Suzanne Shoemaker holds a bird. In 2002, Shoemaker founded Owl Moon Raptor Center, a state and federally licensed rehabilitation center specializing in birds of prey. Photo courtesy of Meg Dombi-Leis.

In a crowd of young people, Xaviana Dombi-Leis may look a lot like most other girls in 6th grade–energetic, frank, and focused on growing up.

But like all children, she is a one-of-kind individual. In her case, she’s a Girl Scout who has self-illustrated a new bird book called the “Maryland Bird Guide.” She has sold 850 copies of the book and raised about $5,000 for helping injured owls, hawks, eagles and ospreys.

“I did the bird book for Girl Scouts to spread awareness about birds,” Xaviana said. “Then we started selling it. All the money we make goes to the raptor center.”

Her mom Megan, who teaches art, said that Xaviana has always enjoyed drawing.

“She used images and then drew her own,” she said.

The bird book took a certain level of devotion, because each of the 50 bird paintings in the book took Xaviana around a total of 30 minutes to draw and paint. End-to-end, that’s more than a full day of non-stop painting. But the Edgewater 11-year-old completed the work over a couple weeks time.

“We’ve sold around 850 books and raised around $5,000,” Xaviana said. “They (readers) really like the watercolor paintings, and a bunch of people have given extra to the birds.”

Proceeds from the book sales are going to Owl Moon Raptor Center. It is a state and federally licensed rehabilitation center specializing in birds of prey. Located in Boyds, Maryland in Montgomery County, the center helps sick and injured birds around the state.

Xaviana and Megan are two local volunteers, who help transfer the birds to the center from surrounding areas, including the Baltimore metro area. They sometimes drive more than an hour and a half to get the birds help.

“I love having the birds in our car,” Xaviana said. “We’ve had eagles, ospreys, a screech owl, a red shouldered and red-tailed hawk.”

She names the downed birds during the drive, and developed a system for doing so.

Megan said her daughter chooses gender-neutral names that start with the first letter of the species name, because they aren’t able to identify the bird’s sex until it arrives at the center. Some of the birds come from as far away as Southern Maryland or the Eastern Shore, she said.

Xaviana Dombi-Leis, 11, holds open a copy of “Maryland Bird Guide,” which she self-illustrated 50 birds. Dombi-Leis has sold 850 copies of the book and raised about $5,000 for the Owl Moon Raptor Center, which rehabilitates injured birds. Photo courtesy of Megan Dombi-Leis.

Owl Moon Raptor Center was founded in 2002 by Suzanne Shoemaker who continues to be its primary operator, but now there are hundreds of other volunteers in the organization to help her with the mission. Shoemaker said if an injured bird can make it through the first 24 hours after arriving at Owl Moon, they have about a 75% chance of being released back into the wild.

“I was surprised and thrilled when they announced it (the bird book),” she said. “They had been called to transport a bird. They brought me a bird and the book, and told me about it. I love the book. It’s a really nice book with beautiful illustrations.”

As word of the center has spread, and its network has expanded, the number of its patients has grown. The center receives around 500 raptors a year now, and needs to pay for medical and food expenses for the ailing animals.

“I started small, and it just kept growing,” Shoemaker said.

There are now a few hundred volunteers overall, including the transport network. Owl Moon also applies for grants, but its main funding is from donations.

As for Xaviana, at this point she doesn’t think she wants to professionally go into bird rehabilitation when she gets older. She also is involved with a profitable bakery endeavor, and likes to write short stories. But if you want to support her effort, you can order the book online or sign up for porch pickup (in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Montgomery, Queen Anne’s, and Prince George’s counties).

The book is also sold at:

  • Vintage By The Bay in Anne Arundel County
  • Wild Birds Unlimited in St. Mary’s County
  • Caprichos Books in Worcester County
  • Wild Birds Unlimited in Charles County

Shoemaker, for one, is glad to have Xaviana and her mother as part of the Owl Moon team today. She said fellow volunteers are her inspiration.

“They’re what keep me going,” she said. “They make me feel good about the world. It makes me feel good to know that they’re out there, and that I get to work with them. Every day I feel privileged.”

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