Q&A — How birdwatching changed the way this B.C. teen views the world

CBC Kids News • Published 2020-10-20 10:00

Teen featured in Rare Bird Alert doc 

Birding has always been a hobby for Toby Theriault.

But it wasn’t until she saw The Big Year — a 2011 flick in which Jack Black and Steve Martin compete to see who can spot the most bird species in one year — that she started to take it a little more seriously.

“I watched that when I was 11, and was like, you know, ‘What would be really cool?’ If I did one of those big years. And I just started birding that day. In that year, I saw 217 birds,” Toby told CBC Kids News.

Now, the 16-year-old from Tofino, B.C., is in a bird film of her own, appearing in the recent CBC documentary Rare Bird Alert.

The documentary follows birder and punk-rocker Paul Riss as he travels across North America to meet birdwatchers far and wide.

This includes a visit to Toby on her float house (yes, she lives on a floating house) in Tofino.

She takes Riss around Pacific shores to spot the birds she’s spent years watching.

Toby Theriault has lived in a float house on the coast of Tofino, British Columbia, her whole life. (Image credit: Dream Street Films)

CBC Kids News spoke with Toby to find out what it was like being featured in the documentary and how birding changed the way she sees the world around her.

Q: Why do you birdwatch?

A: It opens up the world to things that you’d totally miss if you weren’t thinking about it. When I walk around, I’ll see a bird, and I know exactly what it is and all these things about it: where it comes from, where it goes, where it migrates.

When it comes to birding, Toby said you can just use your eyes or invest in things such as binoculars or scopes to see more detail, such as complex feather patterns. (Image credit: Dream Street Films)

It’s also a really good connection to the environment. There’s a lot of things you can’t really see when it comes to climate change. It can often be easy to dismiss. But when you start birding, and falling in love with these animals, and start seeing the rapid rates that they’re decreasing [at], it all of a sudden becomes more personal. It creates a connection with the world and how you take care of it.

Q: How can kids start birding?

A:  I guess the first thing you should do is buy a bird book. Ninety per cent of the knowledge I know is from reading those books. My go-to is the Sibly Guide to Birds. Then just get out there and see what you can see.

Toby, left, said the main skills involved in birding are a good memory. She said good hearing is also helpful to tune into nearby birds that you might otherwise miss. (Image credit: Dream Street Films)

Q: What were the highlights of being included in the documentary?

A: It was really cool to see how all the equipment worked. They had a really cool camera on the boat on this tripod so that all of the frames were stable. We took Paul, the main birder in the documentary, out on the boat, and it was funny because he was like, “No, no, I don’t get motion sickness.” Then he got in the car and left. I didn’t know that this had happened, but when I watched the documentary back, it showed him in the car and he threw up like six times.

In the documentary, Toby takes Riss out to show him the offshore birds in her area.  (Image credit: Dream Street Films)

Q: What’s the rarest bird you’ve seen?

A: A snowy plover.

Q: What’s the largest bird you’ve seen?

A: A trumpeter swan, or white pelicans, which are actually quite rare in Tofino

Q: What’s the most memorable bird you’ve seen?

A: Once a year, a bird called a tropical king bird shows up to Tofino, and my friend and I have this running joke, because we’re always together when we spot it, but she’s always the one to see it first.

Q: What’s the scariest/angriest bird you’ve seen?

A: I would definitely say the great horned owl, because they just have this angry look to them. Great blue herons are also up there. Their calls sound like something being murdered.

The great horned owl is the most common owl in the Americas and can be found all over Canada. (Image credit: Jeff Haynes/Getty Images)

Q: What living bird do you most want to see?

A: A snew, because their name was always funny to me.

Q: What extinct bird would you most want to see?

A: I would love to see a dodo just because they’re so interesting, or a really cool bird called a labrador duck. Oh, and an ivory-billed woodpecker.

Q: What bird do we need to be doing more to protect?

A: A lot of sea birds, specifically albatrosses, that live around Hawaii. Those islands have just been so inebriated with plastics that a lot of those birds are dying.

TOP IMAGE CREDIT: (Dream Street FIlms)

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