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“Please don’t fly away. Please don’t fly away,”

I silently begged as the agile bird wriggled around in my closed palms. It was biodiversity day at La Calandria Lodge, and we were investigating different forms of wildlife in both the new and old forests surrounding the station. We began with birds, recording information such as mass, flight feather damage, and predicted age. The whole group gathered around Deb Hamilton and Luisa Moreno to learn how to properly handle the birds and make correct observations. I watched many creatures emerge from their temporary homes and undergo a routine examination performed by an eager student. Deb wanted us all to have a go, and called out after each release,

“OK, who wants the next one?”



I passed on wrens and woodcreepers; my bird and I needed to establish a connection before we got up close and personal. I scanned the lineup and eventually locked in on my long-awaited subject.

The soft white bag was animated by the somersaults of its lively contents. In keeping with the theme of challenging myself throughout the program, I claimed the feisty one with confidence (at least with the appearance of confidence). When my turn came to handle and measure it, Deb made it clear that this one was going to require a steady hand. She gracefully pulled the bird from the bag and enveloped it with superb technique. After she warning me of its strong legs and tendency to escape, I carefully grasped the White-eared Ground Sparrow, a rare species that lives in regions from southern Mexico to northern Costa Rica. Realizing that this would likely be the only one of its kind caught that day, I felt the gravity of the situation increase.



I wanted to hold onto it long enough to record all of the necessary measurements, and as it nipped at my fingertips and writhed at regular intervals, my resolve strengthened. With Deb’s warning that “birds can sense confidence” in the back of my mind, I strove to retain an essence of surety in my grasp, stance, and demeanor. While my feathery friend didn’t totally comply with our examination, I noticed that remaining calm and collected made the process much easier on everyone involved. We finished the investigation, collected accurate data, and avoided a dramatic escape. Relieved, and somewhat proud for having survived my first true tropical bird handling, I released the White-eared Ground Sparrow and wished it well as it soared back into its wooded home.

Throughout the DukeEngage Costa Rica program, I have tried to push myself towards growth, but not without frequent hesitation and doubt. For instance, I’ve wanted to work more on my Spanish-speaking skills, but have often chosen English or silence due to fears of being misunderstood. I haven’t participated as much as I’d like to in discussions or reflection sessions because I’ve found it difficult to speak up in group settings.

Yet my experience with the deceptively gentle White-eared Ground Sparrow has reaffirmed that it often pays to be bold, that facing a challenge with resilience and confidence can lead to success. Daring to choose a spirited subject gave me the opportunity to hold a rare species. Handling the bird with a calm hand gave me the liberty to closely examine its features. I also find it important to note that it would have been OK if I had accidentally released the bird prematurely; a few had escaped earlier in the day before all the measurements were taken. In the wise words of Deb, “it happens.” We would have just moved on to the next one and collected good data on many other species (including a gorgeous motmot which graced us with its presence). Biodiversity day was a great reminder that it’s better to put yourself out there and fail, than to not try at all. Because often enough, you’ll fly.