Maia Nguyen: “Owl”ways Flying to Success


Photograph Courtesy of Maia Nguyen

Senior Maia Nguyen on a birding trip at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. Besides birding, she also goes to the sanctuary to volunteer, conduct research, and participate in field trips.

Chirp, chirp! Birds soar through the skies and rest in the beautiful, green marsh of the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. In the distance, group of naturalists study and record the 75 different species of birds in this habitat and each of their behaviors. Among this group of experts is senior Maia Nguyen, a passionate bird enthusiast. She is already deeply involved in the bird field through knowledge and volunteering, and has her future as an ornithologist planned out.




Nguyen’s love for birds had a “prehistoric” beginning, born from her fascination with dinosaurs at age four. However, that interest quickly evolved into a love for birds, the dinosaurs of today. Researching about how birds were technically evolved from “dinosaurs” played a huge role in how Nguyen’s intellectual curiosity and her affinity for avian species.




As an aspiring naturalist, Nguyen is an integral part of “Sea and Sage”, Irvine’s branch of the National Audubon Society. Located at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, “Sea and Sage” allows their junior naturalists to volunteer in preservation efforts and attain more bird expertise. Nguyen has participated in bird counts, researches, and many field trips. For example, she would conduct a monthly bird census to see how well the various bird species are doing at the sanctuary. This coming January, she is excited to attend an overnight trip to the Salton Sea to learn more about bird species not often seen in Orange County. This event is far from the only exclusive opportunity given to Nguyen for her dedication and ability.





One of the major research programs Nguyen was able to participate in is the Tree Swallow Banding Project, which was based on the tree swallows at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. The purpose of the project was to place bands on the legs of the baby birds before they begin to fly to help other researchers note their migration patterns and keep tabs on the population of the bird species. “When [tree swallows] are flying away or migrating, others researchers can record their band numbers, and also where they are migrating and how their population is doing,” Nguyen explains. Through this study, Nguyen has not only learned more about tree swallows, but also contributed to other researchers’ works. Her work ethic is praised by her friend Elisa Yang, the president of California’s Young Birders Club. “I have known Maia for only two years, but in these two years, she has shown an incredible love of birds, especially nurturing and caring for them. She is currently involved in a number of projects involving birds, and has expressed hopes of working in wildlife rehabilitation when she gets older. When it comes to her knowledge of birds, she is both skilled and versatile.”





Nguyen was especially invited to attend the Western Field Ornithologist Conference at Humboldt University just this October. The conference was a great opportunity for avid scholars like Nguyen to come together, share their common love for birds, and communicate their research. Because of the limited number of granted attendees, Nguyen’s ambitious and exuberant personality most definitely stood out among others in order for her to receive an invitation. This conference featured many different workshops, field trips, lectures, and many lessons from accomplished professors. Nguyen was also one of the few lucky recipients to be awarded the Western Field Ornithologist Scholarship. The application process included a personal statement and several letters of recommendation, showing the time and dedication Nguyen puts into her bird studies.




Birds are Nguyen’s primary, but not singular, interest. Nguyen also considers careers in broader science fields such as marsh and marine sciences. Marsh science in particular is often overlooked among the general population, even though it is so vital to the success of many different animal species. According to Nguyen, “there should be more studies on marsh sciences, since so many birds and other animals rely on [the marsh]. Marsh sciences are also an important indicator of the overall welfare of the environment.” It is self-evident that Nguyen has a passion for the environment and wants to do the best she can to help keep it in the best condition possible. On campus, she is the president of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) club. Her club is dedicated to making craft projects every Tuesdays as donations to a local children’s hospital. Nguyen’s compassionate nature carries through each and every one of her activities, and will continue to do so throughout her life.




As a senior, Nguyen is one step ahead of the game, she already has her college applications done and her future planned. For ornithology specifically, her top universities are Humboldt State University, University of California Davis, and Oregon State University. “For people that like birds, they usually do aviance sciences at University of California Davis, or they can do more general wildlife biology,” Nguyen states. Already knowing the different courses available at her top three choices and planning ahead makes Nguyen a true Patriot.




What makes Nguyen apart from the crowd is her dedication. Her interest in birds is already unique and different from other high schoolers, but the commitment she has is incomparable. Not everyone can have both a distinct passion and a steadfast spirit, so that is what makes Nguyen above and beyond the flock.