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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

GW Birds spreads its wings from Instagram account to student organization

Sage Russell | Assistant Photo Editor
Maddie Billet, center, decided to evolve the “gimmick” GW Birds Instagram account into a full-fledged student organization this semester after its creation nearly two years ago.

Maddie Billet, a junior studying political science and environmental studies, first posted a video of a house sparrow bathing in a puddle outside Call Your Mother Deli to an Instagram account she dubbed “GW Birds” in December 2021.

Nearly two years later, Billet said she decided to evolve the “gimmick” account — which has since amassed more than 800 followers and 300 photos of campus birds from herself and student submissions — into a platform for her newly registered student organization, GW Birds, this past semester. Billet said officials approved GW Birds as a student organization in late April, which will give members the resources to organize interactive bird-related events like bird watching, bird identifying, birdhouse painting and field trips to the National Arboretum and the new bird exhibit at Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Billet said turning GW Birds into a student organization also provides members’ funds to buy binoculars and bird identification books and allows the organization to market itself through GW Engage and organizational fairs. She said she originally created the GW Birds Instagram account to bring awareness to the wide variety of bird species around D.C. and remedy students’ lack of appreciation for wildlife on GW’s campus because of its urban atmosphere.

“Something that I find myself explaining a lot is that we have such prominent and interesting wildlife here in the city,” Billet said. “You just have to know what you’re looking for and then that’s when you can start appreciating it.”

Billet, set to graduate in the fall, said she worried the account would “disappear” after her departure, prompting her to go through the process of registering GW Birds as an official organization with the University. She said she began “birding” — an inclusive term for birdwatching to accommodate people who are blind — when she was a junior in high school, inspired by a birdwatching lab she did in her AP Environmental Science class about biodiversity and species abundance.

Billet said an “era” of “GW gimmick accounts” starting in 2019, like gwurats and gwucats — which accept photo submissions from students of particular animals or objects around campus and post them on Instagram — inspired her to open the account and encourage students to submit pictures of birds around campus. She said she has posted at least once per day since her first post in December 2021.

Billet said GW Birds invited students to feed campus birds with birdseed and watch and identify Foggy Bottom fowl at Bird Brunch, GW Birds’ first-ever event earlier this month.

“It’s so crazy that an idea that I had two years ago is now an organization that 15 people will show up to, to just look at birds,” Billet said. “That’s such a crazy idea, and I’m just very proud of how people have come together.”

Billet said community members should call GW Facilities if there is a bird inside a GW building and call D.C. City Wildlife if there is a bird in danger on the street to ensure their safe extraction.

[gwh_image id=”1189875″ credit=”Sage Russell | Assistant Photo Editor” size=”embedded-img” align=”none”]A male Northern Cardinal perches atop a campus bench.[/gwh_image]

GW Birds’ executive board members said they hope the Instagram account’s documentation of photos of pigeons, mallards, mourning doves and Canada geese will inspire students to take notice of frequent fliers on campus.

Junior Zoe Rosser, the vice president of GW Birds, said she first discovered birding after finding Billet’s Instagram account in October 2022 and began noticing different species of birds around campus and submitting them to the account via direct message. She said D.C. wildlife is underappreciated and “underrated,” and that GW Birds will serve to grow students’ recognition of bird species that is lacking amongst Foggy Bottom community members.

“I found [Billet’s] Instagram and I was like this is so fun, and so then I just sort of noticed them on campus, and I just got right into it,” Rosser said. “Every time I see the little house sparrows I just want to grab them.”

Sophomore Gabriella Zane, GW Birds’ chair of communications, said she has had an interest in birds from a young age when her mom would teach her different bird calls. She said seeing “pretty” birds around campus always improves her day and that she hopes to bring awareness to the many species around D.C. through the organization.

“I think we want GW to appreciate the nature we have around us and appreciate the species in D.C. and how wilderness is all around us, it’s just humans have taken over it,” Zane said.

Zane said no one has to be a “bird expert” to join GW Birds. She said she just wants people to appreciate the wildlife in a city where it is often overlooked.

“We’re in a major city and people think, ‘Oh, it’s not as on display,’ like you don’t have forests in the city,” Zane said. “There’s less wildlife, but it’s there if you look for it, and I think there’s things we can do to support that wildlife and appreciate it.”

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About the Contributor
Fiona Bork, Assistant News Editor
Fiona Bork is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication from San Diego, California. She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 assistant news editor for the Student Life beat.
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