BUILDING CULTURAL BELONGING THROUGH NATURE
The black-capped chickadee’s memory is so good that it can remember where it has stored food in _____________ of places.
If you knew that a chickadee could remember thousands of hiding places for its seeds, you’d be correct, but do you also know thousands of other pieces of bird trivia, like this Amazing Kid?
A teenager from Gladstone has become one of his city’s top ornithologists to raise awareness for how birding can lead to greater community spirit and environmental protections.
In November, Kraxberger Middle School seventh-grader Jaz Freels spoke about bird trivia at “What Is It About Birding?” a panel presentation designed to create a sense of belonging and community for people of color. He presented alongside four adults in an event hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“I think it’s important for people to get out and enjoy nature,” Jaz says. “The more we learn about nature, the more we will want to protect it.”
During the event, Jaz was among a distinguished group of panelists, including Always Be Birdin’ Podcast host Sam DeJarnett, activist Brenda Ramírez and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee Lily Calderón. Mauricio Valadrian, the founder of a company focused on connecting underrepresented communities to public lands, was the event’s moderator.
During the event, Jaz revealed that woodpeckers and hummingbirds have tongues that are so long that they must store their tongues in the back of their heads between the skull and skin. He also told the panelists that once a year, in the summer, Canada geese molt and can’t fly for six weeks.
“This makes them more vulnerable to predators,” Jaz says. “Retreating to water plays an important role in their survival during this time.”
Jaz is an “extremely inquisitive student” who brings wisdom, life experiences and curiosity to the classroom every day, said Mary Parnell, a science teacher at Kraxberger Middle School.
“Jaz sees and hears what many people would miss,” Parnell says. “Jaz seeks to understand and help the natural world around us all. He is truly a student of science.”
Jaz was born in Haiti and came to the U.S. at age 5. He has been taking photos since his mother gave him a camera three years ago and enjoys taking pictures of wildlife and his pets.
“I had an extra camera and thought Jaz might enjoy giving photography a try,” says his mother, Melissa. “Now he and I spend a lot of time visiting wildlife refuges and nature parks.”
Jaz and his family live near a green space, so they see a lot of birds and other wildlife in their yard.
In 2021, Jaz took part in a summer daycation program, and during a group outing, he shared some of his photos with Valadrian, one of the daycation group’s mentors. Valadrian then invited him to take part in the online birding event.
“One of my favorite bird moments was watching some osprey chicks in a nest by the river,” Jaz says. “The chicks were flapping their wings and hopping as they practiced to fly.”
Science is one of Jaz’s favorite subjects, and he is known throughout the regional birding community for his amazing ability to remember and recite all sorts of facts about wildlife and nature in general.