Thursday, October 30, 2014

Do's and Don'ts of Leading A Good Bird Walk

I'm not saying I'm an expert, alright?  Let's just get that out of the way now.  But I have led my fair share of bird walks, and I am developing some thoughts about how they should - and should not - be done.  Let's just get right to it.

DO remember who your audience is.  With rare exceptions, bird walks are made up of novice birders, maybe even first-timers.  They're up early, probably on a weekend.  They're skeptical of this weird activity.  As the expert in the group, your most important responsibility it not to just identify a bunch of birds, it's to introduce them to the world of birding.  Set the stage a little bit! 

Why are we here? "Believe it or not, because they all pretty much look the same, there are hundreds of different types of birds around here.  We're here to try to tell them apart."  Why is this fun?  "Birding is basically a scavenger hunt that you'll be playing non-stop from now until the end of your life.  You'll never look at the world the same way again."  Go big, you gotta impress these people.

DON'T just start identifying birds.  If you've got birders in your group who know what they're doing, they don't need you for much except as another set of eyes.  If you're with novice birders you can't just identify birds, people no one over there has any context.  It'd be like me going to a, uh, computer store and the guy going "Woah look at this one, it's got a 44 gHz processor with a 7.4 magnified superscreen!"  I can't get genuinely excited about that because I have no idea what that means.  It's the same as telling a newbie birder "Hey that's a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, I know because even though it doesn't have a ruby crown really it is smaller than a warbler and sorta blah blah blah."

DO focus on the big picture.  Talk a lot about evolution.  Talk a lot about migration.  Talk about what makes some species do some things and some species do others.  Why some are on the ground and some are on top of trees.  What they eat.  People need to get interested in birds as pieces of wildlife that are tangible and nearby, the identification will follow. 

DON'T lose people.  Look, you have a group.  Some people will wander off, and that's fine, but be mindful.  Make time for people.  Try to get some one-on-one time, it encourages people and challenges them.  Don't forget that birding in a group can be intimidating for people, they might not want to speak up if they see a bird, but it helps if you can steal a moment with them. 

DO have fun.  Enjoy yourself!  Get excited about birds you see.  High five people.  Let people know that this isn't just a boring activity.  Leave them wanting more, and next time you see them they'll be out birding on their own.  Success.


JR said...

Nice post. Pretty much spot on. My only quibble is with the focus on the big picture. I wouldn't talk a lot about evolution. It's abstract. I'd focus more on the concrete and particular. Talking about migration is great because it invites new birders to notice when particular birds arrive and depart not to mention imagining where a particular bird has been! I mean, how cool is it to see a Summer Tanager and thin, "Wow, this is not only the same species that a guy in Bolivia saw, it could be the same bird!" Concrete.

Also, I like to hear about superhuman birders ;) Folks who can hear tiny call notes at a hundred paces and tell you what the bird had for breakfast, or hawk watchers who identify motes on the horizon with absolute confidence. Gives novices a sense of skill and challenge - something to shoot for.

About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | Blog Design | 2007 Company Name