|My daughter Victoria will show some occasional interest in birds, but she's more interested in hanging out with dear-old-dad than anything.|
Thinking about those 17.8 million people who observed birds away from home...I just don't think that there are that many people "like me" out there - folks specifically looking for birds, photographing birds, avidly keeping lists of what they see, traveling to see birds, and chasing regional rarities - you know, the traditional definition of a "birder". Sure, loads of outdoor enthusiasts including hikers, anglers and hunters may notice and appreciate birds while they are enjoying their primary activity; they may even know their correct identification, but they really aren't avid birders like me. I'm guessing that there are probably only 50,000 to 100,000 people in the United States that are "birders" according to the traditional definition. This number is based simply on my perceptions of the birding community and can in no way be backed up with facts or statistics.
The most exciting thing about that 17.8 million people who observed birds away-from-home and the 46.7 million people who say that they've observed, fed, or photographed birds are that they are all potential "birders". There are many ways in which one might enjoy seeing birds, and one way is not morally superior to another. If backyard bird feeding is as far as you want to delve into this recreational activity, more power to ya! Not everyone needs to be a birder, but I think we can certainly help many many more, perhaps millions more bird-appreciators become fully fledged birders. Even if we could inspire just 10% of those folks who observed birds away from home, that'd be 1.5 million plus added to our ranks. Should they enjoy the pastime enough, they may also become "member-investors" in organizations like the American Birding Association, and local bird clubs or societies. My hope is to see the ABA as that one great unifying voice of birders in our hemisphere. Wouldn't it be great for birders to have a little more clout?!
So how do we do go about inspiring another 1.7 million birders in the United States, and millions more around the world? Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Don't be afraid to talk about your birding adventures with people in your social circles.
How often do co-workers ask how your weekend was and you skip over the exciting birding part and only tell them the boring stuff about doing your mundane household chores. Come on! Come out of the birding closet! Birding is fun and exciting! Plus being a bit nerdy in today's American culture is pretty cool and more socially acceptable than ever before. I find that most people I associate with are fascinated by birds and by my knowledge and experience with them. Most people think optics are cool and they like checking out my bins and scope. Most people are impressed by a decent up-close bird photograph. Your passion for birding is contagious. Spread it like the disease it is!
Once someone expresses interest, invite them to go birding with you. Don't just leave them with an open-ended invitation like "Maybe you could go birding with me sometime." Be specific. "Hey, I'm going to super-awesome-scenic-location-near-us for some birding this Saturday morning at seven. I have an extra quality binocular and I'll buy breakfast. Would you like to go with me?"
2. Park yourself where there are birds and nature enthusiasts and share.
When you are in a natural public place where there are birds to be seen, park yourself there with your binocular, your scope, and maybe your smartphone app or a field guide. When people look at you curiously, quickly invite them over to check out what birds you are seeing. You don't have to overwhelm them with information, but a couple interesting facts combined with your enthusiasm may just spark a new birder. I love that ABA President Jeff Gordon did exactly this during the recent Pledge to Fledge weekend.
I realize, based on my earlier study of Birder Personality Profiles, that for half of you, some of this just strains against your naturally introverted nature. So here's an additional tip that shouldn't be as hard for you to do:
3. Add birding while sharing in your friend's interests.
If you have a friend who is really into hiking, go hiking with them and point out the birds along the way. If your friend is really into photography, go with them and point out the birds you see. Ask them to create an image or two of a particularly cooperative bird. If your friend is into fishing, go fishing with them and point out the birds around you. I've even gone hunting with a couple people and while they hunted for big game with rifles, I was hunting birds with my binocular. They were impressed and interested. Build upon common ground and share your interest in birds without shame or shyness. If they get hooked, great! If not, that's okay too. Still be their friend no matter what.