I want to learn something new!

My name is María José Oviedo Ventura and I am from El Salvador. I study environmental and development engineering at Zamorano, an agricultural university in Honduras. For three months I am on an internship at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I bet you are thinking that I should know a lot about birds and that I have been into them my whole life. But, do not rush yourselves! My story started not so long ago.

Zamorano dormitory rooms Source: Instagram Zamorano (Oficial site).

Zamorano is a boarding school with uniforms and many (many) rules. Its two main components – formal education and learning by doing. This means I have to spend half of my day working in different productive units (inside the university) that encompass the food production chain. At some point those components need to merge and that happened in my third year of university, when I had to look for an internship, my first experience in the “real world”.

Maria Jose pets the cow

Beef cattle unit (Obviously hard worker!)

When I started looking for options, one of them kept my attention. It was at a university called “Cornell,” which I had never heard of before, in their ornithology lab. The internship was focused on environmental education. After reading the description, I was intrigued about the topic. It was not like others I had read about. I really liked the phrase “educational programs to connect nature through birds” because it was something new for me. At the same time, I was taking a biodiversity class (my teacher turned out to be an ornithologist) and I loved it.

Birding In Honduras

Birding. I’m the one with binoculars! (Notice my blue uniform)

Do not ask me how, but suddenly I found myself on Sundays going birding around my campus, discovering a completely different world along the same path I took to my classes every day. I remember the first day we started at 5:30 am; we walked around to so many places! It was unbelievable how many birds we saw and how wet my feet were because I forgot my boots (beginner’s mistake). I stopped walking around 11:00 am, because I had a study group, but it was such a happy tiredness. I remember thinking on the way to my room, “I cannot believe I have been there so many times before and just missed so many details”.

For that reason I decided to come to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I had discovered another component of the world that had been always in front of my eyes, but I was not really looking at it. After I decided to come, I had the opportunity to be part of a BirdSleuth International workshop at Zamorano. I was nervous and I was thinking, “How am I supposed to be in a workshop with people who know a lot about birds, if I only know a little bit about this?” However, during the workshop I learned quickly that it is not about how much you know about birds or how long have you been birding. It is about learning and understanding the importance of birds inside an ecosystem. After the workshop, I was even able to identify some birds on my own and I was happy about it. For example, I learned to identify one species really well, Orchard Oriole, and now when I see it, I can tell others what it is. So exciting!


Zona 3 Campus, Photo by Christian Orozc

Now, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I am excited to be part of the BirdSleuth team and help lead workshops. It is amazing that I will be able to help others understand the new perspective I learned and emphasize the role we all play in the environment. I have only been at the Lab for a short time, but during this time I have learned a lot about the goals of each curriculum and how we do educational work. The thing I have liked the most is that our goal is to involve people in citizen science while focusing youth attention on the importance of birds, habitats and ecosystems. It has taught me that what really matters is how much you want to learn and help. Everything else can be picked up along the way. Just simply think, “I want to learn something new!”




  1.  by  Donna

    Welcome to the United States of America and to New York. I hope you enjoy your studies and your time here!

  2.  by  Laurie

    I need help identifying a bird. I live in East Tennessee. I have picture to e-mail if interested. The bird is black, grain eaters beak, with yellow on each wing, cardinal sized. The yellow is on the wing where the color for a redwinged black bird is located. The only two choices I have found are the yellow winged black bird ( from South America) or a tri colored black bird female from California. Neither makes sense!!! Please help!!

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