Through his binoculars, Garrett Sisk spots the bright yellow feathers of a small American goldfinch. The handsome bird’s warbles echo through the leaves. Sisk takes a single, silent step through the foliage for a better glimpse of its golden hues. A quick click of a camera, a rustle in the leaves, a change in the wind—and the luminous bird, no bigger than a mouse, flutters away.
It’s early morning in Frick Park, a thick, urban forest just east of the Pittsburgh campus, and Sisk is with about a dozen others. They all have binoculars in hand as they look up in the trees, waiting to hear chirping sounds. These students are part of Pitt’s Birding and Ornithology Club, which prides itself on keeping bird-watching relevant.
Sisk, a senior environmental engineering major, is president of the club. He glories in bird-watching and sharing his passion with others. He says stepping into the woods and discovering feathered delights is a great escape from his busy college life.
His journey to being the resident “bird guy” started when he was 10, when his grandmother gave him his first bird feeder. Sisk says he constantly watched through the window of his home near Virginia Beach, Virginia, and waited for visiting birds to feed. He remembers when he first sighted a goldfinch at the feeder and became “hooked.”
“I just thought it was so cool and beautiful, and I wanted to keep seeing more and more birds, so I eventually went out and got binoculars, a camera and a bird guidebook. It’s become a passion,” he says.
When Sisk first got to campus in 2019, he says the bird-watching club wasn’t very active. Four years later, he’s transformed it into a thriving community of nature lovers, student conservationists and, of course, bird-watchers. The club now hosts monthly outings to popular bird-watching sites around Pittsburgh, including Frick Park, Schenley Park and the National Aviary.
Many club members immerse themselves in the hobby through photography and art. The club’s Instagram features a collection of photographs taken by members who have sighted some of Pittsburgh’s native birds, such as the Carolina wren.
Hannah Jones, a senior studio arts major and the club’s vice president, is one such student.
She captures her bird-watching experiences through art, using mixed media to create intricate portraits of the birds she’s seen during club outings. She’s found it to be both therapeutic and a way to better connect with the world.
“Once you start learning your birds and being able to identify them, the world becomes a lot more rich and detailed,” she says.
This story was published in the Fall 2022 issue of Pitt Magazine. It was published on October 5, 2022.