Spark Bird Scholars-in-Residence

So, what’s your Spark Bird?

For Roger Tory Peterson, it was a northern flicker. The date was April 8, 1920. He was 11 years old. He and a friend had climbed up Swede Hill in his hometown of Jamestown, New York.

“As we entered a wood lot on the crest of the hill near the reservoir, I spotted a bundle of brown feathers clinging to the trunk of a tree. It was a flicker. I thought it was a dead. Gingerly, I touched it on the back. Instantly, this inert thing jerked its head around, looked at me with wild eyes, then exploded in a flash of golden wing and fled into the woods. Ever since, birds have seemed to me the most vivid expression of life.”

Countless people have had their own life-changing Spark Bird experience. However, there is very little scholarship on the subject. We're going to help change that. A proud Founding Partner of the Spark Bird Project, RTPI is honored to name the project's founders -- Dr. Jennifer Lodi-Smith and Janet McNally -- as our ivery first scholars-in-residence. As resident scholars, Jenn and Janet will survey artists, conservationists and birders of varied backgrounds, then share what they're learning through podcasts and other programs -- to help inform the work of RTPI, at the nexus of art and nature.

The Spark Bird Project is designed to gather and share the stories of people’s passion for birds while gaining scientific insights into a critical missing piece in the ecology of birds: birders themselves. The Spark Bird Project leverages the tools of psychological science to study spark bird stories, with research findings going directly back to community partners to inform their efforts towards engaging people in birding. The knowledge gained from The Spark Bird Project helps to craft inclusive experiences that can facilitate spark bird moments for the benefit of the birding community, the new birder, the economy, and – most importantly – the birds and our world! By understanding what hooks birders, The Spark Bird Project helps grow the constituency of individuals creatively working to conserve and protect our planet. The Spark Bird Project also helps birders better understand each other by sharing spark bird stories publicly at and, soon, through The Spark Bird Podcast, launching in summer 2024.

Jenn Lodi-Smith, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at Canisius University. She is a personality developmental psychologist who uses mixed methods research to study identity development over time. She serves on the executive board for the Association for Research in Personality, as associate editor of the Journal of Personality, is a board member for the Friends of Reinstein Woods, and mentors the Western New York Young Birders Club.

Her spark birds are her kiddos who helped her notice birds and then fall in love with birding. Since then, she has had transformative moments with a fledgling Great Horned Owl, flocks of Atlantic Puffins, a friendly Black-throated Green Warbler, and a fishing Barred Owl!

Janet McNally is associate professor of English and Creative Writing and director of the All-College Honors Program at Canisius University in Buffalo, NY. A novelist and poet, she is author of the novels Girls in the Moon and The Looking Glass (HarperCollins), and a collection of poems, Some Girls, winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. She is a longtime studier of storytelling, and her spark bird is the Great Egret, a bird so beautiful and weird it almost seems fictional.

The Spark Bird Project Podcast Schedule

Launching Summer 2024 — please check back for updates