Bird Conservation Through Education TM

November 3, 2015 

In This Issue
Revisiting Useful BIrds
The Price of Birding
Stamp T-Shirts are Here!
Every Kid in a Park
Education in Action
Thanks to our BEN Bulletin sponsors:

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."

Support BEN
Support the Bird Education Network and your logo will be seen by hundreds of bird education professionals!
Contact Sarah Livesay ( for more information.

Quick Links 
Revisiting "Useful Birds"
by Paul J. Baicich
Arm & Hammer Useful Bird Cards
If you look back to the start of American bird education and bird conservation, especially to the practices of our original bird-protection foremothers, you will notice a recurring theme in the late 1800s and early 1900s. That theme is "useful birds."
The works of such pioneers as Florence Merriam Bailey, Neltje Blanchan, Mabel Osgood Wright, and Olive Thorne Miller was based on appreciation, sympathy, and care, but it was also often infused with a strain of economic practicality. That practicality was centered around the call to welcome "economically valuable" birds to thrive around us, around home and farm. Such questionable science was called "economic ornithology" and was driven by the early American Ornithologists' Union, government workers (especially at the USDA and at corresponding state agencies), as well as by the legions of women bird defenders.
The general public - rural and urban - was regularly presented the "useful" message. Early on, at the turn of the century,  some species were deemed beneficial (for example in the East: Brown Thrasher, Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Bluebird, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak), while others were considered injurious (for example, Cooper's Hawk, American Crow, Common Grackle, and, in the South, Bobolink).
Useful birds, attracted with food, water, and cover, were perceived to eat harmful insects in spring and summer and eat weed seeds in fall. At this time in our history, birds often were simply described as good or bad, saints or sinners, and were, by the evidence presented, vindicated or convicted. A "guilty sentence" could mean persecution, or even death.
Books and pamphlets were written on the economic issues or with economic sub-themes. For example, Florence Merriam wrote, How Birds Affect the Farm and Garden (1896) and Neltje Blanchen wrote How to Attract the Birds (1903). (Blanchen in particular had an aversion to "evil" raptors.) One of the most powerful publications on the subject was the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture's, Useful Birds and Their Protection (1907), by Edward Howe Forbush, a book over 400 pages long.
As they all worked for laws to protect non-game birds, bird advocates seemed compelled to show that more people would profit from saving free and living birds rather than they would from selling caged or dead ones - or their fashionable feathers.
Perhaps inadvertently, Frank M. Chapman summed up the logic-trap in the arguments early on. In the August 1899 issue of his new magazine, Bird-Lore, he wrote, "As long as man's attitude toward nature is the standpoint of dollars and cents, bird-lovers will welcome every fact which places them in possession of a fresh argument to be used where appeals to sentiment are of no avail."
Moreover, by the entry of the U.S. into World War I, the economic arguments received an additional boost. Saving "useful birds" would safeguard harvests of food and fiber, and "defeat the Kaiser." For example, the Los Angeles Audubon Society presented a bird fountain to Exposition Park on April 18, 1918, in which the society's president, Mrs. F. T. Bicknell, dedicated the fountain, "To our birds," fighting "against enemies of the crops" and to the "battalion which saves our forests from which we get the lumber to build great ships and air-planes."
During this entire period, the theme also reached the general public through popular culture and education. One popular way the general public learned about these useful birds was through collectible bird cards placed in boxes of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, from the Church and Dwight Company. At least 13 sets of bird cards were produced from 1888 through 1938, with multiple sets touting "useful birds." The cards featured  bird artists including M. E. Eaton and the brilliant Louis Agassiz Fuertes. Each of the baking-soda cards included a fine painted image of a bird on the front and a bird profile on the back. Each card began with the "useful birds" introduction and card ended with the phrase, "For the good of all, do not destroy the birds." The image shown here, reproduces both sides one of these cards for Baltimore Oriole.  The back extols the virtues of the "valuable" bird, as it consumes great numbers of "hairy and tent-caterpillar and  of the brown-tail and gypsy moths." (Later, these images would be used in instructive wall posters and distributed to schools across the country.)
We can chuckle over some of these older misbegotten arguments, but many money-maker arguments persist, if not in different ways, today. For example, fast-growing U. S. wild bird-feeding sales and avian tourism-related figures are often cited as significant measures of birds' post-agricultural worth to the American economy. One might conclude that such a current "dollars and cents accounting" may be a throwback to the limited view of old-fashioned "economic ornithology."
But for bird educators there are places for all sorts of arguments, including the "economic" ones. It's probably a question of prioritizations, and each bird educator may have her or his own curricular hierarchy. Beyond the economics, consider the following:
What birds tell us via scientific monitoring may be crucial to our own survival. Indeed, the whole issue of climate change can be read through birds' altered ranges, distribution, and shifts in migration and in nesting phenology.
What birds teach us by capturing the curiosity of classroom and outdoor-study students may have lasting impact for the future of science, conservation, and education.
What birds do for us aesthetically is however, personal and inestimable. There is often a solid health consequence to outdoor bird appreciation and one that approaches a spiritual renewal.
To get important laws passed, our early bird protectionists and bird educators were often forced to downplay beauty and sentiment and make their economic case for birds. In the 21st century, the intrinsic value of wild birds can become more appreciated, that is, more up-front and obvious for bird educators.
- - - - -
Some of these arguments are described in detail by Paul Baicich, Margaret Barker, and Carrol Henderson in their Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation (2015, Texas A&M University Press).

Barriers to Birding #3;                            
The Price of Birding
By Dave Magpiong

This installment in the Barrier to Birding Series focuses on the affordability of birding. Of course, the argument that "watching birds is free" does hold some truth. It doesn't cost a cent to step outside and watch birds flying overhead, flitting through the trees, or foraging on the ground. Yet, some financial investments are required get closer looks (optics) at a wider variety of birds (travel) and be able to identify them (field guides) as well as better understand their lives (other books and resources).

According to  Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis released in 2013, the approximate 47 million "birders" in the U.S. spend, on an annual basis, a cumulative $40.9 BILLION dollars to entertain their interest in birds. It breaks down to $14.8 billion in travel and $26.1 billion on equipment. Based on these figures, the "average" birder spends about $870 a year on bird observation. This means the birding is more than a hobby. It's also pretty big business.

How does this pose a barrier to birding for new folks?

For many people, finances are tight and bills beckon so spending money on something perceived as "trivial" as looking at birds is not a prudent choice for their household. When you are trying to feed your family and pay rent, the notion of buying field guides and binoculars seem like squandering hard-earned family funds. Yes, people can simply look at and enjoy their backyard and neighborhood birds but it is difficult to develop the knowledge of birds that leads to informed conservation action.

 This is a challenging economic chasm to effectively cross as times are also difficult for the many non-profit groups that hold so much potential for recruiting these new bird conservation allies.  With that being said, it's also hard to understand how birding organizations expect to engage new audiences when they are charging over $100 for a day long "Intro to Birding" type event,  over $1,000 per child for a week-long program, or $10,000 for an extended school program. Of course, there are legitimate costs involved with running such extensive and effective programs. Yet, these price tags act as formidable obstacles both in reality and philosophy. Not only can most families/schools not afford to participate but this sticker shock can also leave the financially-challenged potential birder thinking "this is just not for me."

Fortunately, many local birding clubs, NWR friends groups, and other organizations offer free birding walks in local parks. It could be helpful, and productive for their membership, for ALL birding groups to offer a FREE bird  walk each month (week?!) in an easily accessible location. This would make it considerably easier for people who may be curious about birds but are more concerned about their own financial security.

With regards to optics, books and equipment, there are several options as well. Thanks to the proliferation of technology, everyone can access a wealth of birding resources online without have to spend any additional money from their tight budgets. While many veteran birders use high-end optics, there are also decent optics at affordable price points from companies like Eagle Optics, Celestron, Opticron, and even Zeiss has recently offered the considerably more affordable Terra series. Eagle Optics also offers an educational discount for nature centers, schools, and other organizations working to build awareness of birds and nature. Birding clubs could also hold a "used optics drive" amongst their members to either use as lenders for bird walks or even to give away to skilled birders of need.  One example of such an idea comes from the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club's "New Bins for New Birders" Program.

Conducting free walks, sharing resources online, and discount optics programs may sound like a bit of work but they are relatively cheap investments in expanding membership and developing more conservation-minded citizens. After all, without engaging new people in wildlife observation, we have little hope in getting them active in conservation action!

Wear Your Support on Your Sleeve


The Friends of the Migratory Bird/ Duck Stamp have created a stamp-support t-shirt for you and all of the birders on your list. The iconic original stamp image, created by Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling in 1934, simply states "Securing Wildlife Habitat Since 1934".
By purchasing a shirt, not only will your investment support the Stamp fund, but 5% of the profits will also go to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, win-win! Visit the  Friends of the Stamp website for details.

Have a 4th Grader in Your Life?

As part of President Obama's commitment to protect our nation's unique outdoor spaces and ensure that every American has the opportunity to visit and enjoy them, the Every Kid in a Park initiative allows fourth graders nationwide to go to the Every Kid in a Park Website  and obtain a pass for free entry for them and their families to more than 2,000 federally managed lands and waters nationwide for an entire year starting September 1, 2015.

Education in Action

First graders in central Illinois this week received their first taste of birding and binocular use through the Champaign County Forest Preserve District's
"Birds of a Feather" education program. Since 1948, the CCFPD has worked to alleviate "barriers to birding" in all of their preserves- including the provision of educational programs for a minimal $1.50 per student. 

BEN: Connecting Bird Educators TM
CEE logo CC good resolutionFor more information visit:
Newsletter maintained by: The Council for Environmental Education, Flying WILD and the BEN Committee.