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Barriers to Birding #5: Perceptions of Birding
by Dave Magpiong

Previous installments have focused on barriers that we have just about no control over. It's not our fault that many people have yet to "meet" birds. We don't dole out addresses or issue paychecks to most Americans. Of course, we didn't travel back in time to erect those barriers of yesteryear. Yet, we can, to some extent, shape how newcomers view the birding community as they consider whether or not to join our ranks in bird study and conservation efforts.

Sure, some people may have a less-than-flattering impression of "bird watching" and believe that everyone who enjoys birds fits into a certain stereotype. We have absolutely no control over of those preconceived, and often mistaken, notions.

But what about those who are developing a newly found appreciation for birds? These people will quickly learn that not all bird enthusiasts, like any other large group, act or think in the same way. There is no such thing as "Stepford birders".

As new people dabble in bird study, they are also dabbling in a new relationship with our community - who are these people? what are they all about? am I comfortable with them? do I belong with them? am I one of them?!

Don't we want to present ourselves in the best possible light as we start this important new relationship? Well, I assume we can agree that engaging new people with bird conservation is an important relationship.

The newcomers will ask questions and share stories that may seem rudimentary, redundant, and perhaps even boring. While the content of our responses will be important to them, even more so may be the tone with which we offer those responses. Warmth, patience, and enthusiasm will be more likely to encourage them in their bird pursuits. Condescension, annoyance, and brusqueness can make them feel less than welcomed, therefore diminishing their chances of a repeat visit.

The internet and social media can be a gift to bird outreach. Listservs and rare bird alerts quickly and effectively disseminate birding news such as rare sightings and bird conservation issues. On occasion, social media has reached millions with the beauty and wonder of birds, with the recent male Painted Bunting in Prospect Park being just one example.

Yet, these same outlets can also amplify and broadcast our own missteps in bird outreach. One common scenario is the random online bird ID request which is met with sarcastic comments like "invest in a field guide."  Another face-palm moment comes after a future birder-to-be shares their excitement about spotting a Bald Eagle (or other cool but common species) only to have their joy squashed by jaded birders who drip with the "been there, seen that" disposition.

While these direct communications can upset the original commentator and make witnesses wary, there are other, perhaps unintended, transgressions that can paint a broader "you're not welcome here" banner for potential new birders. As social media is a public forum, general discussions and rants that mock the developing skills and knowledge of new birders or give a general impression of "you don't belong here unless you pass our test" should be avoided by birding organizations, their members, and even individuals as these sorts of comments will not endear us to potential newcomers but rather makes the lot of us seem to be an unwelcoming group.

The media and generations of folk tales have done plenty to cast us in unfavorable light. If we are to effectively grow the community of those who appreciate and work to conserve birds, we need to take caution in how we present ourselves to the world - in the field, online, and in our everyday lives.

New Bird Education Videos Take Flight
Submitted by Susan Schuller

Bird TV ("Bird Teaching Video") is a web-based educational resource created and hosted by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO) for use by schools, nature centers, bird clubs, and community members free of charge. 

The topics covered in the various episodes are diverse, informative, sometimes humorous, and always stocked with beautiful imagery. It's so easy to love the shapes and colors of birds; their songs, behaviors, and amazing physical adaptations, but at the heart of Bird TV is a simple and timely ethic: "Those who come to know birds will look out for birds." Check out this video edition, O.W.L.(Observe with Love)

Bird conservation is a key component of education, and each and every episode of Bird TV discusses how we -- the residents of Wisconsin whose quality of life has been enhanced by wild birds -- can help to better protect our avian resources. The series is written and produced by Steve Betchkal in conjunction with WSO. 

  Kea Bird App

Kea is a new program available to make learning new birds across Europe and North America accessible, free and above all, fun. Featuring over 1,300 species, including rarities and pelagic species, Kea can be downloaded for no cost via a traditional App store for iPhone and Android.  

Kea allows the user to select a habitat and takes off with rounds of bird ID quizzes to gain points and raise to more advanced levels of the game.  While the beginner mode helps new birders get the basics, challenging features exist for experienced birders, including a timed mode or scientific names mode. 
Webinar Event: Collecting Field Data on Local Birds
with Elementary Students

Green Teacher, a non-profit organization, dedicated to helping educators, inside and outside of schools, promote environmental awareness through their quarterly magazine, is providing a series of six free webinars throughout the 2016 winter/spring. On Thursday February 4, 7:30 pm- 8:30 EST, Renee Bachman and Ted Watt will be presenting the third webinar within the series, "Collecting Field Data on Local Birds with Elementary Students".

Through this webinar, Ted and Renee will explore how birds provide ready access for elementary level students to a variety of life science content areas. The presenters planned and carried out a nesting bird survey with 5th Graders in Western Massachusetts as part of Cornell's Birds in Forested Landscape Program. While teaching in Phoenix, Renee and her students collected data for the Central Arizona Phoenix Long Term Environmental Research Project. Ted has taught bird identification in informal settings for over thirty years. Together, they plan to share science practices and techniques in conjunction with visual and auditory bird observation skills, field data collection and analysis skills, and student presentation techniques for the wider community.

Registration and further information can be found on the Green Teacher website.
Thoughout the entire year, students at the Sugar Grove Nature Center in Funk's Grove (IL), can be found learning, and practicing, important lessons in maintaining safe and bird-friendly feeding areas. 
Education in Action

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-administered Bird Education Listserv
To learn more about us, read the BEN publication, "Toward a National Bird Education Strategy".

The BEN Bulletin is provided free of charge. We appreciate any financial help possible to continue this effort. See your logo in the BEN Bulletin! Contact us for sponsorship opportunities.

Newsletter Maintained by:
Council for Environmental Education  | Flying WILD  |  BEN Committee