By Ryan Nakano
On February 26, a new participant profile appeared on Golden Gate Audubon’s fundraising platform Pledge It for this year’s Birdathon, and within a week, Hannah Breckel raised $600 to help protect our local birds and their habitat. Last week she surpassed her species goal of 50, seeing a total of 58 different bird species since March 11.
Seeing her profile at the top of the fundraiser leaderboard for the first week or so since the Birdathon fundraising campaign began, I started asking the rest of our staff if anyone knew her personally. It appeared she’d been on a few monthly field trips with us, but no one could place the name. Already, the prospect of sharing her story as a new individual fundraiser for Golden Gate Audubon was exciting.
And then I learned Hannah Breckel is 11-years-old and her dream is to become the CEO of the National Audubon Society. Which tells us two things:
1. It is never too early or too late to lean into your passion and ask for support! (Now is the time to go and set up that fundraising page for yourself and catch up!)
2. We will be seeing and hearing the name Hannah Breckel now and in the future, especially in the world of bird conservation. This is just a fact.
On Breckel’s fundraising campaign page, she states “There’s nothing more exciting than identifying a new bird and, after moving around the U.S. my entire life, I’ve had the opportunity to see so much diversity among birds. I’m excited to help the Golden Gate Audubon Society with this fundraiser.”
Born in Kodiak Alaska, Breckel was introduced to birding through a 4-H class at the age of eight years old. Twice a month a 4-H leader and a naturalist from the Alaska Raptor Center would lead birding trips for the 4-H class, and after that Hannah was hooked.
So hooked in fact, that she unintentionally got the rest of her family into birding as well.
“I don’t think I did it on purpose, but I would be so proud of myself for identifying a new bird and they (my family) would be like ‘wow!’, so they also started getting into it.”
As she became more and more proficient with identification, pouring over her beloved bird books, her family started going on bird walks together in Alaska with Hannah serving as their guide.
So when Hannah and her family moved a little over a year and a half ago from Sitka, Alaska to Moraga, California, her mom Elizabeth Breckel set about to find a young birders group for Hannah to join.
Unfortunately, with the pandemic in full effect, the few young birders groups in the Bay Area were on hiatus. Last November Elizabeth came upon Golden Gate Audubon’s free monthly birding trips and signed herself and Hannah up to check out Lafayette Community Center the following month.
Since then Hannah has been on four other GGAS birding trips, and has no intention of slowing down. In fact, for Hannah, birding is more than just a hobby, it’s part of her career path.
“So I want to become an ornithologist, and I would love to focus on nesting behavior,” Hannah shared. “I’m going to go to college at Cornell and work at their Lab of Ornithology and from there I hope to work my way up to being the CEO of the entire Audubon Society.”
Hannah recently wrote a letter to the current National Audubon Society CEO Elizabeth Gray, and received a personal response back from Dr. Elizabeth Gray, informing her that if she works hard enough she can definitely make her career plan happen.
When I asked Hannah why she wanted to end up at the National Audubon Society, she replied “My first ever bird book was from the Audubon Society so for a while that’s all I knew, but really I just want to help (bird) species.”
Which brings us back to Hannah’s fundraiser campaign. Originally, Hannah thought she might set her fundraising goal at $100, unsure whether or not people would contribute. But after a conversation with her parents, she increased her goal to $500 with the plan to see at least 50 bird species.
“We told Hannah ‘birds and birding is your passion and anyone who knows you knows this so they will be more willing to support you’,” Elizabeth Breckel said.
And it didn’t take long to learn that her parents were right. Just as she had roped in her family to her passion for birding, friends and relatives quickly began to donate and before she knew it she had surpassed her fundraising goal.
“I started my (fundraising) campaign because I like birds and I don’t want them to go extinct,” Hannah shared. “I’m just trying to do my part.”
Excited by all the support, Hannah’s birding strategy for Birdathon has been to do a mix of group field trips, family birding trips, and birding in the backyard.
So far she’s seen a total of 58 different bird species, with her last update on her campaign page reading “I did it! I reached my species goal!”
When Hannah’s not busy birding to support local birdlife and habitat, she’s sewing, hiking, playing with her younger brother, backpacking, nature journaling and birding in other countries with her family. On a recent trip to Iceland she got the chance to see a bird on her life list; the Atlantic Puffin.
“It made me so happy,” Hannah recalled. “They are so cute and smaller than I thought they would be!”
In addition to her birding adventures, Hannah is in the middle of her own science project for the bird unit her mom put together as part of her homeschool curriculum. Coming up with the project on her own, Hannah wanted to know if there was a certain time of day when birds in her local area are most active. Everyday for a week, Hannah recorded all the birds she could observe for two minutes every hour between 7am and 5pm to see if she could find a trend.
“I’ve noticed that there seems to be more birds out during certain times of the day,” Hannah shared. “So I wanted to see if that was true.”
From conducting her own research to birding with her family to fundraising an incredible amount for local bird conservation, Hannah Breckel is setting an example and reminding us all that this passion for birds can not only be fun, but wonderfully inspiring. So much so that even the simple act of birding can make a difference.
Even though she has already met her goals, Hannah plans to continue raising money through her Birdathon campaign until her family moves up to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington in May.
Want to continue to cheer on Hannah? You can contribute to her fundraising campaign here. Or better yet, you can follow Hannah’s lead by creating your own individual fundraiser for this year’s Birdathon here!
More on Hannah Breckel’s love of birds
Q: What’s your favorite bird and why?
A: That’s a hard question, but let’s narrow it down to passerines. Probably like an Oak Titmouse. We built and have a nestbox set up in our backyard and we think they might possibly be nesting.
Q: What’s your favorite local birding hotspot?
A: I like Lafayette Community Center, there’s a whole bunch of trails back there with a lot of birds, we saw Bushtit nests back there.
Q: Why Birds?
A: I just think birds are so different from the other animals, they have feathers and they fly which I’d love to do without a motor, and I’m always interested in their nests.
Q: What is it about their nests that interests you?
A: I don’t know how they build them. They have beaks and feet and I have hands and fingers. It’s just like, how do they do it? It surprises me how they can weave such elaborate nests.
Ryan Nakano is the current Communications Director for Golden Gate Audubon, a freelance journalist, amateur birder, and the author of poetry chapbook I Am Minor published by Nomadic Press.