Exploring the World of Birds with Tu-Wa-Kii Nobi

By Teresa Wicks, Eastern Oregon Field Coordinator

The Wadatika Band of Paiute have called much of southeastern Oregon home since time immemorial. Today, the Burns Paiute Tribe’s Reservation consists of nearly 800 acres just outside of Burns, Oregon. About 40% of the Tribe’s 402 enrolled members live on the reservation, about 50% of whom are under the age of 18. When TuWa-Kii Nobi, Kids’ House in Wadatika Yaduan (Wadatika language), opened its doors in 2012, it created a place for Burns Paiute youth to participate in cultural activities and outdoor education, and receive tutoring after school and during out-of-school weekday hours.

Since 2017, Portland Audubon has partnered with the Burns Paiute Tribe’s Natural Resources Department and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge staff to provide outreach and engagement opportunities for the Tribe’s youth. From exploring raptor biology to setting up nest boxes for American Kestrels, together we’ve been exploring the world of birds, conservation, and natural history.

This winter, Portland Audubon and the Tribe’s Wildlife Program organized a Tu-Wa-Kii Nobi CBC4Kids (Christmas Bird Count for Kids) program. The program started with a “binocular boot camp,” teaching the kids how to use their binoculars and how to identify birds. The youth then practiced counting birds by observing the feeders that they had created earlier in the week. After counting birds around Tu-Wa-Kii Nobi and Rainbow Park, the youth climbed into vans and surveyed the Reservation and some of the surrounding land. The youth were excited about bringing a national bird count program to the Reservation, coining the name “Rez bird count” for the program. Despite heavy snowfall and temperatures around 32°F, the youth found around a dozen species, including a Chukar that was searching for bird seed underneath the feeder.

On the ride back to Tu-Wa-Kii Nobi, where a hot cocoa bar sponsored by the Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge awaited them, the youth made up songs about the birds we had seen set to tunes like “Old MacDonald” and “Bingo.” After the countdown at Tu-Wa-Kii Nobi, one of the youth asked if there would be more opportunities to watch and count birds in the future. Because of this, Portland Audubon is working with the Wildlife Program and Tu-Wa-Kii Nobi staff to create quarterly “Rez bird counts” to keep youth engaged in observing and counting birds and create opportunities for them to identify changes in bird communities between seasons and over time.

We are excited to continue this partnership with Tu-WaKii Nobi and the Burns Paiute Tribe’s Natural Resources staff, collaborating on grants, curriculum, and new ways to engage Paiute youth in conservation and outdoor education.