She was so distressed when she saw images of oil soaked birds in the Gulf of Mexico that 11-year-old Olivia Bouler wanted to do something. Olivia - who says conservationist John James Audubon is her hero - took her drawing talent and her passion for birds and tried to help. The young artist has raised thousands of dollars so far to help care for birds hurt by the BP oil spill.
Olivia Bouler was moved to tears when she saw oil-soaked birds struggling in the surf along the Gulf of Mexico. Olivia calls herself a bird-lover who hopes to one day become an ornithologist. So she decided to write to the Audubon Society - which specializes in bird conservation - to see if she could do something.
The Islip, New York resident closed her letter "11 years and willing to help" and included one of her drawings - of a cardinal. Olivia said she had "some artistic talent" and would give one of her drawings or paintings to anyone who donated to oil spill relief efforts.
Her mom Nadine is an English teacher who has shown her own art in galleries. Olivia's father James grew up in Orange Beach, Alabama, and still has family along the Gulf coast. Nadine Bouler says Olivia came up with the idea to give her drawings in exchange for donations one night at the kitchen table. But the family never imagined the project would get worldwide attention.
"We knew how upset she was about the situation and we were really glad to see her have an outlet to handle her feelings," she said. "We never anticipated that it would take off the way it has. But we are certainly supportive of what she wants to do."
Most of Olivia's drawing experience comes from doodling on tests and taking one art class. She uses the National Audubon Society Field Guide or the Cornell University Lab Ornithology Handbook of Bird Biology to guide her drawings.
Olivia said that John James Audubon, the 19th century French-American ornithologist who painted and described the birds of North America in his book Birds of America was her inspiration.
"Yes I love him, he is my hero," she said. "I do not have a favorite bird. If I had to say one that I really, really liked, though I would have to say the American Kestrel and the Blue Jay."
AOL contacted the Boulers after the initiative's Facebook page "Save the Gulf: Olivia's Bird Illustrations" caught the attention of media outlets. The Internet Company also donated $25,000 to the Audubon Society to help in Olivia's quest and features her on its artists profile page.
One of Olivia's drawings features the brown Pelican, many of which have been hurt or killed after oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill fouled their nesting areas. Delta Willis is from the Audubon Society and she says the organization's founder himself would cheer Olivia's efforts.
"I think he would be as charmed as we are because she's not only talented but she's incredibly informed," said Willis. "She talks about the aerodynamics of the brown pelican. And we're just enchanted by her. And I think that John James [Audubon] would be too."
To date, Olivia's quest has raised more than $120,000. The young artist says she hopes people will join her in helping the Gulf region's birds.
"I hope that they look at my pictures and feel the beauty of birds that shines through them," she said. "And I hope that they will see that birds are important and we need to preserve them."
Nadine Bouler says Oliva committed to 500 original drawings and is still working to complete that total. With the worldwide attention Olivia's work has drawn, the Boulers and AOL have put together a print edition of her work.
The Internet provider is also helping distribute Olivia's prints to the first 10,000 people who donate to Gulf relief efforts and request one of her drawings. Donations will help support volunteers, staff and stock rehabilitation centers and find transportation for rescued birds.