Audubon’s Campus Chapter Program Is Taking Off in Mississippi

Other Animals

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. 

Anish Bista (Left) and Rachel Anderson (Right), members of the Magnolia Grove Audubon chapter at the University of Mississippi, test out Canon gear on a “Birds in Focus” walk at the Strawberry Plains Hummingbird Festival. Photo: Dominic Arenas/Audubon

“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.”

Jarvis Preston, a member of the Rust College campus chapter, at the butterfly display at the Strawberry Plains Hummingbird Festival. Photo: Dominic Arenas/Audubon
Members of Birds of a Feather from Rust College and Magnolia Grove Audubon from the University of Mississippi stand in front of the Strawberry Plains Hummingbird Festival Audubon tent. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon
Ian Hobson, Rust College campus chapter member, volunteers at the Kids Activities Area creating wildlife art.
Harry the Hummingbird greets festival goers at the Plants for Birds tent at the Strawberry Plains Hummingbird Festival. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon
Jaylen Reynolds and Claudia Brown, Rust College campus chapter members, show festival goers how to use the Audubon Bird Guide app. Photo: Dominic Arenas/Audubon
Emily Shy, vice president of the Magnolia Grove Audubon campus chapter, hands out bird plushies at the Strawberry Plains Hummingbird Festival. Photo: Dominic Arenas/Audubon
Jeno Perry, president of the Rust College Audubon campus chapter, tests out a Canon camera on a “Birds in Focus” walk at the Strawberry Plains Hummingbird Festival. Photo: Dominic Arenas/Audubon
Claudia Brown, Anna Scott, and Jaylen Reynolds of the Birds of a Feather campus chapter at Rust College working the Audubon tent at the Strawberry Plains Hummingbird Festival. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

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