Bird Conservation Through Education TM

November 1, 2014 

In This Issue
Kid Sized Christmas Bird Count
Reaching Out of the Box
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The Bird Education Network (BEN) was created following the February 2007 National Gathering, hosted by the Council for Environmental Education (CEE). BEN is a CEE initiative that seeks to connect and support a community of bird education professionals.


Over 4,000 individuals representing 300 organizations receive communications and engage in professional dialogue through the BEN-run Bird Education Listserv. 


A BEN Committee has been established to provide advice and guidance for this important initiative, to advance "bird conservation through education."

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Kid-Sized Christmas Bird Count-

Where Kids See Eye to Eye

 by Tom Rusert


Thousands of young naturalists braved the wild winter, birding through snow and rain and the infamous polar vortex, to identify and count winter birds across North America. Some are fortunate to be in warmer climates. An enthusiastic, new generation of young birders with diverse cultural heritage eagerly participated in one of the many Christmas Bird Count for Kids (CBC4Kids) events held from coast to coast in Canada and the United States this past winter. 

Youngsters birding today are representing a widening demographic that speaks to the richness of our cultural heritage in the 21st century. 
Most of these young birders and their parents will agree they initially participated for the purpose of traditional holiday 'fun', but like knowing their efforts are also contributing to bird conservation through programs like Cornell's eBird. Youth are learning a new way to play outside, re-discovering nature as Citizen Scientists thanks to the CBC4Kids. Interest in bird-watching continues to grow and is being recognized as the fastest growing outdoor activity in the world.  Observing birds can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels.  Considering the ease and versatility of this hobby, the challenge for the traditional CBC and other similar Citizen Science programs has been attracting the attention of young people, and ultimately, the next cohort of Citizen Scientists. The importance of connecting all of our kids with nature is widely recognized, however, skill building and mentoring also plays a critical role in engaging and sustaining youth participation.

Recognizing this trend in area CBC events around Sonoma, California, the idea of a CBC 'just for kids' evolved.  In 2007, Tom Rusert and Darren Peterie, founders of Sonoma Birding, along with a blend of community organizations, hosted the first Christmas Bird Count for Kids (CBC4Kids), a youth and family oriented alternative to the century old rigorous traditional CBC, that Sonoma Birding had already established in Sonoma Valley. 
The success of this inaugural CBC4Kids spread great enthusiasm and interest throughout the Northern California birding community, building momentum to spread the CBC4Kids movement eventually across North America. It is now offered in English, Spanish and French. Rusert stated, "youngsters today are not really hung up on language or race issues that seems to create a good bit of consternation with the well established adult birding and nature community. They simply want to get out and enjoy the excitement, challenge and adventure the CBC4Kids provides year after year. We hope kids from every background get hooked for life."

Bird Studies Canada, a partner with Audubon for the traditional CBC, whole heartedly supported this initiative and became the Canadian partner for the CBC4Kids in 2010. Although modeled after the traditional CBC, the CBC4Kids movement is designed specifically to engage young people, ages 8-16 to birding, filling a critically necessary niche in re-connecting kids at the beginning of the year. This then helps more families learn about and prepare for the Great Backyard Bird Count, Project Feeder Watch and The Big Sit, offered later in the season. The Cornell Labs eBird program is introduced in all of these experiences. "We found that the "Binocular Boot Camp" for example, is absolutely critical to youngsters in order to have a successful birding experience with any of these activities" according to co-founder, Darren Peterie. By bringing together youth and their families each year for the CBC4Kids adventure, participants grow and gain basic bird-watching skills, learn about habitat and enjoy resident and migrating birds while at the same time building important relationships with other young naturalists. The seed is planted for the lifetime sport of birding. 

Bird Studies Canada and Sonoma Birding in the United States provide logistical support to help organizations facilitate CBC4Kids events across the continent. For information to facilitate a Christmas Bird Count for Kids in the US, contact Sonoma Birding via email. In Canada, please contact Bird Studies Canada via email. 

Reaching Out of the Box

by Dave Magpiong           


Many nature centers, bird clubs, and environmental organizations are running successful outreach programs across the North America.  Some examples include presentations open to the public, special events/festivals, and the ever-popular bird walks. 


These outreach programs can be successful for all stakeholders. The attending participants can have a wonderful time and learn new field skills. Ideally, they also walk away with a better understanding of conservation issues which can benefits our birds and the environment. The hosting organizations may end up generating some revenue from the program fees or even new memberships.


Again, the programs are highly successful at engaging people with some interest in birds. Yet, how many "outreach programs" are really REACHING OUT to the uninitiated?  How may will break new ground?


Many of these activities include unintended but inherent barriers that can hinder large segments of the population from participating.  Sure, bird walks at regional hot spots are wonderfully "birdy" but all too often these hot spots are some distance from population centers. Bird festivals can be lots of fun but how many "non-birders" are attracted to these events. Of course, it costs organizations to conduct these activities so they need to charge a nominal fee but those fees, while necessary, are a considerable barrier to birding. Why would someone pay for something they know nothing about?!


With relatively minor changes to programming, bird-education outreach could effectively reach more  people.  Some general considerations for reaching out include:


1.  Conduct bird walks in popular urban or suburban parks:  Sure, the list may not be as long as the hot-spot walks, but the number of people who can attend the event could skyrocket. 


2.  Partner with community groups: Churches, scouting troops, rotary clubs and other civic organizations already have inroads to the local families as well as individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Working together with these groups will make birding activities more accessible and inviting to large swaths of previously uninvolved public.


3.  Provide FREE walks/programs: A regularly scheduled (e.g. weekly or  monthly) FREE birding activity in a populated area can pay huge dividends by increasing awareness of your programs to new groups, who may return for more walks or even become a member!


4.  Relevant leaders (mentors!): Participants will feel more comfortable engaging with your program if they can relate to the other active members and, more specifically, the engaged leaders. These are potential mentors who talk and look like the new participants, mentors who are friendly and welcoming, involved and inspirational.


5.  Creatively paired activities: By broadening activities beyond merely birding, you can appeal to people with other interests. Sports, history, food/drink, pop culture, and art are incredibly versatile starting points.  A terrific example of such creativity was a series of programs run by Edinburg Scenic Wetlands in south Texas known as Zombie Survival Nights.  Participants learned how to survive a zombie apocalypse by utilizing their environment and included lessons on botany, edible plants, animal tracks, and bird calls!


Bird-education outreach is a critical tool to promote a societal bird conservation ethic. In our litigious society, it would be problematic to literally grab people by the scruff of their neck and open their eyes to the bounty of birds all around. Yet, if our bird outreach does a bit more reaching out, we can ultimately have a similar beneficial result of more public awareness of bird conservation issues. 
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