Sunday, March 27, 2011

Young Birders

For first mention, earlier I did not go birding. Can you believe I'll actually ever admit to that? Downsizing my belongings came first as I begin a new era of my life (starting my CAREER). However, that did not leave me bird-less. My storage unit is hidden away behind a major highway in West Glens Falls, with a small corridor of trees in between. It is seemingly hostile to songbirds, but the corvids were out there while I was re-packing. Four ravens hung around at first, and left a short while later. Some crows came by later. Two were certainly calling as American crows. IMagine my surprise and delight when I third with a higher-pitched voice called out, "uh oh!" four times before leaving! I suspect I was met with a fish crow. It has been mentioned to me that they are randomly, uncommonly spread throughout the area.

This past week deserves it's own entry, which will come soon. I had about 5 days of FANTASTIC birding at the Betar Byway. Certainly get yourselves there if anywhere in the vicinity. And make sure you span that river!

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The issue currently bothering me is one I have been asked by many older birders as of late. Me being young and into birding makes me a bit of a circus act, which I find mildly irritating. Though, I can't really blame anyone as I myself occasionally notice the lack of youth in ornithological/birding circles that I show up in. But age has often been brought up to the point of distracting me from the real reason I even go to events and walks in the first place - to talk about birds and all issues relating to birds!

So I'm often asked, how do we get more young people like you into birding? I have thought long and hard about this to the point where I'm probably causing brain cells to implode. Environmental education is prominent in my field, and often creates decent jobs for people with my education and background, and this is the question most needing an answer if one is to be a successful educator.

After hours of thinking, pondering, going back over my life, remembering all the psychology articles I've read, this is going to be my answer: I just don't know. That's right, I have no idea. Sorry, older birding folk, I don't have the magical answer. I can't speak for all youth. I know that's horribly disappointing, but there's not much I can do about it. I would prefer you ask youth themselves how they might be more interested. Not that they would even know. And I myself am an outlier. I did not care to be popular in school, and I succeed academically far above most of my peers, and I was much more introverted than most of them. I really wouldn't have a clue how to get "the cool kids" into something likely seen as very "uncool" to their peers. I can bet, unfortunately, that to them birds are still those horribly sewn emblems on a crappy sweatshirt that their grandma wears.

Even worse, I grew up as a gamer. Heavily into gaming, at that. I remember playing videogames for hours after getting out of school (homework first!). I lost track of how many times I beat Tetris and Super Mario Bros. I probably played every first-person shooter made for every Nintendo system before Nintendo 64 was made. This horrifies the pro-outdoors-for-children anti-tech anti-videogames crowd that has become trendy in the past few years. I also like to tell them I would also spend hours watching videos on MTV (videos on MTV?! remember those?). I don't remember hiking as a child or teen, and while I do recall playing on playgrounds periodically, I am not sure I really spent much time outdoors overall. You will not hear me joining this crowd that totally abhors anyone under the age of 30 playing on a computer for even two seconds, nope. Never.

I do have ideas. Youth love technology. They love gaming and the Internet and social media sites. Appeal to them through those, and you're halfway there. But also don't talk to them through those sites like you're a boring grandma, either. Appeal to them with the gross stuff, the cool stuff, the fun stuff. Weird things they can tell their friends about. Make your Facebook pages and your Twitter accounts - abhor these, refuse to use them, and you're already losing the battle. And while you're using technology to appeal to younger people, don't forget that nothing compares to real life experiences. People of all ages love seeing birds up close. Your organization does banding? Invite some kids to check the birds out. Set up programs to have rehabilitators show their birds and talk about them. Put some feeders up and point out the birds to younger people. If you're crafty, look around etsy.com at the cute styles that appeal to youth, and make crafty bird things.

I have less ideas about how to get young people to actually join Audubon chapters and really get involved in the more political side of conservation issues. That's an interest that just came naturally to me. Going green is trendy right now, and I suspect actually getting youth involved in conservation efforts, such as getting school classes involved, might do the trick. I do recall being forced to volunteer for my health class in high school - maybe Audubon chapters can find out of their local schools do this, and offer to let students partake in chapter conservation efforts to fulfill that requirement.

I've also noticed just being young and into birding sparks an interest in even younger peoples' minds. I frequently bird a very busy walkway, and I've become somewhat of a regular in the minds of non-birders. Younger kids, especially younger girls, have excitedly exclaimed, "Look, she's birding!" I'm not sure exactly what appeals to them so much about seeing me with my binoculars, but I'm glad it has an effect.

But most of all, I ask that you stop focusing so much on age. I understand that you may worry that your chapter might not survive at some point because of the older ages of your members. But it is this intense focus on age and the demands on the young that already are motivated and passionate in the birding world that drives us somewhat nuts. I almost feel as though older birders feel as though I owe them an explanation. I don't have one. I simply followed what interested me, with some help along the way. The same pathway I took takes people in all sorts of obsessive, passionate directions. Mine just happened to be birds.

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