Birdie, Birdie in the Sky

Juan Aguayo’s calming COVID hobby has taken him places he never envisioned. Including the water treatment plant.

March 2024

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Bald eagle in a tree

LOOK WHO’S HERE: Aguayo “couldn't think straight for two hours” after sighting two bald eagles in Dallas. Photo: Juan Aguayo

When Juan Aguayo gets into something, he gets really into it. Once it was mariachi. Another time it was genealogy. Lately? It’s birding. “A lot of it’s the chase,” he says. When he likes something, “I want to get good at it.”

Aguayo, ’97, MS ’98, a senior principal mechanical engineer for Volkswagen of America and the father of four, started birding in 2020 as a way to get outdoors during long work-from-home days. Then—well, you know—he got into it. According to eBird, where birders around the world log more than 100 million sightings every year, in 2023 Aguayo was the No. 7 birder (out of 6,091) in Dallas County, Texas, with 225 species sighted locally. His “anywhere” goal for the year was 300, a mark he hit during a late-summer business trip in London. 

Pileated Woodpecker; Coopers Hawk; Hooded MerganserPICTURE PERFECT: Aguayo’s finds include a pileated woodpecker, a Cooper’s hawk, and a hooded merganser. (Photos: Juan Aguayo)

One find he’ll always remember: two bald eagles. In Dallas. “I felt lucky,” he says. “I saw this eagle in the water. I was just snapping as many pics as I could, and while I was snapping, a second one flew in. I couldn’t think straight for like two hours after this picture.” Last year, Aguayo also managed to snap a photo of a pileated woodpecker—one of the largest forest birds in North America, at 15 to 20 inches long, and sporting a fabulous red mohawk—after months of trying. 

Juan Aguayo in the woods with a camera around his neckPhoto: Gabriela Arias, ’99

During busy migration seasons, you might find Aguayo scouting a lake after taking his kids to school, dodging a neighborhood red-tailed hawk as it hunts a squirrel, or touring areas many of us might avoid. (“After I got access to the water treatment plant, my numbers skyrocketed.”) He finds birding to be calming, even if he doesn’t always nab a photo of the bird he was looking for. “I still come back refreshed, with a clear mind. And I’ll just have to try again.” When the 2023 stats wrapped, Aguayo was a mere 27 species behind the top birder in Dallas County. This year’s crown is in sight.

Summer Moore Batte, ’99, is the editor of and of the Loop newsletter. Email her at

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