Skyview High School freshman leads bird-watching workshop

He says hobby fosters love of nature, photography, travel

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter



Food for Fowl

Even with winter on the way, there are still opportunities for quality backyard bird-watching. Tyler Hartlauer, avid 14-year-old birder and the one leading Columbia Springs’ birding workshops, shared a few of his bird feeder recipes for winter: A suet cake recipe for woodpeckers in wintertime and homemade hummingbird nectar.


• Melt two boxes of lard and 2 cups peanut butter in a large pot. In a large bowl, blend 8 cups corn meal, 6 cups oatmeal, 4 cups flour and 1 1/3 cups sugar.

Add the dry mix and 4 cups sunflower chips into the melted lard-peanut butter mix, then stir with a large metal spoon.

Spoon the mixture into molds that will fit a suet feeder. Spare commercial suet-cake molds work well for this. Cool the concoction in a refrigerator and remove the cakes from the mold while they’re cold. Makes 12 cakes.

Hummingbird nectar:

Boil 1 cup water then add ¼ cup sugar. Tyler says his preferred mix is about 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. If using a microwave, add a few grains of sugar to the boiled water, as opposed to all of it at once, to avoid making a mess.

Store what’s unused in the refrigerator. Don’t use honey or food coloring.

It’s best to change the feeder liquid, and clean the feeder, about every three days in the summer, and every seven to 10 days in wintertime.

Also, keep an eye on the feeder to ensure the nectar doesn’t freeze.

Guests filled every chair in the classroom for Sunday’s backyard birding workshop at Columbia Springs. No one seemed to mind the person leading the workshop was, for many of them, a fraction of their age.

Tyler Hartlauer, 14, started volunteering with the environmental nonprofit several years ago, along with his father, Wendell Hartlauer. On Sunday, he ran his fourth backyard birding workshop for the group.

“Although Tyler is young, he is wise beyond his years when it comes to birding,” Columbia Spring Volunteer Coordinator Erik Horngren said.

The Skyview High School freshman said he has already checked off more than 400 birds in his birds-seen list, including the resplendent quetzal he spotted in Panama, and the elegant trogon he found in Arizona’s Madera Canyon.

He got started birding several years ago, during a family trip to Ireland. Birds fed at the cottage where they stayed.

“I started photographing birds, and that led me into both photography and birding,” Tyler said.

His dad said things picked up later, and he’d see Tyler hiking around with camera in hand looking for new finds.

He likes learning about the birds, hiking and being outdoors, and photography, his father said. “Probably No. 1, he loves to travel,” he said, hence the trips, which also include bird counts across the Western United States.

Tyler has a knack for identifying birds, recalling species information and differentiating bird sounds, Wendell said. At 12, Tyler earned one of six youth scholarships to attend the Western Field Ornithologists conference in Billings, Mont.

Following in his son’s path, Wendell has become a birder in his own right, and they plan family trips around where they can find new and interesting birds.

Tyler started helping out, then conducting, the Columbia Springs birding workshops after assisting in a pinch, Wendell said.

“It just kind of accidentally happened,” Wendell said. “Tyler was doing this presentation and just more and more people started coming, and he started gaining wisdom and knowledge, and he got the experience, and now he’s pretty much just the featured speaker.”

One of Columbia Springs’ goals, Wendell said, is to do more to reach out and inspire younger people.

“If they’re not engaged with their environment, they don’t understand it, they’re not going to take care of it,” Wendell said.

Tyler helps with that, he said, pointing to how much younger guests seem to like hearing the information from a peer.

Incidentally, biology and the life sciences aren’t really among Tyler’s favorite subjects at school. As far as a career, he has been more interested in design engineering, Wendell said.

Tyler said he plans to keep photography and birding as a hobby for a long time. They get him outside, he said, and remind him to focus on the important things in life.

“Just getting outside and enjoying all the beauty of nature,” he said.

Birding, he said, forces you to learn more about nature as a whole, such as which trees birds like to how weather affects migration.

“You start to appreciate everything out there,” he said.

His next expedition? He’d like to find a painted bunting, a colorful, cardinal-like bird that ranges around the Caribbean.