‘I wanted to help save them’: Maryland girl pens bird guide for a cause

At 11 years old, Xaviana Leis, from Edgewater, Maryland, is not only a published author, but she’s also a philanthropist.

Leis, who goes by Xavi, has written and illustrated a guide to the birds of Maryland, and the money raised from the sales of her book goes to a nonprofit organization that rehabilitates raptors that have been injured.

Xavi and her mom, Megan Dombi-Leis, said that Xavi was inspired to get involved with birds after a speaker visited her Girl Scout troop and talked about how birds need help from humans.

Xavi Leis with the first shipment of her book, the “Maryland Bird Guide.” (Courtesy Megan Dombi-Leis)

“I heard that pesticides and fishing line are harming the birds. And I wanted to help save them and stop them from getting harmed by what we are doing,” Leis said.

Since then, she and her mom have volunteered to help transport injured birds to licensed rehabilitators, such as the Owl Moon Raptor Center in Boyds, Maryland.

Suzanne Shoemaker, the licensed rehabilitator who runs Owl Moon, said that she works with all kinds of birds of prey, including hawks, eagles, falcons, owls and even vultures.

“They are important in the ecosystem, and they’re just important because they’re living creatures that we are trying to share our world with,” Shoemaker said.

The center is also about educating young people and getting them involved as much as they can in the work.

Shoemaker said that it’s “super nice” that Xavi is donating the money from the book’s sale, but it is also just as exciting to see her enthusiasm.

As of last Friday, Shoemaker said she has learned that the book sales have generated some $5,000 for Owl Moon, and that’s welcomed given what Shoemaker’s seeing this year.

Late winter is usually a slow time for rehabilitators, but this year, “There has not been any slow time at all for us this year. It’s been nonstop” Shoemaker said.

On learning how much money her book sales generated, Leis, who has also sold some of her watercolor illustrations, said, “I’m really happy that we raised that much money. I did not think that I was going to raise even close to that amount.”

“One of the first times we transferred an eagle, I said to my mom that I was screaming on the inside” with excitement, but, “We have to be completely quiet in the car,” Xavi said.

Xavi said that human voices can stress the birds, and “if they move because they’re scared, they could injure themselves more.”

Her favorite bird is the bald eagle. Not only are they beautiful, majestic birds, but Xavi said their story touched her. In the 1960s, they were on the brink of extinction, and now “they’re coming back and thriving,” she said.

Xavi’s mom recalled telling her daughter how when she was a child, the only time she saw a bald eagle was in a zoo.

“Now there’s one on our street,” Dombi-Leis said. “We just look up, and there’s hawks and eagles and birds that weren’t there when I was a kid. It’s pretty fascinating to see them around everywhere.”

You can buy the “Maryland Bird Guide” at Vintage by the Bay, Wild Birds Unlimited, Caprichos Books and Wild Birds Unlimited.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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