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Renowned Ornithologist Will Talk about Birding in Springfield This Week

A renowned bird expert will visit Springfield this week.  Ornithologist John Robinson will present programs Thursday and Friday at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center.  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky spoke with Robinson and has this report.

John Robinson knew from the time he was a pre-teen that he wanted to be a wildlife biologist.  He said he was a sixth grader who didn’t read any books, and the librarian at his school noticed.

"My library teacher came up to me one day and asked, 'why are you not reading any of the books here?' and I said, 'well, none of these books interest me.'  And she says, 'well, what does interest you?'  And I told her about the spiders and the butterflies and the crayfish that I liked to chase around in my backyard.  So, she got a smile on her face, and she went over to the shelf, and she pulled a book off the shelf and handed it to me.  It was "Call of the Wild" by Jack London," he said.

Robinson began reading and couldn’t put the book down.  From then on he said he knew he wanted to study nature, specifically wolves. 

But an ornithology class at Iowa State University caused him to switch directions.

"On the very first day of the class, the instructor took the podium and began lecturing about ornithology and birds, and the first thing he said was that there's 8,600 species of birds known to man at that time, and what was truly amazing was that, if there was 8,600 species of birds in the world, and I only knew about five, it was like, 'how did I miss all those 8,595 species?' and I just wanted to find out where all those birds were," he said.

He said it was love at first sight, and he took up bird watching immediately.  It was during a field trip two days after the start of class that he learned he had a natural talent.  His instructor was amazed by the number of birds Robinson pointed out to him.

Now, he encourages others to take up birding, especially minorities.  Robinson, who is black, often hears the same comment wherever he goes—“I’ve never met a black bird watcher before.”  He said experts expect that by the year 2042, the majority of the U.S. population will be made up of different minority ethnicities.

"And what we see is that, in many instances, the level of interest among minority demographics in nature and the outdoors is not as great as we would like to see it," he said.

He said bird watching connects people with nature and the outdoors.  He’s written a book, “Birding is for Everyone:  Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers.”

"We want to make sure, you know, with this book that I wrote, "Birding for Everyone," we want to make sure that we get more people interested in nature and the outdoors because if they are the voting majority, they will help keep these places that we take for granted will always be there like Yellowstone and Yosemite," he said.

Robinson is approaching nearly two decades of research in ornithology.  And he said he’s found that something happens to humans from a psychological standpoint when we’re in nature.

"And scientists have been studying this, and there's a lot positive benefits from being in nature and being in  a state of awe...and a lot of scientists are studying this now and looking at the positive impacts by being in a place of something that just really shows just how big and wonderful the universe is and how positive that is for us and the health benefits that come from that," he said.

He’ll talk more about that during his visit to Springfield this week.  Robinson will present the program “Identifying Birds of Western Missouri” Thursday night (2/19) at 7.  Friday morning at 10 he’ll focus on how to get young people and minorities involved in birding during the program, “Diversity in the Outdoors:  Connecting Youth to Nature.”  And he’ll wrap up his appearance in Springfield with “Birds—Wonders of the Natural World” Friday night (2/20) at 7.  The program will include Robinson’s “Ask the Bird Man” session where he’ll answer questions about birds. 

To learn more about Robinson’s visit, contact the Springfield Conservation Nature Center at 888-4237.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.