The Next Big Thing – The Birding Revolution

2019 Robin Twitch BirdingBeijing.comHey birder, You are not a nerd any more!

To be blunt! Birding used to be something for nerds. You know what I mean. Certainly, not an average Joe activity, and very hard to understand for the general public why anyone would want to travel to foreign countries just to watch birds.

As we all know, this is changing now. There is a new perception of birdwatching. Birding is not weird. Interest in birdwatching is getting more mainstream. There is a revolution going on. But many of the birders of yesteryear have no idea what is coming. Do you?

The last two years at birding festivals and birding clubs in various parts of the world, I have been giving a talk called: “The Future of Birding – A Birdwatching Paradigm Shift”. This blog post develops some of the ideas from this talk, and it also invites you to become part of the “future of birding” together with us. It is indeed a paradigm shift.

The future of birding is here right now. Audubon Society, Cornell Birding Lab (through ebird and Merlin) and American Bird Conservancy in the US and RSBP in the UK, are more influential than ever through the smart use of social media and online resources.

The birding revolution is even more obvious in countries which are lacking a traditional birdwatching community. Take Brazil for instance. There are over 30 000 active members in the bird photography sharing platform Wikiaves. There is a large number of specialized lodges and guides for bird photography in Brazil, mainly targeting the local market.

All over Asia, in every single nature park you find 100s of people with tripods and mega lenses pointing at birds. China alone have over 100 000 bird photographers.

In Sweden on national television there was a reality game show in 8 episodes with teams consisting of nonbirding celebrities paired with a birder each. These teams competed against each other in birding related outdoor activities. It was a bit like Dancing with the Stars – but about birding. Over a million viewers saw the last two episodes which were filmed in Peru with Kolibri Expeditions organizing the logistics.

There are more people interested in birds than ever before, yet in countries where birding has a long tradition, birding clubs and membership organizations have a tough time recruiting new members. Birding is getting more mainstream, but at the same time it is easy to access through the online community, so there is less need for birding clubs. All information about birding can be found on the net. Pictures videos of birds are shared on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. There is no need to get out of your comfort zone to enjoy the birds. This poses a challenge to the birding clubs which I have addressed in my talks, and will also address in a forthcoming webinar.

An army of birders

Eventually, with the right tactics it should be possible to funnel the new birders into conservation and habitat protection. When people are getting in to birds, be that through a camera or with binoculars, it sparks an interest to learn more. It is the new birders that will need the clubs only they don’t know it yet. With more knowledge, the importance of conservation and habitat protection becomes more evident.

There will soon be an army of people who care about nature. Undoubtedly, there will be some mishaps at times from newbies who have not come from a long tradition of conservation minded nature watching, but this should not stop us working out ethics and code conduct for different scenarios.The important thing to remember is that together (new school and old school) we will be very strong, and at the end of the day – the more the merrier.

Birding clubs that embrace bird photography from the beginning will get more members, because it is birdwatching complemented with bird photography that is the future of birding. The more we can combine the two, the bigger opportunity for growth and become mainstream.

The birding paradigm shift

Life listing, as a way of keeping tab, is less important for the new birder. It shall be more about seeing specific species and getting good shots of remarkable birds to share on social media platforms. The overall experience shall play a more important role.

One could argue that there are two different approaches to birding involving the different brain halfs.

  • Left Brain (logical). The traditional birder who got into birds over 10 years ago was probably dominated by the left brain half and became a lister, ecologist and conservationist who loves taxonomy and the analytical scientific mindset of the hobby.
    To get into it back then, one needed binoculars, a field guide, a note book, some drawing skills and some mentorship in the field from a birding club or an experienced birder. It was a major project to become a birder and one had to go out of one’s way to get started.
  • Right Brain (esthetics). The new birder of today gets into birds with the right brain half because it is the esthetics of the birds that sparks the interest. The beauty of shape, color and form can also be transmitted via a photography on social media and shared to the masses. People on Social Media will also get attracted to birds with the right brain half response as they see photos of beautiful birds. It is easy to imagine how this will spark an interest to develop a hobby.
    To start with birds nowadays one only needs a camera (hey, there is one on your phone) and an internet connection. Post your photos on Instagram and Facebook. There is always someone who can help you on line.

The Right Brain approach to birding translates that it is VERY EASY to get into to birds. And therefor it must be growing exponentially. But it is a different type of birder. At the end of the day in this day and age, the majority of the people who likes birds are NOT HARD CORE BIRDERS.

Yet the majority of birding tour companies market specifically to traditional old school left brain analytical scientific minded birders. I am sure a lot of new birders as well as non-birding spouses find those trips intimidating.

Kolibri Expeditions vs 7 Wonders Birding Tours

My company Kolibri Expeditions through our recent offshoot of 7 Wonders Birding Tours is taking the lead to create the perfect meeting point for traditional hard core birders, serious bird photographers, more casual birdwatchers or photographers with estethics in mind, and even total newbies and non birding spouses who simply want mind blowing experiences and who like to travel to exotic places.

Can it be done? Yes, with our strategy…… most certainly!

Providing magical experiences with birds, mammals, nature in general and culture with expert guides is the combined mission statement for KE/7WB.

Kolibri Expeditions provides high value traditional birding trips for all types of birders and bird photographers at all levels of experience and budgets in Peru in particular; and every so often all over Neotropical America. Tours can be customized to the interest of the group and longer tours are defined regarding intensity and focus.

7 Wonders Birding on the other hand is the bucket list approach to birding. Short tours for the most amazing birds, iconic mammals and world heritage sites. These trips truly defines the essence of our combined mission statement. Anyone can join these trips. One could even say they are the perfect birding trip for a non birder since they are not intimidating, but also a perfect trip for serious birders who wants to see say the top 5-10 targets of a destination in a very short period of time. Maybe there is simply not enough free time to do a complete cleanup of for example Borneo, India or Australia.

Since all 7WB trips can be extendend with pre and post tours which focus more on traditional birding trying to get as many endemics as possible of an area, it means that the birder who still wants a long list easily can take one of these post/pre trips and see virtually all the same birds as on a regular two-three week birding trip.

The idea is to provide a core that is both broad enough and short enough to capture everyone’s full attention while focusing on the most important targets on the bucket list. This is very welcome for people who have little time, or those who have no interest in long 24/7 birding trips. The latter group can also do other independant traveling before and after. Anyone, regardless of experience, will enjoy just 5 days of birding, as long as they can do something else or additional before or after the trip if they have the time.

In order to make these trips happen we need to get the word out. Traditional marketing has proven very ineffective this day and age. Word of mouth and Talk Triggers are much more effective (If you are interested in this concept for you own business, see two excellent books on the topic: Talk Triggers and Marketing Rebellion). Let’s get more people talking about these trips. Make it viral! Maybe you would like to help spreading the word?

Feel free to ventilate your thoughts in comment section or in an email to give us ideas where you would like the Bucket List Approach To Birding to take you next.
I am also preparing some very exciting projects in Peru that you can be part of during 2020. These projects will be presented in a newsletter later this year.

They include a new pelagic port for deep sea pelagics, improve the community lodge on Satipo road to adequate condition for birders and establish a condor feeding station with a photography hide close to Lima.

For all this we shall need a number of volunteers and interns, and within short time, expand our group of guides and staff.
Let me know if you know any candidates.

Photo: Terry Townshend of BirdingBeijing.com used with Permission.



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, presently injured, but soon training for Lima Marathon in May 2020 and Berlin Marathon in September 2020.  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 digitial outlets.

6 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing – The Birding Revolution

    1. Gunnar Engblom Post author

      Haha! Yes it is coming whether we want it or not…For those who see this as terrifying, maybe one just have to avoid the most popular spots and get into the back country and out of the beaten track. However, when it coemes to conservation – the more the merrier. There are simply not enought traditional birders to save the threatened species on the planet.
      However, one photographable individual bird may save the habitat for a whole population. Mass tourism needs to be channeled and so does mass birding tourism. Overcoming those challanges it will be an overall benefit for habitat conservation. Of this I am sure.

  1. Judy Meredith

    I don’t fit your mold. I prefer trips without photographers, like to bird all day every day and do not have a life list. I have trip lists that I put on the shelf when I return home and don’t look at them again. My choice is to be with the birds in the manner in which they naturally live their life. A guide playing a tape constantly to bring the bird close for photographers is not my choice. I want the birds acting naturally. It is probably going to be hard to find trips for me as this social media, photography, techno birding takes iver. Can I be flexible, may have to.

    1. Gunnar Engblom Post author

      Yes Judy. I would recommend birding in temperate areas. For instance our Japan trip, although there are a lot of photographers, there is no need for tapes as you see the birds anyway. In the tropics clients get frustrated with the poor looks they get.
      One place in the tropics where you see birds without tapes is Pantanal. Still a lot of photographers.
      Photographer free trips for birding could be hiking and birding in the Andeas. I am preparing such a trip for Easter in Peru.

      1. Ned

        Think u may be right, and I am an old left brainer, for sure. My Sony 63x zoom bridge almost complelely replaces my heavy Zeiss scope, and gives me verifying (but seldom needed) photos for eBird at the same time. But bins still matter, and the zoom on most phones are too weak.

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