Changing the World – One birdwatcher at a Time

Posting and photos by Amy Simso Dean

I want to change the world. But how can one introverted, bird nerd from Minnesota inspire world environmentalism? I am no John Muir or Rachel Carson. My answer (or at least I hope it is): Kids.

My story starts in Minneapolis… ventures toward Azerbaijan… and ends who knows where.
Minneapolis, Minnesota
In 2015, I had the crazy idea of starting a youth birding club for 4th and 5th graders at my daughters’ school in South Minneapolis.

Luckily the school principal (“You want to start a what?”) gave me the go ahead. Julie Brophy and Amber Burnette, local birders, heard about my idea and stepped up to help.

We make poster and build our own birds.

Now each fall, winter, spring we spend 4–6 weeks introducing kids to birds. This fall, we’ll have grown to 5 sessions at 4 locations. MYBirdClub (MN Youth BirdClub) is a club, not a class, so learning happens organically as we wander or play indoor games and activities.

The kids play a game called “field guide race”, where they learn how to use a field guide to ID birds.

If you ever run across us in the field, be ready for high-energy, explosive enthusiasm. They point. They shout. They run. They battle with dandelions gone to seed. (And yes, they amble, quietly oblivious, engrossed in conversation.)
But when one birder spots a downy woodpecker, all the binoculars snap up. These birders run to see a Blue Jay teed up on a treetop, shouting, “Where is it? Where is it?” and “I see it! I see it!”

And the interest is contagious. They soon start pointing out birds to their parents and siblings. Suddenly an entire family is scanning the skies, lakes and trees; I have the email and texts to prove it.

I believe that once you notice something, you start to care about it. And once you care about something, you want to protect it. So, while I might not be able to change the world, maybe, just maybe, one of these kids will.

Youth in Azerbaijan
This summer’s rather harebrained scheme is gathering used binoculars to send to Nature Friends, a program in Azerbaijan that also hopes to inspire the next generation of birders and conservationists.

Bird Camp Besh Barmag,Azerbaijan. April 2017    © Emin Mammedov/Nature Friends


Minnesota birders, a truly generous flock, have rallied to the cause and donated more than 24 new and used binoculars. My next challenge is getting them there—a task that is proving to be much harder.

Transportation costs, customs, distance… I now have to figure out how to bridge these gaps. But if a Ruby-throated hummingbird that weighs as little as a penny can cross the Gulf of Mexico, I know I can get these binoculars into the hands of the next generation of Azerbaijani conservationists.

Who knows, maybe some day, one of them will team up with one of my Minnesota birders and set the birding world… or the entire environmental community… on fire.


Amy Simso Dean is a freelance writer in Minneapolis. She volunteers at The Raptor Center, runs MYBirdClub afterschool youth birding clubs and does a little stained glass on the side.
If you’d like to learn more about MYBirdClub, you can contact her at
Youtube video about bird camp in Azerbaijan: Bird Camp Besh Barmag documentary, Azerbaijan 




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2 Responses to Changing the World – One birdwatcher at a Time

  1. Kathy Eagle says:

    such a great project! I love this!

  2. Kathy Eagle says:

    I’ll go with you to deliver them! can a person bring them in person?

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