Tell us your name and a little more about yourself.
My name is Grayson Sasser. I’m 13 years old, and I’m homeschooled in Milton, FL, which is near Pensacola. I love birds and everything about them. I have the opportunity to frequently watch birds because our house backs up to a 1000-acre wooded area and wetland. There is a large creek, several streams, and many ponds. I love hiking and exploring the woods. I’m able to watch different wading birds and many water-loving birds. I also like to draw, write, and read.
How did you get into watching birds?
Six years ago, I was in our backyard when a very large woodpecker flew very low and caught my attention. At first, I thought it was an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, but when I researched it, I learned that it was a Pileated Woodpecker. Several Pileated Woodpeckers were living in a large, dead pine in the woods by our house. I began to watch them daily and became fascinated with pretty much everything about them. From there, I began reading everything I could about birds. I would go on Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website and study all the local birds, their habitats, and their sounds. Then I branched out to studying basically all birds, with Cornell’s website, an encyclopedia of birds, and several field guides. Plus, just watching them and studying them up close any chance I got.
We heard you had a pretty outstanding Halloween costume this year. Who did you dress up as and why?
John James Audubon because I admire him for his fascinating bird artwork and his interest in protecting birds. Ever since he was a kid, he was constantly watching and drawing birds, just like me. Whenever he had outside chores to do as a kid, he would get distracted by birds and would follow them and watch them instead, which is just like me. His mind was always on birds, just like me.
I read his “Journal of 1826” last year and became fascinated with him when I got to find out more about his inner thoughts, his personal life, and his adventures.
How did people react to your costume?
No one recognized who I was supposed to be, which I expected. People would guess I was Davy Crockett, a frontiersman, or even a pirate. I got the chance to tell them I was John James Audubon, and most of them recognized his name at least. I got to tell people just a little bit about him, too, which was cool.
Audubon is famous for painting birds. Do you ever do artwork involving birds and their habitats?
Yes, I draw them and paint them. I even do cartoons with birds. I’m currently working on writing a novel with birds as the main characters.
Why do you think people should care about birds?
For one thing, caring about birds leads to protecting birds and their habitats. You start to realize how important conservation is. But just personally, studying and watching birds brings joy, and it can even bring people purpose to their lives. By leaving out bird feeders and seeing what birds visit, you can observe how they move and act, admire their beautiful plumage and coloration, and realize that you’re hosting and feeding families of birds. You sort of get to know and love them, and you start wanting to plant things that help feed and shelter them.
If you could tell young people your age one thing about birds, what would it be?
If you take time to stop and watch & listen to birds, you’ll find out they’re pretty interesting and cool. Whenever you’re stressed out by homework or stuff at school, spending time outside watching birds is more relaxing and fun than watching tv or playing video games.
What books do you study from to be such a great, passionate young birder?
My favorite book is “The Bird Watcher’s Bible.” For Audubon fans, of course, a must-read is his “Journal of 1826”. For older kids, there is a graphic novel about John James Audubon called “Audubon, on the Wings of the World.” For younger kids, there is “The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon,” which I loved when I was eight years old. That book is actually how I first got into Audubon and his work.
And finally, as you might know, Florida is one of the best birding sites in the world. Tell us, what's a favorite local bird you like to see?
Swallow-tailed Kites! I don’t see them that often, but sometimes in spring and summer on a windy day, I can see them flying around, riding on the winds. I’ve always been fascinated by their strikingly beautiful coloration and how gracefully they move.