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Pass Along the Passion of Birding: “Pledge to Fledge” a New Birder Today

By David Magpiong
A father and son see their first Pileated Woodpecker together in Acadia National Park.
On a recent visit to Acadia National Park, the author helped his son find his first Pileated Woodpecker. Photo by Jean Magpiong.

In a 2011 analysis, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated there are approximately 47 million birders in the United States. Although that may be more than you realized, these numbers reflect another significant statistic—more than 270 million people are NOT involved in birding. This means that 85% of our population is missing out on the pure enjoyment of watching birds. Just as importantly, they may also be unaware of bird conservation issues. This lack of public participation is a concern for the success and sustainability of bird conservation.

Cerulean Warbler, Photo by Corey Hayes via Birdshare.
The beauty of birds can spark a connection with conservation issues. Cerulean Warbler by Corey Hayes via Birdshare.

How can we change this?  The answer is simple. Those 47 million birders can make a change. By sharing our knowledge and enthusiasm of local birds with others, we will start to build an appreciation of birds in new people. With such a large grassroots network, the birding community can exponentially increase public awareness of birds and conservation issues.

To learn how to raise new birders, we can take our cues from the birds themselves. Songbirds build nests, incubate eggs, frequently (and patiently) provide nourishment for the brood, and prepare them to fledge. Getting new audiences involved in bird conservation is virtually the same. We can build the nest by sharing our own birding adventures through photos and stories. We can incubate the eggs by fielding their bird-related questions. We can provide nourishment by repeatedly showing them birds—migrant sparrows in fall, waterfowl in winter, warblers in spring. We can prepare them to fledge by building their skills, knowledge, and awareness of bird conservation issues until they are ready to bird on their own. Yes, we are essentially “fledging new birders.”

Everyone can do this. Over the next few weeks, share a special sighting with your neighbors to pique their curiosity. Invite those neighbors to a “Backyard Barbecue and Birds” gathering to open their eyes to the beauty and diversity of local birds. A few weeks later, have them over for coffee and, at some point, discuss bird-friendly coffee to get them thinking about bird conservation issues. Show them pictures of Cerulean Warblers, Baltimore Orioles, Summer Tanagers, and other species that spend part of the year in coffee plantations to open their hearts to bird conservation action.

One great example is happening this month, on August 21, 2015, at Cape May Point State Park in New Jersey. Called the 4th annual Pledge to Fledge celebration, the event features live raptor displays, bird banding, noted author and Cape May local Richard Crossley, a climb up the lighthouse for an incredible view, and more.

This is just one small example of how YOU can use your birding passion and expertise to help our birds. Your efforts may be focused on your family, your friends and neighbors, some coworkers, your students, or even complete strangers in a local park. All you really need to do is share birds with new people. Can you make that promise to share birds with others?

Can you make a “Pledge to Fledge” a new birder? See the sidebar to sign up.

Dave Magpiong started the Fledging Birders Institute and is a cofounder of the Pledge to Fledge movement.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library