First-year Henry Stevens founds Tufts Ornithological Society

Tufts Ornithological Society (TOS), which held its inaugural meeting on Oct. 15, is a newly founded group for students interested in ornithology. 

According to TOS founder and President Henry Stevens, the group has already generated student interest, with 18 interested people contacting Stevens within two days of his Oct. 9 post about TOS in the Tufts Class of 2019 Facebook group.

Stevens, a first-year, said he started TOS because ornithology, or birding, is his primary interest in life and because he wanted to create a group for students interested in ecology.

“I want to give them a club where they can express their interests and maybe learn something new,” he said.

As the founder, Stevens said his role for the ornithological group so far has been to recruit members, to get TOS recognized by the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate and to apply for funding. After this initial work, TOS will be able to do more as a club, including arranging for speakers to come to campus, he explained.

“I can [then] start hosting larger scale events like bringing local ornithologists from the Boston area to give talks,” he said.

Stevens also plans on organizing trips to local birding hotspots.

“The purpose of TOS is to educate the Tufts community on the avian species of New England, their biology and their ecological significance, as well as to take field trips out to local birding hotspots in order to observe the beautiful biodiversity that New England has to offer,” he wrote in the Class of 2019 Facebook group.

Stevens said that his interest in ornithology started when he took a class on it during his senior year of high school, inspiring him to take a gap year to further study ornithology before coming to Tufts. During his gap year, Stevens traveled to Belize for several months, where he worked as an avian intern at the Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society, an ecological conservation organization, before returning home to be a teaching assistant for the ornithology class at his high school.

“Doing that work [during my gap year] made me realize that this is something that I want to do…as a career,” he said. “Now I consider it my greatest passion.”

Stevens hopes to fuel fellow Tufts students’ interest in ornithology by taking them out on several field trips to observe and learn about birds.

“Birding is not something you grow up enjoying,” Stevens said. “I think if people join the club and started to learn about birds, [they] may realize that they’re very interested in…ecological-related topics like ornithology.”

First-year Thomas Coons said that he believes TOS will give him opportunities to have fun outside of his academic work.

“I think the structure is…cool,” Coons said. “It’s very field trip-based, [while] a lot of [other] clubs here are meeting-based … It’s so nature-oriented, too. [Participating in the group] should be kind of relaxing.”

Ethan Freedman, a senior, said he became involved with TOS because Tufts doesn’t have any other groups focused on wildlife and preservation, even though it has many environmental groups centered around issues such as sustainability and energy.

“Birding is a really cool, really interesting hobby,” Freedman said. “It’s something that can really bring people together. It’s a great way to get out into nature. It’s kind of hard to explain why bird watching is so interesting, so you [need to] go out and try it.”

Freedman considers birding a combination of hiking, going on a scavenger hunt and solving a puzzle.

“You’re going out and looking for things and keeping a list of what you see,” he said. “Then if you see a bird…sort of off in the distance…you gather all of the clues together that you can until you sort of get a [better idea] of what it is.”

According to Freedman, anyone can join TOS regardless of birding experience, including upperclassmen who just want something fun to do on the side.

“We’re really happy to teach you about birds,” he said. “We’re really happy to just take anyone out on trips. We’re planning on going to lots of different places, so if you want…transportation and people to go watch with, we can [provide] that, too.”