by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
Let’s face it: serious bird watchers can be intimidating. If you’ve ever found yourself in a group of birders comparing expensive binoculars or spouting esoteric bird names, you know you’ve wandered into the deep end of the naturalist ocean. You may be tempted to stuff your department store binoculars into the back of your sock drawer and decide that birding is, well, for the birds!
But fortunately, there are seasoned birders who are aware of the impression they make on newbies and are willing to take novice birders under their wings.
The Fledgling Birders Institute (FBI) is a New Jersey-based nonprofit dedicated to educating people about the benefits of bird watching. They also promote public awareness of avian diversity and the threats facing birds today.
The FBI started in this state we’re in after a Camden County special education teacher discovered the joys of bird watching with his students. It began with the simplest of things: morning bird walks with his students around their school. After witnessing positive behavior and academic changes in many of his student birders, he decided to spread the idea.
A “Fledging Birders” website was launched to provide resources to introduce and encourage more people to bird watch. In the spring of 2007, the New Jersey Schoolyard Birding Challenge was launched, followed in the fall by the first North American Schoolyard Birding Challenge.
Building on these early experiences – as well as a survey of what draws people to birding – the FBI now has a four-step mentoring program for new birders:
- Spark conversation about birding;
- Make birds meaningful and relevant;
- Nurture interest at a comfortable level and pace;
- Foster a sense of stewardship.
There’s also a monthly “Fledging Birders Challenge” open to students, scouts, and other youth groups across North America. It encourages adult birders to take their children, grandchildren, students, scouts and friends on local bird outings. As any birder will tell you, it’s a wonderful way to exercise observation skills, improve communication and teamwork skills and boost self-esteem.
And it would be a wonderful thing to have a new generation that is passionate about birds. Birds now face unprecedented threats around the world. The National Audubon Society recently found that populations of some of our most common birds have fallen by as much as 68 percent since 1967; some populations are down by 80 percent!
The New Jersey Audubon Society is one group that not only encourages and trains birders, but is working hard to preserve habitat. Visit their website at www.njaudubon.org to find great places all around the Garden State to view birds.
And check out www.fledgingbirders.org for more details about how to make the jump from newbie to experienced birder. There’s a special section for teachers interested in integrating birding into their curriculum. Birding is great for you – and if more people are motivated to advocate for birds, chances are good that our winged marvels will still be around for future generations to enjoy.
If you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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