in the Ozarks all the sweeter.

[Ed. note: Our Chief Network Officer David J. Ringer is going coast to coast to hear and report stories about how Audubon chapters, centers, volunteers, and members are giving birds a fighting chance. Read about his discoveries in the new series "Stopovers."]

A Carolina Wren stands on the neighbor’s deck, belting out his song, repeated, repeated, repeated. His whole body stretches and bulges with the effort, and I wonder as I have many times before: How can so much sound come from such a tiny blot of keratin and muscle?

This is where I first learned the Carolina Wren’s song, years ago as a high school student. I still remember the scene vividly: the loud, pealing notes that drew me to a woodpile where a cinnamon-colored bird stood in the late-evening sun, quivering with life and an alien language. I was totally hooked.

And now I’m back—and all grown up, I suppose—sitting at my parents’ dining room table, preparing the evening’s talk for the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society. This was the Audubon chapter that took me in as an awkward, bird-crazed high schooler and nurtured and fledged me.

A few hours later at the Springfield nature center, the meeting room is packed with people of every age. Fifteen years ago, I was often the only kid; tonight, there are students and young professionals all around the room. Eight years ago, Greater Ozarks Audubon started a summer program for high school students called Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems. (Its acronym is GLADE, which is a distinctive habitat type in the Ozarks.) That program has grown and expanded over the years, leading to new community partnerships and bringing in young people to the organization’s leadership and activities.

I spoke that night about the wonder of the flyways—the billions of birds traversing the hemisphere each year, stitching together the habitats that stretch from the Arctic tundra to the coasts of South America. I talked about Longshot, the globe-trotting Prothonotary Warbler, about Wood Thrushes, and about Hudsonian Godwits.

Each of these birds spends part of its life cycle in western Missouri. The Greater Ozarks Audubon Society is part of a hemispheric network of conservationists who can make a difference for these and hundreds more bird species. Saving birds over an entire hemisphere takes tenacious and innovative local efforts, it takes focused national and international collaboration, and it takes people from every generation.

I’m proud of my home Audubon chapter in the Ozarks, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.