Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Birding Pedagogy

The Pledge 2 Fledge movement has had me pondering the question about how to invite more people into the wonderful world of birding, specifically kids and ethnic minorities. I count a half a dozen friends that I have fledged into birders and dozens more friends, co-workers, neighbors and family members that now pay attention to birds because of my influence. I hope that sharing my enthusiasm for birding online has also impacted for good thousands of others. Passion is contagious.

I recently listened to NPR's TED Radio Hour podcast recently featuring Sugata Mitra and his fantastic "hole in the wall" computer kiosk experiment with kids. His discussion about the obsoleteness of the educational methods of the last three centuries was thought provoking. What I enjoyed most, was the "Granny principle" - the concept of providing kids a safe environment in which they can teach themselves while getting love and encouragement from "teachers". I've been wondering how this might apply to birding.

What would happen if we went into a remote Central American village and set out a few pairs of decent quality optics and some regionally specific field guides. Would birding spontaneously develop as computer learning did for Sugata Mitra's kids in India? Would kids soon become adept at bird identification? Would birding competitions naturally occur? Fascinating to ponder, is it not?

I think the "Granny principle" applies equally to inviting others to participate in birding on a large scale as well as on a one-on-one basis.

Provide the opportunity and invite.

John C. Robinson's book Birding for Everyone discusses how an inner city youth may feel the need to "get permission" to venture outside of cultural norms - or in my words, people need to see that birding is "okay" maybe even "fun" or "cool". Then they need to be invited to experience nature through birding.

Nurture with encouragement.

Don't give all the answers, rather teach resourcefulness - how to find the answers. Give lots of smiles and high fives. Rejoice with the learner at each step of progress. Abandon your expert birder ego.

Engage in the birding community.

A sense of responsibility to a group does wonders. Sharing experiences with people who reciprocate endears. For a birder, this could be involvement in a local bird club with field trips and conservation/service projects, participation in birder social networks where individuals know that their contribution is welcomed and important, or joining the eBird community and recognizing the impact of citizen science.


  1. Same here. It is my hope to spread the bird love. I now have people telling me about all the birds they see on their way to work or on vacation. It's the little things:)

  2. certainly a worthwhile endeavour to spread our passion afar whenever there is the opportunity. They are out there for all to enjoy, some just need to be pointed in the direction of so they can 'stop and smell the roses'. Cliche' I know but it kind of explains. We stop and watch, and listen...........and see, and enjoy, our wonderful birds. Thanks Robert for another wonderful post

  3. Thought provoking Robert and well said. I love sharing my passion with people who are truly interested. I read Robinson's book when it first came out and you quoted the best part from it. I helped fledge a birder right here in AZ and I wasn't even trying! I just went birding with him! Now I think he is better than me! (I think you know who I am talking about) I feel like a proud mama bird! BTW, I like that "granny" principle and I always think kids/people learn better by doing and exploring. Experience is everything!