Birding Revolution Webinar Highlights

So I finally got going with the webinar that I had planned for such a long time. I was a bit nervous about all the things that could go wrong, and it is is a bit slow to start with, but I feel that I soon got into it, and in the end I felt very engaged and this can probably be felt by the delivery.
I am honing my skills in front of the camera with daily live sessions on my Facebook, principally for making videos to my band’s YouTube Channel, but also short updates on what is going on here in Lima. Here is the full webinar that I have edited somewhat. Below follows the main points I raise. It is not a transcript, but a summary which is better for the overview.

Novel ideas for birdwatching tours

The next webinar was streaming live on Facebook on Sunday May 3 at 21.00 Peruvian time.  A summary can be watched on Facebook.

Here is an edited Facebook link.


You don’t need a Facebook account to check it out!
I would be very grateful if you could share either or both these videos to your friends.
It is always a good idea to both post on your FB wall as well as sending in messenger to your closest friends that you think will have use of this information.

The birding revolution webinar summary.

Lots of things have overall changed the last 15 years or so when it comes to birding.
  • It is Easier.
  • It is more about Esthetics
  • It is more Independent

It is Easier

Although I was always interested in birds and animals as a kid, I did not have a mentor. I did not have someone, who could take me out into nature, teach me and initiate me. There were many youth nature clubs active in Sweden in the 60s but none where I lived in Solna – a suburb to Stockholm. But from an early age I knew I wanted to become a biologist to get close to nature as a grown-up. It was only when I started university that I started meeting other students who spent the weekends birding. I had joined the Stockholm Bird Club and the Nature Club and I was already attending as many excursions and club meetings as I could.
I was 22 when I became a real birder.  Quite late in life. To get over the obstacles and to get the necessary bump-start to get some flow, one needed four vital ingredients in those days.
  • Mentorship – either that of a birder taking me under his wing or a birding club.
  • Field guide – to identify birds myself and to study up.
  • Binoculars
  • And a notebook. I had to look for the field marks and write down what I saw.
Yet, every time I tried to venture into nature myself I felt totally lost without someone who helped me out with the identification. It was difficult to become a birder. A lot of hurdles on the way. Only with a lot of passion for nature would one be able to feel accomplishment and get good at birding.
Look around how it is today!
It is much easier. To get started you don’t need
  • Binoculars – you have a camera in your pocket on your phone – some even come with 10x optical magnification. If you have a point and shoot camera they come with a mega-zoom of up to 70x optical magnification to take close up shops of birds far away.
  • You don’t need a field guide. There are apps that help you ID your photos such as Merlin, Birdseye, and iNaturalist.
  • You don’t need a mentor or a birding club. You can simply post your photo in groups on Facebook and the world’s birding experts will happily give you pointers on how to identify the bird on your photo
  • You don’t need a notebook, because you take photos and you may upload your sightings to eBird or other online databases.
It is so much easier to get into birds this day and age than when I was a kid. Had I been kid today I’d be a full-fledged birder before turning 9.

The Birding Paradigm Shift

The birding mindset then and now can be simplified in Left Brain vs Right Brain approaches to birding.

Although the left brain/right brain concept is somewhat flawed and has proven not to be as clear-cut as previously thought, for our purpose it makes sense to use this model. There has obviously been a shift from the analytical mindset to the more esthetic/creative mindset in birding during the last 15 years or so.

Analytical Left Brain
  • Listing
  • Twitching
  • Systematics
  • Conservation
  • The art of field identification – looking at the details.
Esthetics Right Brain
  • The beauty of birds
  • The art of taking a good picture
  • Colors
  • Fascination of a living thing.
  • Spiritual – Zen-like Nature experience.

With the rise of social media and the possibility to share beautiful birds online, it will expose a lot of people to birds who would not usually consider themselves as birdwatchers. Many will get interested in trying to learn more on their own. They see little point in trying to see as many birds as possible and could care less for Little Brown Jobs like Phylloscopus Leaf Warblers, Tapaculos, or Cisticolas.

Rather, it soon becomes their goal to try to see and photograph nice looking birds. The number of birds seen becomes less important. You will not get any likes for a checked box in the checklist on Facebook and Instagram, while uploading a sharp photo of a good looking bird, gets you shares and likes by the dozens. It becomes gratifying to try to get even better pictures.

Independent Birders.

Could it be that the incredible numbers we see in the studies from Fish and Wildlife Service showing that there are some 45 million birders in the US alone are actually true? Since less than 1% of these 45 million attend birding festivals, birding tours, or are members of birding clubs, it is not strange that many serious birders consider that the data is flawed. Where are all those birders? Where are they hiding?
The truth is likely that these anonymous birders don’t need the service we are providing. They are independent and they are not birding 24/7. It is easier than ever to be an independent and part-time birder. All information regarding places to go birding and how to find particular birds is available online.
Let’s summarize:
To get into birding this day and age the new birder does not need:
  • Binoculars
  • Field Guides
  • Bird watching clubs – membership organizations
  • Slide presentations and club meetings
  • Bird watching tour companies
This puts challenges to birding clubs and to birding tour companies. We shall need to adapt not to lose members in our birding organizations and come up with new ideas for birding tours to attract the new birders.  Let’s have a look at how?

Making Birding Clubs Great Again.

Birding Clubs used to be the meeting point for local birders to exchange information and to embrace people new to birding. The birding club arranges excursions and field trips, birding festivals and club meetings with slide shows from exotic destinations, interesting bird research, or the details and pitfalls of advanced bird identification skills.
Today, in many birding clubs, where I’ve held my talks, I have been met by someone telling me that he had joined the club 20 years ago and was always the youngest person at the meetings. Today at the club meetings the same person is still the youngest in the room!
Many birding clubs have a hard time recruiting new members. They will die if they don’t adapt. There is no compelling reason to go to a club meeting to hear a lecture about birding in Peru when one can simply do a google search and get plenty of nice-looking bird pictures from Peru, hundreds of trip reports and if the particular keynote person sounds interesting to you, there should be talks, interviews, bio and photos from the birder also available the net.
There is resistance to get out of your comfort zone. To drive for 20 min to an hour to get to the meeting on a particular day at a particular time is not a prospect that is attractive for someone who is new to birding and not initiated and with the obvious risk of feeling intimidated by people that know so much more than oneself.
Of course there is the social aspect of birding clubs, and this should be the key attraction for new members to join the club. Therefore it is important to meet possible new members where there is less resistance. We need to meet them in their comfort zone. Meet them where they are already spending time, give them a value that they can’t find on the internet.

Strategies for birding clubs to get more participation

Here are some activities birding clubs should focus on to become more attractive to new birders.
  • Local Facebook groups
    Be present in your area. Every birding club should have not only a birding page, but a birding group on Facebook. A lot of people are spending a lot of time on Social Media anyway, so rather than just having a website where you post news, you can have a Facebook group where people can interact. The smaller the geographical area you cover the less intimidating it will be to the new users.In the local group people will feel more comfortable posting questions and it will be easier to recruit people to join once they get to know you through the anonymity of social media. Through Facebook you can announce local events. Ask all the club members to invite friends to these events.
  • Birding in the comfort zone
    Talking about events. Make local events that are easy to get to and where people are anyway. Get your members to become excursion leaders of birdwatching before work within 1-3 km (1/2 mile-2 miles) of their home. Maybe there is a local small park or maybe someone has a good feeder or garden. Then every member will put out flyers in public spaces announcing the excursion, as well as post it as a Facebook event ahead of time. You may also arrange lunchtime birding close to your workplaces and post at the workplace message boards as well as in coffee shops nearby. It is not the number of birds that you may see that is important, but that it is accessible for people to participate without taking them off their normal routines too much.
  • Bird photography classes
    Make your field trips more about learning how to take bird pictures with the cameras that people already have. Think of what birds are possible to photograph with your phone in the vicinity. Bring a scope so people can take phone scoping shots. Teach the beginners about how they can take better pictures. Make more bird photography-related excursions and workshops during birding festivals that you organize.
  • Bird Marathon
    One idea we came up with in Lima for a birding festival that you may want to copy is having a bird photo competition – a bird race!  Rather than having people doing a big day trying to see or photograph as many birds in a period of time, do a race where they have to photograph 42 of the most common specific birds in the shortest possible time. (A marathon is 42 km – 26 miles. They don’t have to run it, but photograph that many birds). The participants submit an SD card with only 42 shots on it – one of each species – or upload via wifi function on their cameras to their phones and then share a folder stored in the cloud with 42 birds. The photographer getting all the 42 birds in the least time wins the big prize. You need to know your area and your birds to photograph 42 species in the near area, so we also organized a half marathon where people were guided and shown some 30-35 species. Then the participants could submit a card with 21 species they have taken themselves. We had some prices that were raffled, so anyone that participated could win.
  • Combos.
    Birding and culture. Birding and Running/walk. Get into people’s comfort zone. Think of any events where people will be anyway in their own comfort zone. It could be introducing birding for runners, bikers, dog walkers, cultural events, art shows etc.  There could be a synergistic effect by organizing a “run for birds” event with a local running club for instance.

The untapped market for birding tours.

So there are millions of birders out there who don’t normally would go on a birding tour. They could well be into traveling, but their priority is not to rack up an extremely long trip list and trying to see every single species of birds in the world.
Birding can be part of other hobbies. Being able to take a nice photo of spectacular birds becomes important.  New birders can pursue much of this without using the service of a traditional bird tour operator, and the bird tour is too intense and intimidating to a new birder.

So for any tour company wanting to reach out towards the new birder there needs to be a change of focus. There should be more of a bucket list approach to birding. The bucket list of people does not only include birds but also scenery, biosphere reserves, world heritage sites, and iconic mammals are also decisive when choosing a destination.

This is what the next webinar is all about!

How are your birding club adapting to these new times? What turns you off about regular birding excursions in a group or birding tours?
Gunnar Engblom is a Swedish birder who lives in Peru since 1998, where he operates birdwatching and nature tours for Kolibri Expeditions. In October 2018 Gunnar lead a trip in Peru recording 1006 species in a Big Month. Gunnar is also a dedicated 3:04 marathon runner, still hoping for a sub 3h marathon in spite of turning 60 in 2020, perhaps in Berlin September, 2021.

In 2016, Gunnar re-launched his rock’n’roll singer career with his band Guran Guran, and in 2019 they released a new video – Feels Like Some Summer – also available on Spotify and other digital outlets.

4 thoughts on “Birding Revolution Webinar Highlights

  1. Roger Burrows

    The webinar was interesting, Gunnar, and I look forward to the next one, although I won’t be watching it live as it starts at 11 pm AT and I need my sleep more than ever. One comment I have is that many birders post reports on Facebook without peer review. I have a Facebook post but I rarely use it as I was getting too much junk mail. Real birders, including me, post on eBird where their information is subject to review and is much more useful for data analysis. When I was doing research for my upcoming book on birding on Grand Manan, I did not use Grand Manan Birders on Facebook as the posts were largely about rarities. I found the nb listserv and eBird reports much more thorough and reliable. Rarities are a bonus, but reports of all birds seen are the basis of bird research and should be encouraged. I found many of my own birds while on birding tours, which reduced my total species but gave me a better idea of the ecosystems. I prefer general nature tours for that reason. Too many birders on birding tours muss the point, in my view.

    1. Gunnar Engblom

      Roger, here is a tip for your FB account. Turn off absolutely all notifications. Then you don’t get pop-ups or emails, and control FB in your own time.
      I guess the location of Grand Manan brings in rarities and thus attracts birders who are looking for such; therefore the FB group is skewed towards the rare birds.

      The great thing about the short tours that we do (which I talk about in the second webinar), is that any hardcore birder signing up to these knows in beforehand that we shall not see all the birds, but concentrate on the targets – the bucket list species. Hence, it is more relaxed (even if it is birding all day).

  2. M Roffer

    You wrote ” Since less than 1% of these 45 million attend birding festivals, birding tours, or are members of birding clubs, it is not strange that many serious birders consider that the data is flawed. Where are all those birders? Where are they hiding?”
    -We are hiding at home and either don’t have clubs nearby, or the clubs meeting times conflict with other meetings, or are not convenient, or club meetings are boring. Probably a combination.

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