This young ornithologist envisions a future where everybody goes birding. Chirp, chirp.
Meet Isaiah Scott — an avid bird watcher, ornithologist, and nature artist. He’s currently a student at Cornell studying the environment, sustainability, and ornithology — or the study of birds.
I sat down with Isaiah to chat about bird species, art, and bucket-list birds.
by Caitlin Rounds
How did you discover birding, and what ultimately made you stick with it?
Growing up, before I got into birding — I loved animals. I knew that I wanted to be an animal biologist or zoologist. When my older brother was admitted to Cornell, I went with him on his college visit. While there, I saw a flyer for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and I became interested. I visited the lab and I felt inspired — I had no idea there were so many different species of birds. It also served as an opportunity to combine my love of biology with my love of art.
So, you hike, birdwatch, take amazing photographs, and illustrate. How do you balance it all?
I’m definitely juggling a lot of stuff, but I try to always incorporate my hobbies into something I’m already doing. For instance in school, I’m taking a course called “The Art and Science of Birds.” It’s about drawing, illustrating, and painting birds. I took that class to combine some of my passions into my school work. Working around my school schedule also helps me manage and consolidate my hobbies.
What is your favorite bird species?
In the birdwatching world, we have things called “spark birds,” meaning they’re our favorite birds. I used to say that I like all birds…but we all have our favorites. [Laughs] My favorite bird is called the Painted Bunting — they’re a very ornate, colorful bird. I can recognize their call.
Is there a bird species on your bucket list? Something you haven’t seen IRL yet that you hope to spot one day?
There are a lot of birds that I want to see, that’s a tough question. However, in Georgia, there’s a bird called the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. They’re considered a threatened species, but they used to be endangered. They’re rare to spot in the southeast because of that, and because they require such a specific habitat.
Tell us about your approach towards ornithology.
I want ornithology and birdwatching to be fun and enjoyable. Old-school ornithology can be very boring and unappealing to folks who have never heard of it or are new to the hobby. There are older rules in birding that say you have to wear drab clothing and be quiet, that you need all of this gear, or have to be very scientific. I really want all people to be able to enjoy birding, to make it more accessible to people that look like me.
Any advice for people who want to try birding?
You can always start by just going outdoors — it doesn’t have to be a national park or secluded forest. Just head outside and see what birds are around you. Get out there, try it, and see what you think.
What are some of your must-haves for birding?
I like to bring a field guide as a reference, specifically David Sibley’s — he’s pretty much the Lebron James of bird art. I also like to bring a hat when it’s sunny, my Nocs, and water — hydration is important.
Isaiah is an ornithologist and nature artist currently studying at Cornell University. Among many other hobbies, his interests revolve around sustainability, bird watching, and all things related to the environment. You can keep up with Isaiah @ikesbirdinghikes
Edited by Rey Joaquin. Photography provided by Isaiah Scott.