4-H project snowballs into big things for local youth

Alexandra Forsythe (right) shows off Hoodini, an eastern screech owl and permanent resident of Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehab, to a group of adults and children after the facility’s Race 4 Birds fund-raiser Sept. 13.
Alexandra Forsythe (right) shows off Hoodini, an eastern screech owl and permanent resident of Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehab, to a group of adults and children after the facility’s Race 4 Birds fund-raiser Sept. 13. Photo by Joni Knott.

Originally published Oct. 2, 2014.

Alexandra Forsythe is a busy 15-year old dedicated to her community and the surrounding wildlife.

She's also the Indiana Audubon Society's first ever Young Birder of the Year and the recipient of the Charles D. Wise Youth Conservation Award.

As a youth advisor, presenter and speaker, webmaster and member, Forsythe volunteers her time to different avian societies and nature clubs and organizations.

The Indiana State Audubon Society, Stockbridge Audubon Society, Robert Cooper Audubon Society, Tippecanoe Audubon Society, Limberlost State Historic Site, Indiana Young Birders Club, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, ACRES Land Trust, Soarin' Hawk Raptor Rehab and the Race 4 Birds Foundation are but a few of the groups that she regularly assists in a variety of ways.

"It was a snowball effect," Forsythe says. "I learned about an organization where I heard about another organization, where I heard about yet another organization - and it just keeps going."

She's a member of the Crystal Clovers 4-H club in Huntington, and the "snowball" began with a 4-H wildlife project featuring different types of birdfeeders. As she learned more about birds and their differences, they became continually more intriguing to her.

"One of my favorites would be the saw-whet owl because it was my spark bird, but I don't have a specific favorite bird," says Forsythe. "The song sparrow has one of the prettiest songs, but they're just a little brown bird."

A spark bird is the title given to the first bird that captures the interest of a birder. The species of spark bird varies by birder; however, the result of the encounter is usually a heightened awareness and appreciation of birds in general.

Others in the birding community are eager to tutor interested youth and have helped to educate Forsythe on the finer points of different species of avian. They continually encourage her curiosity and involvement despite her young age.

"I read a lot of guide books and I try to spend as much time as I can with more experienced birders," Forsythe says. "The first experienced birder I knew was Brad Bumgardner, at the Indiana Dunes, and he along with Fred Wooley, at Pokagon, were the ones who got me interested in birds in the first place."

Having now been birding, researching and helping with rehabilitation for about four years, Forsythe is regularly asked to give presentations for a multitude of organizations and even has her own educational outreach program through Limberlost State Historic Site.

Participation in such a multitude of activities can be attributed not only to Forsythe's personal interest and dedication to nature and her organizations, but also to the support and help of her parents.

"We can't wait until she has her driver's license," says former lawyer and current stay-at-home mother/chauffer Cheryl Forsythe.

Alexandra Forsythe is also home schooled by her parents and given the flexibility to schedule her studies, volunteer work and other interests around each other.

"I can go do my presentations (for different organizations) during the technical school day and catch up (on homework) during the weekends or evenings," says Alexandra Forsythe. "I can also have spring migration off and fall migration off instead of just having summer off when there are really no birds around."
Her parents also allow her to rehabilitate birds at home and keep the yard in a manner that is pleasing to the surrounding wildlife.

"They support me with all of my stuff and encourage me in everything I do," Forsythe says.

Forsythe also has a host of non-wildlife hobbies including snowboarding, ballroom dancing, tap dancing, classical piano, paintball, skiing and snowboarding.
"I am also on the Teen Advisory Board for the American Library Association," says Forsythe.

Someday, she would like to have a career as a veterinarian specializing in small and exotic animals, particularly birds. She plans to continue to help with avian rehabilitation in the future.

For information about the surrounding birds and wildlife, visit Alexandra Forsythe's websites, www.midwestbirdwatching.com and www.youngconservationists.org.