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What Would You Like to Talk About?



This video pretty much explains itself. Please watch it, then let me hear from you in the comments. The ABA, like other national and international organizations, has always had a difficult time getting its membership together to discuss issues of importance on a regular basis. For the ABA, which is so membership-driven and so much about community, this has been a serious deficit. I know that what I'm proposing here will not entirely fix things, but I do believe it will help. What do you think?

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Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon is the president of the American Birding Association. There's very little about birds, birding, and birders that he doesn't find fascinating, though he's especially interested in birding culture and the many ways we all communicate our passion for birds, including this Blog.
  • Jeff: This is a great initiative!

    I’ll start things off with an observation and a question.

    Observation: I think most of us would agree that there are least 100,000 full-on, full-fledged birders (or birdwatchers) in North America. (As to the estimates of 141 million birders, let’s not go there… Anyhow, I’m reasonably confident of at least 100,000.) Yet the ABA has fewer than 20,000 members.

    Question: I’m biased, needless to say, but I’d say, offhand, that the ABA has something to offer to nearly all of those 80,000+ folks who are full-on, full-fledged birders yet not card-carrying members of the ABA. What can we do to get those folks to join?

  • Rob

    Sounds like fun. Bring it!

  • I think the tough nut to crack is what can the ABA provide that isn’t already being provided by other sources.

    I see the roles that the ABA is currently taking on that need to be sustained because no one else is really doing them are things like Birder’s Exchange, obviously, and the young birder programs. Providing some sort of template as to how interested parties can create young birder clubs for state and local groups would be nice too and would lay the groundwork for future birders to see ABA membership as a natural step. The publications are also important to sustain interest in the organization.

    As to what the ABA can do to be more relevant. Community is definitely part of it, which is why initiatives like this that make the organization much more accessible will be received well. Institutional heft as an advocate for birder’s interests (i.e. access to and infrastructure for places to bird, habitat protection) is another big one. As Ted Eubanks laid out in his post yesterday, wildlife watching is under-represented in management decisions, but that’s a touch thing to change.

    If people see the ABA as being a voice for their common interests, admittedly difficult given the myriad interests of birders, those 80,000+/- may see a reason to join up. The great thing is that once the ABA gets a little inertia it will only become more effective as a voice for birders.

  • I have been a self-described birder (AND bird-watcher) for 40 years. I started when I was 13. I have been a member of the ABA since I got a regular paying job (25+ years). I don’t chase stuff (much). I don’t list competitively. I am a bird-bander of 30+ years. I do wildlife inventories as a professional consultant. If the ABA were to go in a direction that genuinely interests me, your membership would drop (considerably). I spend more time reading “Smithsonian” or “National Geographic” than I do “Birding”. I belong to ABA so I can say I belong to the ABA.

    Until we can either embrace or let go of our biases about what birders and bird-watchers are, we will never get to the “where should we be going?” question. Is the lady who stops me every time she sees me at Safeway to report what she saw a birder? Is my sister, who has more feeders in her yard than I do and calls me whenever weird stuff shows up, a birder? Is the lady who runs the regional Wildlife Rehab Center, where 95% of the stuff works with are birds, a birder? Is the guy in Gearhart, whose only interest in the world is Wood Duck conservation, a birder? Can you be a duck hunter and a birder?

    “Birds and Blooms” magazine has a circulation of 1.7 million, 7% of whom (~120,000) say they subscribe for the bird stuff. “Bird Watcher’s Digest” has a circulation of 45,000.

    There’s a certain amount of elitism to any organization. Some of the most annoyingly elitist people I know are birders (running a close second to botanists), but then again, some of the most generous folks I know are birders and botanists. The ABA’s roots are in the elitist tendencies of birding as a “sport”. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a thing… a great big hairy Moa of a thing. And it scares the straights.

    If the goal is to increase membership, then the current membership has to lighten up and the organization needs to drift in the direction of Audubon or Cornell Lab for Ornithology. Of course we already have an Audubon and a Cornell Lab for Ornithology, maybe ABA has found its niche and we should be proud that we’re 20,000 strong.

  • Alan Wormington

    “The ABA, like other national and international organizations”

    I thought ABA was suppose to be a continental organization. Maybe not fully realizing this fact is part of the problem?

  • The swirly stuff on the image of the gal with bins. Really?

    I’d like to see more emphasis on ethics – birding without bothering the birds, specifically.

    Also, I’d like to see more emphasis on conservation. Granted, ABA isn’t really a conservation oriented (read: land acquisition) group, so I’m not a member. But it’d be nice.

    Otherwise, the comment above:
    “The ABA’s roots are in the elitist tendencies of birding as a “sport”. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a thing… a great big hairy Moa of a thing. And it scares the straights.

    If the goal is to increase membership, then the current membership has to lighten up and the organization needs to drift in the direction of Audubon or Cornell Lab for Ornithology. Of course we already have an Audubon and a Cornell Lab for Ornithology, maybe ABA has found its niche and we should be proud that we’re 20,000 strong.”

    …it just seems ABA isn’t easy to relate to for new birders, hobbyists and whatnot. It seems mostly ‘chaser’ and ‘lister’ oriented. To me, the biggest thing is that it doesn’t seem to actually *help* the birds. Audubon and Cornell at least try to study them or get people to study birds – which generates data which must somehow help birds.

    My rambling two cents.

  • Terry Mannell

    First of all, I welcome any communication that might help make the ABA stronger. One void that the ABA is trying to fill is engaging young birders. However, most of those efforts seem to be directed at teens. Many active birders started at a very young age. It is important that we cultivate a love for birds at a young age. I see a great need for a magazine for children in the 8 to 12 age group. The magazines currently available are not directed at birds, but toward wildlife and conservation in general. I know that many out there may say that the written media is not as well received by the young as electronic material but I personally believe there is a place for the written word. My grandson has been asking for a magazine on birds since he went on last year’s Christmas Bird Count. Maybe this is not a task for the ABA, but it is definitely needed.

  • I’d like to know what the ABA can do to support local and regional bird clubs, from the informal group that gets together every few weeks at a retirement village to the state organization that meets twice or three times a year.

    Why doesn’t the ABA have a speakers’ bureau, sending out qualified staff members to give talks and workshops and lead field trips for these groups? I know that ABA staff takes part in festivals, which makes me pleased and proud, but I’d really love to see the ABA highlighting the availability of its unique expertise to Audubon chapters, Tuesday morning groups, bird study courses, and so on. The expense would certainly repay itself in a higher profile and new memberships.

    I also know about the rmc program (or whatever it’s called this time), but I think that shipping high-profile staff members out to interact with the members would be more productive.

  • PS: Heidi, what’s “the swirly stuff on the image of the gal with bins”?

  • I just signed up as a paying member of the ABA this week. It is the first time I have officially belonged to any birding organization. I joined because of the online community the ABA is building, especially by way of this ABA Blog. I am grateful for Nate’s support of my bird blogging and I think he is doing a fantastic job! Rob Fergus’ influence also motivated me to join. What I sense from Jeff, the ABA is still trying to find its way in this new world. May I cast my paid-member vote toward strengthening the online ABA community. Continuing support of bloggers, Tweeters, and Facebook’ers, etc does win fans and support for birding and conservation. I am proof of that!

  • I think elitism is a big problem with the ABA. You want to encourage new and young birders, but there seems to be a very specific definition of what that birder is supposed to be by some of the longtime and most loyal members. The ABA wants more members, but some long-standing members don’t want the organization dumbed-down and you don’t want to lose what membership you have.

    Not everyone is going to be a hardcore lister. Quite a few people do not care about the finer points of empidonax id. Many people may list birds but only want the dynamic species. Some of the vocal advocates of the ABA (not necessarily staff) are hardcore and look down on people who may only want to go out during spring warbler migration.

    I really have no loyalties to the ABA. Though I was birder starting at 7, I was unaware of the organization until my 20s and it was faltering then. I went to some ABA conventions for work but let my membership lapse. I rejoined last year after getting a personal request from the membership chair. I see ABA does cool things for young birders, but I don’t see anything that really appeals to me as a woman in her 30s. I like Birder’s Exchange (but I can just give to that directly without being a member). I like the idea of regional gatherings to meet up with other birders I interact with from all over via the Internet, but in many ways, that’s accomplished via bird festivals.

    The biggest question that I get through my website and at the park service is “How can I find other birders?”

    People want to meet up and share, we need to find a way to work together and embrace that all of us enjoy different birds in different ways. Yeah, some birders are pompous and some are frivolous but we share a common interest. Let’s accept those differences and move forward and not look down on someone for just wanting to tick on a list, or discuss primary projection on gull ad nauseum, or for only looking for buntings.

    Also, there seems to be a lot of requests for the ABA to do more active conservation. Could there be a way to combine ABA gatherings and work? One of the coolest festivals I’ve been to is in Woodward, OK for the lesser prairie chicken. One of the birding field trips involved marking fences to prevent prairie chickens from flying in to them. It was great to walk the habitat and do something besides just watching birds. It was very grassroots.

  • One commenter above mentioned that the ABA shouldn’t try to duplicate things that are already being done elsewhere. I disagree. There’s plenty of room for the ABA to improve on things that already exist…and in the process develop completely new things.

    There are a myriad of birding clubs, organizations and societies out there. I tend to think of ABA as a sort of institutional or industry organization that “umbrellas” all of them. Not literally or directly. But by setting tone and policy. I also think the ABA could develop resources that state and provincial ornithological societies can tap into—that could, as one example, bring the way rare bird sightings are reported, documented and published across North America into the current century.

    I haven’t been a member of ABA since the 70s, but I like the things I’m hearing lately and may just have to rejoin.

  • The p e r c e p t i o n of elitism is one of the ABA’s biggest problems, but there’s nothing elitist about the membership nowadays–there was certainly an exclusivist strain to the organization in the 1970s, but by the time I first joined in the early 80s, that was pretty much gone, with the exception of a few fossils nobody listened to anyway.

    And yet this reputation persists, perpetuated by comments from non-members rather than by the behavior of (most, and I hope all!) members.

    Bird festivals are a bit of a dead end as far as reaching potential new members. Think about it: the people who pay and travel to go to festivals are pretty much the same people who would pay and travel to go to an ABA event, aren’t they?

    The ABA needs to make personal contact with birders where t h e y are, by sending out personable, knowledgable, sociable staff members to small clubs and organizations and local events.

  • emendation:

    Think about it: the people who pay and travel to go to festivals are pretty much the same people who would pay and travel to go to an ABA event if ABA events were as reasonably priced and appealing, aren’t they?

  • Alan J. Knue

    I like the ABA because of the niche it created- it should be the place where birders in the Americas gravitate. It should cater to the needs of birders, teaching beginners, intermediates and experts alike on pertinent topics, including but not limited to, bird ID, how to bird (including ethics), birding equipment, birding locations, and birding stories. It doesn’t need to be a conservation organization- there are so many groups that do that well that the ABA doesn’t need to be another. It can inform birders in news items about what is going on in conservation and where to go to find more info and how to advocate for conservation.

    The main reason I am a member is because of the publications it offers- both Birding and North America Birds- it is the only organization in the Americas that has consistently offered articles on bird ID, distribution patterns, new record documentation, etc. Consider reprinting and updating the classic identification articles Birding has run over the years- Emipidonax flycatchers, Dowitchers, Stints, Dark Shearwaters, etc- these need to be readable to a large segment of the membership but make sure to give the membership the credit it deserves at being able to read technical ID articles- don’t dumb them down!

    Give members the option of accessing electronic version of the articles in publications instead of receiving print copies- could potentially reduce paper and printing costs and allows subscribers the option to read, download, or print what they want. It’s also a good way to track what members actually read. If this option is implemented, consider ditching the 2 column format for articles in favor of single column and device friendly versions which are easier to read on smart phones, tablet PCs, and other evolving mobile devices. This is the wave of the future, of technology, and of the younger generations. Embrace it!

  • Cindy

    I’ve been a watcher of birds since childhood and for many years I was also a member of ABA- but I dropped my membership once the focus moved towards listing. In a time when our dependence on fossil fuels has created crisis after crisis, I really don’t care to read about the birds that the latest ‘celebrity birder’ viewed on their recent trip to a far off country. My concerns lie with the ongoing loss of crucial habitats for birds across the board. I now belong to (and support) orgs that are geared towards conservation efforts. If ABA switches gears, making conservation efforts a priority rather than posting pages of members who recently ticked off their ____th bird, I may consider rejoining. Until then, I feel my monies and support are best used where they can used for programs that benefit birds instead of globe hopping birders.
    *on the comment above:”Birds and Blooms” magazine has a circulation of 1.7 million, 7% of whom (~120,000) say they subscribe for the bird stuff. “Bird Watcher’s Digest” has a circulation of 45,000.”
    Birds and Blooms is successful because they embrace and welcome articles from back-yard birders.. and they display photographs taken by beginners rather than ‘pros’. That alone speaks for itself.

  • Cindy, I’m curious about the chronology: when do you think the organization’s “focus moved towards listing”? I have my own sense of the dates and sequences, but they may be wrong.

  • *thoughts*

    I don’t think that a focus on listing is a bad thing at all…it’s a huge part of what makes birding fun! And living vicariously through the reports of those who can get to places like Attu is also enjoyable.

    We can have fun with birding, as well as be concerned for the environment. We can engage in our obsession and also engage in helping to protect the environment, conserve species and increase protected habitat. These very important efforts are not lost on “fanatical” birders.

    ABA cannot be everything for everyone…and shouldn’t try. “Birds and Blooms” has a very specific mission: to engage people who enjoy plants and birds literally in their backyards. Their list of “most wanted” birds includes Rose-breasted Grosbeak, whereas an ABA “most wanted” list might include La Sagra’s Flycatcher. I don’t think you can try to compare the two.

    Having said that, ABA can do things to be more friendly to beginners and casual birders.

    Birding is a hobby, a pastime, a sport or an obsession. I think that the ABA can have a strong environmental ethic and a meaningful environmental policy, but that it should remain true to its roots while evolving.

  • Arnie Hauswald

    First off, kudos to the courage of Mr. Jeff Gordon for putting himself and ABA on point for this. Thanks for requesting member input. Makes me ready to re-join for 2012.

    I feel a re-newed emphasis on membership cards might be worth looking into. Last one I have (expired) is from 1/31/2007. The value of a membership card is that it makes each of the ~20,000 members of ABA an ambassador of the organization. Easy to pull out of a billfold or purse and show to an aspiring birder. Who can then copy the web address, phone, etc. and pertinent info for follow-up later.

    Plus, it’s just a good feeling having one to know it represents membership in a worthwile organiztion working toward the betterment of society while having fun doing it.

    My 2cents.

    Arnie Hauswald
    Houston, Texas USA
    ABA member

  • As a longtime ABA member, I’d be really interested in a conversation that focuses more concretely on Ted’s question: What can the ABA do to get new members to join? Obviously the “philosophical” debate needs to be had, too, but what actual things should the organization be d o i n g ?

  • I too am confused about the statement:”…dropped my membership once the focus moved towards listing” I can’t remember a time when the ABA wasn’t about listing and developing the knowledge and skills set that would lead to being better at getting more species on your list. A big chunk of the reason why the ABA exists was a reaction to the Audubon Society being too egalitarian, too full of folks who didn’t care about Asian vagrants and gull ID.

    Back in the mid-nineties (which is the last time I got into one of these discussions, BIRDCHAT I think), many ABA members were in a stew over the suggestion that the ABA might run an article on Shade-grown Coffee. Most folks got over that. Personally, I’d like to see the ABA get a little more vocal about real conservation issues (not just protect my access issues), but I understand the arguments against that becoming the focus. And there are plenty of other worthy organizations that cover conservation (TNC, ABC, IBP, WHSRN, etc).

    I understand the arguments that the ABA should have a stronger electronic media presence and I’m not against it. The problem is that having a web presence that isn’t subscription only will not generate many new members and one that does require a subscription would probably not fly very far. People expect to get internet stuff for free.

  • I don’t know anything at all about web advertising, but might it be possible to have a greatly expanded “web presence” that is supported by advertisers? Mike’s right that giving away the cow isn’t going to lead directly to new memberships, but it might go a long ways towards generating the sort of well-informed good will that would.

  • A couple thoughts.

    Re: e-media presence in response to Mike Patterson. As the manager of the ABA blog I might have some insight as to what I’m trying to do, here at least. I’d be against a subscription only blog because I see the ultimate goal for this initiative to be outreach. I want non-members and the online community to see what the ABA can offer them and to consider joining, and I want members to be able to interact publicly with ABA staff and other influential voices free of any barriers.

    That said, you’re right that there should be subscription only content to add value to an ABA membership. And personally, I think having archives of full issues of Birding and Winging It available for members online would be a huuuge benefit.

    Also, in response to Rick Wright’s response to Ted Floyd’s initial question. People are going to want to join the ABA for two primary reasons. 1) They want to be members of a “field birding” organization and have access to the publications and 2) They will join as a result of a personal interaction with ABA staff or a birder they trust.

    The first are probably already members. The second will respond to things like Rick’s speaker’s bureau suggestion which gets high profile ABA staff, board, and others out in the birding community and Arnie’s suggestion of membership cards, which essentially turns every active member into an ambassador for the ABA. I think both should be pursued.

  • Erik Bruder

    I like this idea Jeff. I’ll toss in $0.02.

    First, we need to get to the young birders and enthusiastic new birders in a non-intimidating way. This should be fun. The ABA should be approachable and inclusive. I volunteer a lot with new birders and it frustrates me to see how some of the more experienced birders treat the newbies.

    Second, don’t lose the support for the ABA/Lane guides. Publications like those are indispensable to traveling birders. While at it, how about bringing back the membership guide, perhaps in an electronic format? It was always helpful to contact local birders when planning a trip.

    Next, the ABA needs a strong digital presence. Blogs are great but they are already becoming passe to a certain extent. Facebook and Twitter are the hot medium today and something will replace them in 18-24 months. Use these tools. Get birders talking amongst themselves. I would also suggest offering a digital subscription. I love the publications but they don’t have to come as a paper editions. I’d be just as happy with something I could read on my laptop or an iPad.

    Finally, build a network for “on the ground” visibility. The old RMC’s would hit the local bird club meetings but I think working with local bird clubs, park districts, or nature centers to have ABA sponsored bird walks would be a better use of resources. If you want to attract new members, go to them. A knowledgable and personable field guide leader can be a great sales tool.

  • I think the ABA should also look to organizations that have a growing membership and high retention rate. What makes the RSBP work? And why not look at Ducks Unlimited. A lot of non hunting birders are members.

  • Morgan Churchill

    My two cents:

    The blogs are great, and I think are the perfect way to gain readership. Kudos. As far as additional means of increasing membership, I do think having some sort of ambassadorial presence out there in real life would help. My guess is that most of the local birders here in Laramie have never heard a thing about ABA. Local ABA reps could attend meetings and spread the word. Brochures about ABA that could be handed out would also be useful.

    Increasing the incentives for membership would also help. I would like to see some form of Surfbirds list tracking for members. And a birdingpals esq directory of ABA members who would be willing to help visiting birders out would also be nice. And I think putting ALL the past articles from Birding and Wingbeat online in a searchable database would also be nice. Finally, perhaps special site guides (like mini-birdfinding guides) available for free download to members; the lane guides are great resources, but often quickly go out of date, and there are plenty of local spots that birders just might not be aware of.

  • Wow!

    This is a great start. Thanks so much to all who have commented (or just watched and read—that’s valuable, too). I hope things will keep rolling, even though you’ve already brought up enough stuff to keep me busy responding for a long time. Of course, whether I end up addressing a given point directly or not, it’s incredibly valuable to have this discussion going on amongst all of you. I promise you, we at the ABA are paying attention.

    One smallish but important thing I can begin tackling right away: Arnie Hauswald and others who have talked about membership cards and/or the need for the ABA to be visible in the field, keep an eye out for the March issue of Birding, which will go in the mail any day now. In it, you’ll find something that I hope will be to your liking. It’s not exactly a membership card (and those may well come back some day) but in many ways, I think it’s better. Let me know what your think.

    More soon!

  • First, I really like the advanced ID, subspecies, potential splits, etc. This is something none of the other major wildlife magazines offer and is one of the main reasons I am part of the ABA. Since there are so many other wildlife conservation organizations I don’t really see the need for the ABA to get directly involved but working more closely with organizations like the ABC would be a great idea. The part of conservation the ABA should work more on is getting more people interested in birding.

    I really like the ABA Birder’s Guides and think the ABA should try to make more of these. It would be really cool if there could be a site that would have links to a website with descriptions of the best birding spots for each state. Right now most states have at least some sort of website doing this but they are not connected in any way. I think offering more resources for birders planning trips would be a great way to increase the importance of the ABA.

    Also, even though listing doesn’t necessarily need to be the main focus of the ABA, I don’t think it should be thrown out. While national or world listing is only feasible for a small number of people, I think the majority of birders at least keep some lists. I enjoy keeping state, county, park, and township lists. In Michigan, we compile county, township, and park rankings, but I know that not all states do this. Maybe the ABA could do something similar to what I suggested for site guides and have a web page with links to the individual state lists. I think getting the ABA more involved at the local lever will really help to increase membership.

  • MX birder

    Another vote for publications online.

    After nearly 10 years as an ABA member I decided not to renew this year due to too many years of too many lost publications thanks to the Mexican Postal System. I would absolutely rejoin if I could also read Birding issues on the ABA website, following the example of online Winging It issues.

    This being the International Year of Forests, I also like the idea of less paper being used!

  • Sally O’Byrne

    One very specific suggestion. Could ABA have a certification process for bird tour companies? There are birders getting ripped off by some bird tour operators and there isn’t a very good way of identifying a good or bad company. The ABA could set standards and ratings and give companies that applied their ‘seal of approval’. You wouldn’t have to ‘badmouth’ companies that are not good, but members could look for that seal of approval before putting down their money.

    Setting the standards and forming the ABA committee that rates companies for your ‘seal of approval’ might prove challenging, but you have qualified and willing members to help. I would be willing to serve on such a committee.

    Having been in the position of hearing from people around the country who have been the victims of fraud, I would welcome this action by ABA.

  • I am new to the ABA and don’t know the history of the organization, so please inform me if this has come up before.

    I recently attended the Teaming With Wildlife Fly-in event in DC (for more info, visit In attendance were reps from state wildlife management agencies, Audubon chapters, The Wildlife Society, Trout Unltd, Ducks Unltd, Izaak Walton, National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, etc. We were beating on the doors of our Congressional leaders to try to recoup some of the funding for wildlife conservation programs (State & Tribal Wildlife grants, NAWCA) that was zeroed out in the House Continuing Resolution HR 1.

    During our visits with the elected leaders, we spoke about the power of connecting kids (& adults!) to nature, about the economic impact of wildlife-associated recreation, and about the importance & effectiveness of federal programs designed to keep common species common. Much of the talk centered not around the hook & bullet species, but around non-game birds & mammals, and rare herps & fish.

    I know our ABA staff is small, but our numbers are large. Certainly a few of us (with approval from the ABA leadership) could attend future wildlife conservation events on Capitol Hill, or with our elected leaders and staffers in their districts. I am optimistic – despite the recent assault on conservation funding in this Congress, I like to think that a little (OK – maybe a lot) of education could weaken these attacks in the future.

    I live in MD, so it is easy for me to make trips to DC. Even if a couple of us within a few hour radius of DC made it a point to rep the ABA at future meetings, we would make an impact.

    I would love to see “I Bird. I Vote.” right up there with “I Hunt. I Vote.” and “I Fish. I Vote.”

  • B. S. Meeks (B. Spencer Meeks)

    I am an old man, long past normal life expectancy. The future of ABA should be determined by younger members, but I want to stay with it as long as I can.

  • Margaret Bowman

    I’m not sure whether I joined ABA in 2001 or 2002, but in the beginning, I really felt a sense of community that I feel is missing now. Back then, we got a membership “book” with notations about whether someone would be willing to show visitors local birding spots, etc. I went to Missouri in late March 2002 and met with some other birders to seek out prairie chickens (and also saw my life Lewis’ Woodpecker at Shell Osage). Another year, I traveled to Louisiana where I met three other women, and we had a great time.

    I was able to attend three national conventions because they were held during the summer and as a school teacher I couldn’t attend others. Now that I’m near retirement, those conventions have been abolished, to my regret. I doubt that I will ever again meet the wonderful people with whom I shared such memorable birding experiences.

    This sense of community no longer seems to exist. Was I mistaken? Am I mistaken now? The relationships with others having similar interests matter to me as much as the birds. I don’t have the financial resources to be serious lister. I don’t have the technical training or scientific knowledge to debate lumping and splitting. I know that there are many others like me – maybe those are the missing 80,000 mentioned in another post. What does the ABA have for us?

    So, what does ABA need to be? I think it must be flexible enough to meet the needs of a variety of people, with differing economic resources. Conservation? Yes. Publications? Absolutely. But, let’s not lose sight of the importance of people sharing an interest with other people.

  • Please don’t confuse membership numbers and success. Adding more people to the ABA is a great goal, but there is a very real reason that many people are ABA members and NOT subscribers to Bird Watchers Digest, Birds and Blooms, WildBirds, etc. Those are great magazines but not at all something I am interested in.

  • The magazine title says it all for me: Birding. The ABA should be about birding. My definition of birding is “actively trying to locate and identify birds”. In my opinion, the organization should be mostly concerned with actual in-the-field observation of birds, and the resultant identification issues arising from the variables of light, weather, biogeography, molt, distance, and habitat (and psychological state). I think it is important to insure that “birding” is not misunderstood as “listing”. Listing may certainly be one consequence of true birding, but birding can exist independently of listing. However, as listing is often associated with birding, it should be included in the ABA’s purview. Other things that are appropriately germane: optics, driving directions, examinations of seasonal and geographical patterns of species occurrence, hotel recommendations, and records of new species for specific areas. It is easy to find what to exclude: ask whether the item being considered would be actually done by a person engaged in birding. If the answer is no, then I don’t think the ABA is the appropriate venue. Keep in mind, this somewhat narrow definition may keep the membership low; there are only so many people truly focused on actively finding and identifying birds: the key to me is that we want those people, all of them. I don’t think the corporate mindset of grow or die is useful here; we want people who want to see birds, and if we stay true to that and provide information and opportunities beneficial to active birders, we’ll attract more active birders, and we may eventually get them all. Let’s not pander to generality in order to achieve increased membership numbers, let’s cater to birders (and the enjoyable sport of birding). In my opinion, that is the past and future of the ABA.

  • Jessica

    I think this is an excellent conversation, but I won’t do it very often – just fair warning. No interest at all in frequent blogs… I joined ABA years ago as a beginning birder because of the membership list and the fact that birders were willing to help each other; I don’t know when or why that disappeared, it just did, but it was important to me. Then the “store” went away, though I do think having links to suppliers is OK, and the gear magazine was a good idea, but it was just a listing, not much help in making choices… Real reviews – with plus/minus info are very helpful. I think like many above, I’m making a plea to get back to thinking about folks who are beginners, or social birders (me) as well as ornithologists or tickers. I also think you could serve a real purpose by being a link to other organizations that do different things – Cornell and its science, Nature Conserve and its land; don’t duplicate, help people find those worthy organizations, and even promote their work in a supportive way rather than competing. I think Birders Exchange is a great idea, but it needs more transparency and outreach… Good luck to you, I really admire what you are doing, Jeff!

  • Bob Mauceli

    OK, Jeff…I’ll make a few comments now, and more later as I think of them.
    (1)As a person who has worked in marketing for a long time, I know it’s always ‘cheaper’ to keep an existing “customer” than to get a new one. So I think the ABA’s first priority should be to keep the members it has. What does the ABA need to do that:
    a.First, let people know when their membership is up for renewal.
    My wife and I are/were Century Club members – we haven’t received a renewal notice in more than two years. We’ll be happy to renew, if we only knew when we needed to do that.
    b.Work hard to identify and emphasize unique values for membership in ABA. Start by keeping or reemphasizing some of the values of membership that made me a member in the first place:
    I greatly enjoyed going to ABA Regional Conferences and Annual Conventions – we thought they were some of the best bargains in birding. We got to meet and know ABA staff and other birders from elsewhere in the country (who we still see at the few ABA functions that are left); we got to meet some of the best birders in the local area (who we probably would never have met otherwise) and learn about birds, birding sites and unique habitats from them; we got to become ‘hands-on’ familiar with equipment and resources we had no other way to do so (we bought a lot of optical equipment because of that); and we got to see some great birds! Figure out a way to start these up again (and at least break even) and we’ll be there.
    We liked buying unique birding stuff from ABA Sales – I know it lost money before, but I hope there is a way that ABA can keep that identity and at least break even…I mean, where else can I buy esoteric bird books and ABA logo stuff now?
    We use the ABA-‘Lane’ guides wherever we go – keep those going. And we look forward to both Birding and Winging It.
    (2)Look to new sources for new members – there have been some good suggestions above, but I think you should continue to concentrate on cultivating young people and increase your concentration on local birding clubs and environmentally-oriented organizations.
    (3)If you haven’t already, dump the old, ‘oh, so special’ board members who always sat in the front of the bus (because they were entitled, right) and only talked to each other. I think that’s one reason why the organization got out of touch with its members.
    (4)I consider myself an intermediate birder with a lot to learn. I’ve never understood the continuing brouhaha about ‘listers’ and ‘listing’, and some of concerns people have about ABA efforts in conservation and other, apparently ‘deal-breaking,’ issues mentioned above. I think there’s room for all kinds of birders and bird-oriented people in ABA and they all should be made welcome.
    I enjoy going to new venues and seeing and learning about them and the new birds there; I enjoy learning about bird identification and behavior; and I’m concerned about bird habitat and population conservation (because without that we’ll only have starlings, house sparrows and crows to watch). A well-rounded birder is interested in or concerned about all those, and I think the ABA should be interested in or concerned about all of those, too. Building a community of people around an amalgam of these – field birding, travel, education, conservation — might even provide ABA with a fairly unique set of competitive advantages.

  • BobG

    Jeff, you’re on the right track. Open the windows at ABA and let some gusts of fresh wind and honest discussion blow the cobwebs out of this organization! For those of us far from the inner orbit of the ABA, understanding what was going on in this organization and where it is headed required the skills of a trained Kremlinologist. The only clues were the annual financial statement, which the President’s message NEVER addressed forthrightly, or the sudden disappearance of a president after only months on the job.
    I recently celebrated my 30th year as an ABA member and have periodically wondered why I remain a member. To be sure, there have been highlights — I’ll always treasure my Institute for Field Ornithology canoe trip along the upper Missouri River with its wonderful companionship, generous leader, its sharp-tail grouse displaying on a lek, and prairie falcons’ swooping around their cliff aerie. But then, there are the soul-deadening articles in Birding on mitochrondrial DNA that must have been rejected by ‘Science’ magazine only to be inflicted on ABA members.
    There are many reasons to be a member of ABA, even for folks like me who suffer from periodic bouts of listing. Let’s strive make certain that everyone who considers him/herself a birder finds the enrichment within ABA that led them to this organization in the first place.

  • Pat Bitton

    ABA needs to be present in local communities. The world is going digital every which way, but birding still requires a physical presence to experience it. And it is an activity that’s best experienced in a group. The reason Audubon is successful is because there are a gazillion local chapters, which creates an environment that brings people together. I think of the ABA as a remote presence that sends me a newsletter and a magazine from time to time and that’s really it. From where I’m sitting, ABA is a magazine publisher.

  • The last comment (posted by Bob G.) resonates with me. In addition to being an ABA member, I’ve also been involved Oregon Field Ornithologists (OFO) in various capacities since it was formed more than 30 years ago. Though much smaller in scale, OFO is experiencing many of the same challenges being faced by ABA. These are, in no particular order:

    1. Declining membership, or at least a less engaged membership.

    2. An identity crisis — What sector(s) of the birding community do we serve? What are we really good at and what does our membership expect us to be really good at?

    3. How do we attract and engage younger birders?

    4. How do we create a sense of community among our members and foster a sense of belonging?

    I’ve always felt the answer to all of these questions lies in creating local activities. OFO has finally embraced the idea of organizing and running low-impact local field trips. In the past, the organization focused too much emphasis (in my opinion) on long weekend outings, annual meetings/conventions and other time intensive events that families with kids and busy schedules can rarely make time for. The real joy and connectivity of human existence comes not from what you are doing, but who you are doing it with. All that most of us really want to do is connect with and share time with others who share our passion for birding.

    With this in mind, Shawneen Finnegan and I recently volunteered to lead a series of three half-day local trips here in the Portland area for OFO. The first one (in mid-Feb) was attended by 10 people. Two of the participants were veteran OFO members, either one of whom could have led the trip. At the end of the morning, they each offered a very hearty thanks and expressed an appreciation for simply being able to get together with us and the others on the trip for a few hours. Shawneen and I were more than happy to have them along as they helped give the less experienced folks on the walk more individualized attention. Nearly every person who went on the first trip has already signed up for the next one in two weeks and I would venture to guess that some will bring a friend. The destination for the next trip? A sewage pond/wetland complex just west of Portland. Chances of seeing a Code 5 rarity, ZIP.

    While we saw no rare birds and didn’t travel to some far away exotic locale, I dare say we did build connections among the participants on the trip and fostered some sense of connection to the sponsoring organization. How many ABA members live in the Portland metro area? I haven’t the foggiest idea. But if we were able to organize local trips for ABA members, I suspect we could make similar gains in this community and yours as well. The politics and the expense of running local chapters are probably unnecessary, but I think every effort should be made to connect ABA members to other members in their local communities.

    I’m of the opinion that many organizations have things backward. They expect to create a cause or a mission and have folks rally around it. To me, it makes a lot more sense to bring folks together around a common interest that they already share, create a sense of community through regular activities, and let the ideas and direction flow outward from the community that evolves.

    There is no singular mission that is going to be the glue that holds ABA together. Let’s think of the birding community as a bicycle wheel. It takes many spokes to support the wheel. The axle (where the spokes are anchored) may well be in Colorado Springs, but what matters most in the end is outer rim and whether the tire that covers it makes a meaningful impression in your own backyard.

  • Anne Scofield

    I’ve been a member for several years and I wonder why I keep paying. The magazine, BIRDING, tends to be too technical and bores me. Couldn’t the technical stuff be available elsewhere? Maybe those articles could be posted online. I am sure they have merit, but not for me.

    If there is an article in “Winging It” or BIRDING on visiting a particular location, I’d like to know when that trip was taken and how the birding is during other times of the year. What were the physical conditions or physical requirements?

    The ABA conventions and conferences are expensive. I attended the one in Bangor. It was fun, but required a lot of money. Could we be surveyed about locations that interest us?

  • Andrew Haffenden

    In my view Blake Mathys overall came closest, and several other posters said similar things. ABA is about birding, or birdwatching, that is going out to look for birds. Let’s home back in on that, rather than stretch out the limited resources to compete with others. Stay with the core purpose, but create portals to related areas that readers and members can go to, but aren’t comprehensively addressed by ABA. Many members I’m sure are also members of TNC, Audubon etc, but look to the ABA for the emphasis on birding. There are plenty of organizations, both local and national, which we can join to support and learn about conservation, best use of land, etc. ABA is pretty much the only one we can look to to develop our birding abilities, and get information about pursuing our hobby. While my local state birding organization has good meetings with speaker and outings, I’m not going to learn about fine points of seabird or empidonax identification, especially of those not local to my area, but such articles are useful when I travel to that empi’s place, or when that empi travels here to mine. As was mentioned earlier, numbers, other than in a financial way, don’t equal success. Moreover, I believe the most successful magazines these days are not the generalist ones, but the niche ones. Spreading your wings is not necessarily a route to success, or happy members. Nascar fans don’t want to read about how to extend mileage n a Prius in their magazines, they want to read about drivers and fast cars. My Jeep magazine subscription would go out the window if it started getting filled up with pickups and SUV articles; there are already magazines catering to that, and I don’t subscribe to them. I think the ABA is not alone in losing membership and readership, but perhaps the reason is the easy internet access of what was previously only available via membership – see also news papers, news magazines, store sales, etc – and so just looking within won’t reveal the complete picture. I agree strongly with posters who have bemoaned the dropping of aspects of ABA that were useful, and created a sense of community, including the membership book. Perhaps part of the deal for getting the ABA business the current equipment outlet would also have to offer the old ABA logo’d material, even at a small loss. It has always amazed me that businesses, and other entities, see the best way to avoid losses is by cutting back on what they provide, but for the same price, then wonder why even more people desert them.

    On a slightly different note, I am somewhat bemused by the number of non-members or ex-members who have posted here, commenting that ABA doesn’t hold their attention anymore, or doesn’t offer them want they want. It seems it offers a blog they are interested in, otherwise they wouldn’t have seen Jeff’s video. I believe that access to the online content of an organizations is part of one’s membership, the same as a magazine or newsletter. I respectfully suggest that everyone who uses the resources of an organization should support, financially, that organization. That’s called membership.

    So, in short, let the ABA stick to birding, and other organizations stick to what thy were created for.

  • Brian

    Sorry in advance for the lack of brevity and the stream of consciousness approach to addressing the issues raised.

    As I understand it, the goal of this exercise is to get the ABA “going where it should go and being what it ought to be … by getting ourselves engaged and energized and heading in the same direction.” But the comments to date show divergent, and in many ways irreconcilable, points of view.

    I’m currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria. Another volunteer recently proposed attempting to break a longstanding Guinness world record. To do so would require the participation of more than 13,000 Bulgarians. We (a group of volunteers) all thought this was an excellent idea. When we asked a Bulgarian what she thought, her response was “I don’t think anyone has ever been able to get 13,000 Bulgarians to agree to do anything together.”

    A similar problem exists within the birding community and with the ABA. As a longtime birder and ABA member, I’d be hard pressed to come up with an answer if a prospective new member were to ask me, “Why should I join the ABA? What’s in it for me?” At this point, I’m a member more out of loyalty than anything else.

    To a large extent, the ABA has been rendered irrelevant by technology (Blackberries, cell phones, the internet, etc.) and locally organized birding and nature festivals. Conservation groups such as The Nature Conservancy do a far better job at conserving bird habitat than the ABA does. Scientific organizations such as Cornell do a far better job on the science end of things. So what is the ABA’s niche?

    To (over) simplify things for the sake of argument, let’s think of the birding community as consisting of two types: Northern Cardinals and Ferruginous Pygmy-owls.

    Northern Cardinals can be found over much of the ABA area. They are often found in pairs but form large flocks at various times of the year. They are easy to see, easy to attract, and easy to keep happy. Give them what they want in small doses, and they’re yours for life.

    Ferruginous Pygmy-owls, on the other hand, are rarely encountered in the ABA area. They have fairly specific habitat requirements and extremely limited ranges. Despite their small size, they are ferocious predators. They have been known to attack cardinals and scare them into hiding. Moreover, they are extremely territorial and immediately chase off other pygmy-owls who dare to venture into their areas.

    If you want to attract more cardinals, you’re going to have to scare off a lot of the pygmy-owls. Attracting more pygmy-owls is even more problematic. Not only are you going to scare away a lot of the cardinals, you’re also going to have even more disputes among the pygmy-owls themselves. If you want more of both, you need to figure out a way to get the two to coexist and to get the pygmy-owls to live in harmony with each other.

    Assuming we don’t want to chase anyone off, one suggestion for bringing in new members and retaining current members is to have different levels of membership. Perhaps members who are interested in “premium” content, including the “the soul-deadening articles in Birding on mitochrondrial DNA” and the finer points of gull and empid identification, can pay a bit more. And those who don’t care about such things can be spared and pay less.

    More importantly, I would suggest that the ABA strive to be more like the PGA (and the PGA Tour) or B.A.S.S. I realize those are for-profit organizations, but birding is far more akin to golf and fishing than it is to science or conservation. Hence, modeling the ABA after successful golfing and fishing organizations makes more sense than modeling it after Cornell, Audubon, the Nature Conservancy, etc.

    To wit, golfing, fishing, and birding can be enjoyed by people of all skills and abilities to whatever ends they personally desire. Some people are content golfing a few times a year with friends or family at the local course. Others aspire to be the next Jack Nicklaus. Some folks are happy fishing off their docks. Others spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on the fastest boats, the fanciest rods and reels, and the latest lures. Some people are satisfied watching the birds that come into their feeders. Others travel far and wide twitching after new county, state, and life birds. And, of course, there are many people who fall somewhere in the middle of each of these two extremes.

    Very few golfers are members of the PGA and a very small percentage of fishermen are members of B.A.S.S., but both are extremely profitable and almost all golfers and fishermen are touched by them. Why is the ABA lagging so far behind?

    Maybe it’s the numbers. Let’s say there are 30 million people who play golf at least occasionally. And 60 million who go fishing. How many go birding? The number is somewhere between 20,000 and 141 million. If the number is close to Ted’s estimate of 100,000 people, then having just under 20,000 ABA members is quite remarkable. But given there have been over 750,000 copies of The Sibley Guide to Birds sold, I suspect the number of birders is considerably higher than 100,000. Why buy golf clubs if you aren’t going to golf? Why buy a bird book if you aren’t going to bird? And what about the people who don’t have Sibley but have Peterson, Kaufmann, National Geographic, etc.?

    One major difference between golf and birding is that serious golfers need the hackers to keep the courses open. As a result, they generally tend not to alienate those folks with condescension and elitism. But hardcore birders don’t need the feeder watchers and general nature enthusiasts to enjoy birding. In fact, too many of those people detract from the experience. As the ABA is now constituted, the primary and perhaps only beneficiaries of bringing more low level birders into the organization are those people who make a living off them and have a vested interest: tour operators and guides, optics manufacturers, authors and publishers, the ABA itself, etc. The key is to give the rest of us an incentive for wanting to build the ABA and bring in new members.

    And that’s where modeling the organization after the PGA Tour and B.A.S.S. makes sense. For those who enjoy competing, all three activities lend themselves to the same types of competitions, be it one day or multi-day tournaments on a local or club level, major events at a regional or national level, full year standings, etc. All three sports also share similar ethical concerns in terms of keeping score. They are all sports which require the participants to accept and agree to follow certain rules and to police themselves. From a marketing and sponsorship standpoint, all three activities result in folks traveling, spending money on equipment and professional guidance, and buying books and magazines dedicated to each particular sport. Why have golfers and fishermen figured this out and not birders?

    Not realistic? B.A.S.S. was founded in 1967. By 1968, the organization had 6,000 members and held its first tournament (the $7,000 All-American Invitational BASS tournament). By 1986, membership had increased to 600,000. In 2001, the company was sold for a reported $40 million. Why can’t the ABA duplicate that success on a smaller scale?

    I don’t deny there are more golfers and fishermen than birders and that the non-profit aspect of the ABA muddies things slightly. But, beyond that, the biggest things separating birding from the other two sports are a lack of vision, focus, and community and poor marketing.

  • Brad Bond

    I’m surprised that ABA doesn’t pay more attention to the breeding bird atlases that are being evolving in several states. Ohio’s is about done, West Virginia’s is just starting. Minnesota’s is in financial trouble. This is the kind of listing I think is worthwhile. It serves a purpose other than stuffing egos.

    I have enjoyed ABA conventions in Ecuador, Lafayette, LA, and North Dakota where local experts can get you to the most productive viewing spots. Birding and Bird Watcher’s Digest provide different slants on birding, and both are worth reading.

  • mary ann kolb

    I’m not sure that I know how to improve the ABA or how to attract more members. I can only tell you why I joined and what I like about the ABA. I joined because I heard about one of the ABA’s conventions and wanted to go. My daughter joined at the same time so she could go with me. We loved the convention. We met people who were as enthusiastic about birds as we were. I live in a small town where I am the only “birder.” Being in a community of other birders was exhilarating. We have been to several conventions since that first one and are very distressed that they are no longer being held. I am also a lister. I am nearly 76 years old and have listed things all my life. As a child I listed the books I read, the movies I saw etc. It is a natural for me. I read with delight the accomplishments of other listers. I enjoy all of the magazines and even though the articles are often above my level of expertise, I read and learn.
    So there you have it from a very ordinary member in order of importance: the conventions, the listing, the publications.

  • Jeff, great start & thanks for the outreach. Since last summer when things were desperate, I’ve seen lots of conversations and weighings-in of folks with their individual wish lists, rants, good-old-days memories, criticisms and what-not. The “listing” and “conservation” diatribes are going to go on forever, no matter what you and the ABA say or do, so my advice is ignore those stale dead-ends and focus in in two or three initiatives that you and the ABA can really get behind. Say, “I listened. Now I’m leading. Here’s the plan.”

    My ideas? Who cares? What do I want? Doesn’t matter. I’m just one voice along with all the others out there (some cranky, frankly) who are ready and waiting to see you move the ABA forward. So far? Thumbs up.

    Glad to see you sampling the membership, but don’t expect any great insights from folks who have plenty of “whats” to offer but precious few “hows.”

    Pick a couple of initiatives and say, “Damn the torpedos, full steam ahead!” Just do it. People will fall in line behind you and later wonder at their brilliance for suggesting you go in that direction.

  • RAD


    The post starts off, “This video pretty much explains itself.”

    Well, perhaps it does. But as far as I can tell, there’s NO video to view.

    Am I missing something? Does my computer have some kind of weird configuration that doesn’t work here?? Is it visible only to ABA members?

  • Jeff,

    Well you certainly opened the flood gates. As I looked through the blog, I kept asking myself if ABA could be “all things to all people.” I believe the answer is, “Yes.”

    I’m more of a conceptual person than a detail person. While I certainly want to improve my bird identification skills, I know that I will never reach the level of many of my birding associates. My humble contribution will be to encourage conservation wherever possible.

    We are losing our birds. No matter what kind of birder we are, this should be important to us. But birding should also be fun for the entire spectrum of interests and skills of birders young and old. How can ABA meet the expectations of so many different people?

    I believe that technology is the answer. If ABA had a system for identifying the interests and skill levels of birders, it could become the portal for information fitting those levels. Rather than duplicate what Cornell Lab, Audubon, Amercian Bird Conservancy and others are doing, partner with them to bring their information to the people who are most interested in their particular information.

    There is a tremendous amount of information out there. ABA can help provide information tailored to the individual member’s needs. The person interested in the fine points of the latest split between species and the backyard birder who wants to know how to keep birds from hitting windows can be equally served. ABA should be the organization for all birders.

    That’s my opinion for what it’s worth.

  • Brad Meiklejohn

    1. Require that all those who wish to have their names published in the ABA Big Day and List Report be ABA members and that they make a donation to ABA to defray the cost of publishing the report. No ABA membership, no donation, no appearance in the list report.

    2. Harness the zeal of listing to benefit birds. Urge listers to support bird conservation at levels commensurate with their lists. Create a habitat fund that listers can donate to. ABA administers the account for a reasonable overhead fee (eg; 5%) and regrants the monies to specific bird habitat protection projects conducted by others (TNC, TCF, TPL, ABC, DU, land trusts). ABA can take credit for protecting specific bird habitats.

    3. Highlight those birders who do the most for bird conservation in Milestones, the List Report, the magazine and the ABA Blog.

  • Margaret Bowman


  • RDanca

    Video??? Really??? Borrrrringgg!!!

    I could read *and comprehend* what you said in the video in far less than 2 minutes and 45 seconds. And, sorry, but the video (which does NOT appear in Mozilla Firefox!) is, frankly, crap. Not worth my trip to be the 391st person to view it on YouTube.

    Nice clear image, nice clear audio, but horrid presentation and, yes, boring to boot. Sorry, man, don’t quit your day job.

    I’m a *former* ABA member who has seen no reason to join again many years after my membership expired. But dull, boring videos of a dull, boring speaker just won’t do it. If you *insist* on wasting bandwidth and potential members’ time, keep doing the videos.

    However, if you want people to understand and reply to your comments, either quit using the boring videos or at least offer a transcript of whatever it is you were trying to tell us. Did I say “boring” enough times? To me, this shows that you and ABA don’t quite get this new Internet thing. Maybe that’s the problem with trying to please your membership?

  • Steve Bauer

    You should have stayed lost, RDanca.

  • I recently gave a HOLIDAY gift membership to an active birder.
    ABA I think needs to have a quarterly habitat conservation activity column in Winging It. Many birders are involved in habitat conservation it may spike some interest in the membership.
    I did not think the video was boring, dull or crap.
    I think the message at this point is an honest attempt to re-grow ABA with membership involvement. A great idea. The new President needs to be supported.
    Another thought from me is I’d rather respond to an internet video than a paper mailer. This effort shows me ABA is prepared to continue to reach out and meet the changing times in birding and communication modes..

  • Liz

    I told you to hire the dancing bears!

  • Derek

    Certainly there is schism amongst the factions represented by views expressed thus far on the blog. But none are necessarily mutually exclusive. The ABA just has to seek out those rare opportunities to satisfy both groups, build membership and thereby getting the money that will enable it broaden its reach. The biggest selling point currently to the ABA is its publications. This content can’t be made free to the public on the internet as that erodes maybe the only “good” reason to join ABA now. Likewise, archiving past issues of Birding and Wing It is just common sense, and access to those issues by ABA members seems like it should be a no-brainer. The ability to subscribe via some web-based access as opposed to paper seems a logical option from a financial and conservation standpoint. The ability to draw in lots of new members will take a bit more forward thinking though. Perhaps the only thing that all of the ABA’s members share is a love of birds, and moreover a desire to see them. As with many things in life money and opportunity seem to be the answer. There used to be ABA partners that offered discounts on optics/equipment purchases. Is this still the case? Are there birding tours that offer discounts to ABA members? Certainly headway can be made along this front to provide more/better opportunities for ABA’s birders. Free add space on the web for those pelagic operators who are willing to give ABA’ers a reduced fare. Exclusive ABA member only trips to prime birding locales. These seem good and logical starting places. But many organizations do this already. Land acquisition and its exclusive birding rights is a next step. There are so many (too many) species at risk of extirpation/extinction based on habitat loss. There is opportunity there. Those species, often because of their precarious nature are amongst the most desirable for birders. The ABA can steward the acquisition and management of habitat and provide its members access to experience those species. This would seem an appealing settlement for those birders seeking out the elusive species and those birders wishing ABA had a greater conservation presence. Birding and conservation are not mutually exclusive. The pragmatists out there are certainly furrowing their brow as the ABA will need money (i.e. members) to make land purchases. Fair enough. How about leasing birding rights? In tough economic times lots of people would love additional income even a modest one. Currently the ABA is based in Colorado. Are there no land owners out there that would work with the ABA to provide access to grouse or prairie chicken leks heretofore off limits to the public to its members? Are there no conservancy properties that would partner with the ABA to provide its members access? Certainly there are. And it doesn’t have to stop there. How many Sabal Palm Sanctuaries are out there to which the public has lost access? At the VERY least the headquarters of the ABA should located on some property where birding is not only possible and encouraged, but desirable. Work along these fronts provides a broad spectrum of pleasure. The ABA has to offer SOMETHING in order to get its membership to grow. The publications are great. Financial benefit and increased birding opportunity would be better.

  • RDanca

    Hey, jackasss, the ABA guy asked for my opinion…

    Why is it worth any less than anyone else’s?

    Someone needed to say that the emperor has no clothes.

  • Faye McAdams Hands

    Thank you for opening the door Jeff!
    It has been a great Saturday morning reading through all of the comments generated.
    In my mind, I agree with so many contributors – especially Blake Mathys – we are about Birding.
    To that end, I would like to see ABA continue with the specialized articles and information about bird identification and skills. The archives that would be available online is a great idea. As far as articles that are too technical (i.e. boring), I always have a choice. I can not read it, OR, if I want to push myself and learn something new, I will read it. Simple.

    We can be a conduit/link/clearinghouse for information on conservation – which is so very important not just to birds and birders, but also to our planet Earth. But we are not primarily a conservation organization. As others have said, there are many groups out there to address this crucially important need. However, it is not our job to compete, rather to collaborate.

    As mentioned by Mary Ann Kolb and BobG, I so miss the Conferences and Conventions. I would rank this as a very high priority – reinstate them and give birders an opportunity to come together and do what brought us to this passion to begin with – To Bird.
    The Conventions could be every other year, and well-publicized in advance to give those that are working an opportunity to arrange their schedules, and retired and working alike, time to budget their monies.
    Smaller and presumably less costly Conferences could be offered every year.
    The ability to come together and bird with such talented birders, to try out optics and other birding paraphernalia, to meet others and make friendships to last a lifetime, and all at such bargain rates……Priceless!

    I also like the idea of Ambassadors – brought out by many, and expressed so well by Dave Irons. Find people where they are – geographically and developmentally. We were all beginners once. To be able to foster the enjoyment, that becomes the love, and then the passion – and to provide the tools for development needed along this continuum – that to me is our goal.

    You have resources right now – in the field. Offer your current members the opportunity to reach out more to provide ABA-sponsored field trips that can generate new members.
    And of course – utilizing the new technologies, as they come along, will reach out to our younger birders.
    Signing off,
    Willette #4

  • Mary

    Pat Bitton, put the problem in a nutshell and her suggestion along with others is the same. “ABA needs to be present in Local Communities” Offering your articles to members via the internet versus paper copies is also needed the world is changing and we need to safe the trees.


  • STeve Bauer

    Your opinion is worth less because you’re classless and rude. Yeah, I guess you *get* this new Internet thing better than the ABA and the rest of us because you’ve certainly got this “being an ass in the comments” thing down, though on the other hand, you obviously need to update Firefox. I’ve been able to watch the video here on Firefox since day 1.

    Let’s go over a few things you wrote:

    “The ABA guy”? Again, classy. He introduces himself by name. It’s Jeff. Oh, that’s right, I’m sure you were too bored to remember it.

    “If you people to…reply to your comments, quit using the boring video…” Really? Your comment was the FIFTY-FIRST comment. Comments have been coming in for THREE days. It started a conversation on BirdChat. Yep, the video was an epic FAIL to get feedback, huh?

    Here’s something else you don’t seem to get: complaints about previous leadership was that it was inaccessible and unresponsive to the membership. Whether it’s boring or not, a video puts a face to the leadership better than text can.

    If Jeff really wants you to watch more of the videos, maybe he should just splice in a few clips of the General Lee and a fight scene or two from Walker, Texas Ranger. Or maybe he’ll just hire a stand-in that you’ll find more personable like Andy Griffith or Wilfred Brimley.

    Lastly, you’re a comment troll. You leave a rude comment and then you come back here to see what reaction it got.

  • Nice start, Jeff. I do appreciate the effort. The video is honest and self-effacing, and I do believe that your invitation is heartfelt. Thanks.

    I have little to add to what has been said. I have commented for quite some time about ABA, and my feelings, in general, remain the same. To elevate ABA to a point where it becomes relevant is a challenge, and I do not envy your position.

    However, I do wish to add a couple of discussion points. First, I believe that ABA must become involved in recreation writ large. ABA should be a participant and be present to advocate for birding when and where the outdoor recreation industry gathers. For example, I have never seen ABA at meetings of NAI (National Association for Interpretation), the Adventure Travel Trade Association, NARRP (National Association of Recreation Resource Planners), America’s Byways, or the Outdoor Industry Association. Perhaps this is the reason for the exclusion of ABA from the USFWS Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation process.

    Second, to be an effective advocate for birding the board and staff should be students of birding. There are studies, articles, and papers constantly being published about the recreation, and ABA should be aware of all of them. For example, social media and the Internet continue to be topics of interest in the organization. Why not learn something about them? A great place to start is the Outdoor Foundation publication Outdoor Nation Special Report: Technology and Social Media ( Subscribe to the Pew Foundation’s reports on social media. There are numerous blogs for those who work in nonprofits and social media.

    In other words, be as concerned about your knowledge of birders as you are about your knowledge of birds. I suspect that the slow pace at which this board moves is largely due to a lack of knowledge of and feel for the business. Given how quickly the industry is morphing, ignorance is no excuse.

    Otherwise, I like many of the previous suggestions and will continue to support your efforts.

    Ted Eubanks

  • Hugh Kingery

    I second Heidi’s concern about Ethics – birding without bugging the birds. ABA ought to stand up for the birds. The passion for listing shouldn’t overcome the welfare of the critters we list.

    ABA should serve as THE leader in promoting non-intrusive birding. We have a rather vague standard in the Birding Ethics protocol; inasmuch as it has said about the same thing for many years “Limit the use of recordings. . . use restraint during observation, photography. . .” ABA should examine its Code of Ethics in light of 21st century technology that birders use and how they use this stuff.

    Some of us assume that IPod users who play their toys at every opportunity disturb their targets; ditto for photographers who approach too closely. I don’t think adding a species to a county or year list or you photo gallery justifies potentially harming the target. (Though maybe it doesn’t harm them — has any research occurred on this?

    I’d suggest two things for action by ABA:

    1. Sponsor research into the actual effects of this activity.
    2. Pending results of such research, advocate limiting use of sound recordings in the field.
    3. Review the Code of Ethics and decide whether or not to make it more specific.

  • Butch

    I think others may have touched on a couple of these thoughts, but I’ll add to them by saying it’s about having a vision and a niche.

    Cornell is about research and the Nature Conservancy is about the land, but no organization seems to be about the birders themselves, which to me, is what the ABA seems to be about. I suggest partnering with the other two groups for a holistic approach.

    Someone suggested expanding on the “ABA endorsed birding tours” concept and that seems like a good plan too. Again, the concentration on the birders themselves.

    Along those lines, birders need access to do what they want to do, which is birdwatch. If the ABA can partner with some park systems to gain access to areas that are generally off limits, that would be a nice membership perk. ABA members should be people who respect the land and the birds anyway, so membership in the ABA could function to indicate to others “these folks know what they are doing, so just allow them to do and they won’t bother the land/birds.”

    Lastly, to get more young people birding, it starts with kids: school children. If the ABA created learning materials that schools could purchase that discuss birds and the environment and do it in a way that assists teachers and administrators, it would likely sell itself if done right. The learning materials could assist teachers in leading a field trip to a local park giving the students activities that inspire learning while using the environment and birds as the tool. In short, help them help us bring birding to the youth.

    Just more thoughts….

  • KR

    The reason I joined ABA back when was merely to get the magazine (Birding) and the catalog of members. This served me well as a frequent traveler since it allowed me to connect with local birders everywhere.

    A few things have soured me on ABA recently however. One, the catalog is gone. That’s probably fine since myriad ways of finding other birders now exist on the Web.

    Second, a turn (real or perceived?) toward political discourse. As a person who is insulted by folks who, for instance, challenge my “carbon footprint,” I am dismayed. Please leave politics behind this group.

    I have given serious thought about dropping membership given the current climate. I have to ask myself, ‘what do it get out of my ABA membership anymore?’ I’m having trouble answering that and it bothers me.

    I’m just a birder. That’s all I want to do. I don’t want to campaign, I don’t want to go to any more conventions, I don’t want to listen to people rant about conservatives (I am one).

    In the end, unless we drop the politics, I’m done with ABA.

    Red-state birder

  • Jesse Ellis

    Hey all-

    First off, to Brian and his analogy of cardinals and pygmy owls…

    *slow clap*


    *continues clapping*. Well done.

    Two initial thoughts: one general observation is that people seem to be taking this in two directions – one is what the publications should do, another is what the organization as a whole should DO. Both of those deserve clarification! It may be worthwhile realizing this, though. (One point is that the publications should subserve the overall goals of the organization, of course.)

    My second thought (mostly about Birding, but certainly impinging upon the mission of the ABA as a whole): I’m a birder, and a biologist. I’ve been a beginner, but I’ve been a pretty hardcore birder as well. My perspective on the ABA and Birding Magazine has been mixed. I was initially a member for the detailed ID articles, but did find that they were a bit much for me at the stage I was in when I joined (I think I was late teens). When my membership lapsed I didn’t miss it. I rejoined recently, in part to just see what was being published lately. Honestly, still not that impressed, unfortunately. We have a story of how a bird got its name, but nothing about the bird. We have a story on a very site-specific hawk watch in an area that is completely inaccessible to most birders. There’s some info on wind power, which I don’t rightly remember. There’s an article about leading field trips, which seemed strangely specific for the magazine. None of these were bad articles in and of themselves, but I don’t find the birds, and I don’t find the breadth.

    I think that’s one thing that’s missing from the ABA’s focus as I see it – the birds themselves. This seems atrocious to say, and I admit that my current sample is very small. However, I’m going to stand by it on the basis of the latest issue. What did I learn about birding and birds in that article? Very little. The ID quiz is brief, and that’s all I found.

    There are great stories to tell about birds, from a birder’s perspective. For example, Varied Thrush, Mountain Bluebird, and Townsend’s Solitaire are three western thrushes that all have patterns of vagrancy to the east in winter. I don’t need to know everything about the biology of each bird, and I don’t need a single article about how to separate every single Mountain Bluebird from Eastern or Western. However, talking about some of those points, and examining patterns of vagrancy for the three, could give birders all the way to the seaboard a better sense of when and where to look for these three potential visitors, as well as giving western birders a better understanding of their local birds. As another example, beat the field guides. We just split (I think) Mountain Chickadee. While one commenter bemoaned soulless articles about mitochondria (and I agree), why not an article describing not only the ID points of the two birds but introducing us to the new members on our list? Do they sound different? Do they occur in different places? Do they have different habits, habitat preferences, what? Don’t wait for the field guides to tell us – be the first place people go to learn ABOUT the “new” species.

    I feel like the perceived focus on listing may come from a “bird as object” perspective. Articles only about ID, only about “best-place-to-find”, articles that don’t locate the bird in its place, don’t talk about the bird’s ecology and life history, those reek of listing, of only checking off this that and the other species. Would a true beginning birder not want to know what Herring and Ring-billed Gulls DO differently? I mean, I can tell the two apart, no problemo, but even I don’t know where my local Ring-bills go, and where the wintering Herring Gulls come from, and how that fits in with patterns of occurrence across the continent. An ID-only article on gulls is either going to strike out with your beginners or your masters.

    Keep us updated and introduce us to American Birds, from a true birder’s perspective. This could distinguish you from CLO’s somewhat feel-good articles about research, the AOUs technical publications, and the Nature Conservancy’s writing about places, and Birdwatcher’s Digest’s (I know they’ve changed the name) focus on feederbirds.

    I think by tightening up Birding Magazine, you’re likely to pull in a wider audience and broaden your reach (you’ll feed more cardinals) while not losing too many listers (pygmy-owls). Indeed, as many have pointed out, the functions that listers want have very much moved to other media – eBird, listserves, online access to state and local birding information – and those should not be the purview of the ABA, because you cannot hope to do better than a local source, especially from a lister’s perspective. It might be tough, because you’re going to have to find writers who bird, or science journalists who bird, and not just birders who kinda write. The sort of perspective I think you need will require writers to do a fair amount of research, and not just tell us what they know.

  • Ted–

    David & I are testing comments on comments. Did you get a note about this?

  • I have been an ABA member off and on since the mid-1990s.

    1st point: I must disagree with Andrew Haffenden’s advice for the ABA not to focus on conservation / “compete” with other conservation nonprofits. For one thing, we need “all hands on deck” to conserve our pastime. I also recall how ABA staffer Drew Whelan was one of the first on the ground during the Gulf Oil Spill. Drew ran rings around the larger + stodgier conservation outfits in terms of getting the truth out (early) through a screen of BP and even state and federal intimidation/harassment. He single-handedly changed the trajectory of the news media’s coverage – a huge thing!

    2nd point: we birders MUST do better in recruiting young birders. In some parts of the USA, it is downright SCARY how few up-and-coming youngsters there are. Even in places like Charleston, SC (one of the oldest centers of ornithology in the Americas) there is a dire lack of youngsters. With social media, computer games, mobile smartphones, etc. – the natural world has a LOT of alluring competition. And with the decline in museum attendance and corresponding decline in museum programs, there are fewer and fewer traditional sources of recruitment for young naturalists.
    I think we have to figure out ways to make birding / natural history more hip and alluring to youngsters.

    3rd point: I think the ABA should work more across the board (blog, publications, events, …) on helping birders with their fieldcraft and some of the seldom-discussed “tricks of the trade.” I have seen a huge shift in the past 20 years in terms of birders’ fieldcraft. When afield, they seem more and more out of touch with their natural surroundings. This makes them less effective birders – whether they do it for pure enjoyment or are competitive listers.

    All sorts of resources cover bird identification. But the ABA could set itself apart by covering:

    – how to approach birds without flushing/disturbing them (particularly shorebirds) – don’t stare at them, move slowly without arm movement, make yourself shorter, approach at an oblique angle, stop / back off when they show signs of nervousness, etc.

    – how to read the weather/fronts to optimize when and where to go birding the next morning. A good co-topic might be the characteristics that make a good migrant trap – there are still many undiscovered ones lurking under our noses!

    – how to blend in to their surroundings / be more stealthy (good birders don’t wear white)

    – zeroing in on flocks of chickadees (in the east) to find neat warblers, etc. during migration

    – zeroing in on fruiting Madrone trees, Choke Cherry trees, etc. in the AZ mountains to find rare frugivorous birds

    – on cool fall mornings, zeroing in on the woodland edge that catches the first strong rays of sunlight to find warblers, vireos, orioles, etc.

    – How knowing your botany is indispensable to being a good birder.

    – keeping movement to a minimum (no waving hands, no restless stepping around) when surrounded by a flock of birds close at hand. And using tricks like staging your binoculars close to your eyes (with elbows resting on belly) to reduce movement that might scare that skulker right in front of you in the undergrowth

    – standing in the shade to improve vision and mask your presence from the birds

    – Tide education 101 (high tide & shorebird roosts, shorebirds moving from estuaries to nearby drained impoundments to feed around high tide, higher high tides + lower low tides around full & new moon, time offset/delay at inland locations, etc.

    – Knowing bird alarm calls to detect raptors, snakes, and other predators. Knowing bird “food calls” (feed chatter of ducks and food ‘chucks’ of grackles, etc) to detect food sources / favored areas.

    – I could go on, but this gives an idea…

  • Yes, Jeff, it seems to work. Kudos to you and David for providing improved functionality for The ABA Blog.

    Note to everybody else: Please do make use of this new feature of the The ABA Blog. For posts with lots of responses–like Jeff’s latest–it’s really useful.

  • Mike–

    “If the ABA were to go in a direction that genuinely interests me, your membership would drop (considerably).” Love it. I especially love that you are aware of your own biases and interests, and realize they aren’t universal, but are willing to welcome others into the fold. Thanks.

  • Heidi,

    Thanks for this. I agree that the ABA needs to do more for birds. But my contention is that the simple act of people being interested in birds and actively enjoying them is the starting point for any good that may follow. The ABA doesn’t have to do land acquisition to be doing good. (It should certainly partner with and support organizations that do).

    And yes, there are a few issues raised by having lots of birders. But these are the sorts of problems that would be great to have to deal with. Right now, I think the real problem for the birds is that too few people know or care about them.

  • Hugh–

    Agreed. There is a huge need for more carefully-designed research into the impacts of humans on birds.

    We have always advocated limited use of sound recordings in the field. As you say, we need to get more specific and pragmatic about what’s OK and what’s not and when. Erring on the side of caution is always wise, but to me that’s different than the wholesale bans of recordings that are being put in place in many birding areas.

    And yes, our very successful code of ethics is very much in need of review and clarification!

  • Terry,

    We’ve kicked around the idea of a kid’s page in Birding or Winging It. I know that some members would hate it, but I think many would be happy to have something to pass on to their kids and grandkids.

    We are already working on a web-based kid’s activity.

  • Rick,

    You’re dead-on with this comment, as usual. We’re looking at ways to reach people where they bird, and I’d extend that to include not only the field, but also their local club meetings.

  • I like the swirly stuff!

  • So glad to have you on board!

    The ABA has been missing out on a lot of vital online community. We’re all trying to find useful, creative ways to plug in. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

  • Sharon–

    Thanks for your feedback and for featuring us on your recent podcast.

    I agree that the ABA has to change its brand from being authoritative and passionate but not always friendly to excelling at all three. More about that soon.

    All of us here on staff are glad to have your support. And your criticisms.

  • Glad to hear it, Greg. And I think the ABA should take the lead in setting policy and tone that can be adapted and practiced locally. We should be the leading organization for the community of birders.

  • Bingo!

  • Double bingo, if there is such a thing.

  • Alan,

    Thanks. I’m hearing a lot about the usefulness of those 80’s and 90’s ID pieces. The ABA absolutely has to provide members with content that is useful to them. How to continue doing that as the frontiers have moved on is a challenge, but it’s one of our most important.

  • Doing conservation in a distinctly “birderly” way (Birders” Exchange is a great start) is a no-brainer for me. We have to. But in my view, it should always be done in a positive way. Instead of: it’s bad to burn carbon when you’re out birding, I want us to help people get excited about patch work and non-motorized birding. I think the ABA was already doing that before my arrival, but I certainly want to see it continue.

    I share your concerns about the ABA being branded as elitist and inaccessible. That’s the principle reason for this exercise and I think you’ll see us working hard to re-brand ourselves. As Rick said above, at this point, it’s much more the perception of elitism than the reality. Thanks for commenting.

  • Greg,

    Listing, if nothing else, is a nearly universal point of entry for people, especially young people. Not all of them, but many of them. I think the ABA always has to recognize the value and excitement of listing.

  • Amen. My short answer is that birding gospel is best spread in the field and that new birders are minted at the eyepiece. The ABA should be the leader in laying the kindling so that new birders will be sparked.

  • Erik,

    We’re thinking very much along the same lines here and you can see in the comments many others are, too.

    Meet people where they are. Be nice to them. Share things online. I don’t think it’s anything too complicated, really. But we have to enlist and engage members like you in doing so.

    Thanks so much for your input.

  • The more an organization is seen as effective, the more people want to support it. We have to show people that we can make a positive difference before we can expect them to join in, especially those who are skeptical.

  • The first mention here of the member directory, something I as a member used to love and something I hear people ask for the return of all the time. We are working on it!

  • James,

    One of my biggest concerns is how to change the organization (which it badly needs) without losing the elements (both content and members) that have made it what it is. I’m all for us partnering with groups like the ABC.

  • The fate of non-US members, especially as regards paper publications, is something that troubles us. I’m very clearly hearing a lot of support for more online content, while not abandoning print entirely.

    Hope we’ll get you back as a member soon!

  • Sally,

    You raise a valid concern. One thing I know needs revamping is our endorsed tours program. But I also like the idea of a “seal of approval.” In my loopier moments, I’ve been known to contemplate a little, duck-shaped symbol. You know, a “teal of approval.”

    Seriously, though, whether we as an organization do it, or let our members do it through online feedback, we really ought to use our community to make sure that the birding industry continues to provide high quality products and services. Which they do, mostly.

  • We need to talk! I am all for this kind of initiative. You rock!

  • Thank you, sir.

    While the ABA certainly needs some sprucing up, I want it to be respectful and honoring of those who founded it and supported it along the way. We need members of all ages.

  • Margaret,

    Right on! We’re working hard on building events and content that will appeal to you. Look for a convention next summer (any thoughts on where you’d like it to be? We have ideas, but would love to hear yours). And this October, we’re holding a great event in Half Moon Bay, California (Sep 30 – Oct 3, 2001). More soon!

  • I hear you, Drew. Growth for growth’s sake isn’t very interesting to me, except that increased numbers means more clout and resources to get things done. But the ABA has to stand for something, too. Merely increasing in size could create as many problems as it solves. More on that very soon.

  • Blake,

    You say, “ask whether the item being considered would be actually done by a person engaged in birding. If the answer is no, then I don’t think the ABA is the appropriate venue.” I think that’s an excellent, functional yardstick by which to measure. I’d add “of use or of interest” to “done,” but it’s important that we always focus on the nuts and bolts of birding.

  • Thanks, Jessica. I truly appreciate your encouragement and your perspective.

  • Bob,

    First, we would LOVE to have you rejoin. I’ve asked LeAnn Pilger, our membership services coordinator, to give you a call. Or, you can call her: 719-884-8548 is her direct line. I’m sorry you didn’t get those renewal notices; improving membership retention is something we certainly need to do a better job on.

    I’m very glad to hear your comments about inclusiveness…I think it’s the only way. Besides, it’s more fun, too!

    Conventions and other events are coming back! More information very soon.

  • Like Margaret below, I’ll add a big, “Amen!”

    I felt the same frustration as an ABA member of often not knowing what was going on.

    Please keep in touch.

  • Pat,

    Like so many organizations, our greatest strength is in some ways also our greatest weakness. I agree that the ABA has got to present, “at the eyepiece,” which is where the truly great stuff happens.

  • As usual, Dave, you’re on the mark here. Local and member-driven to me is more valuable (more impact for less $$) to me than all the top-down stuff we few staff could think of. We need to find ways to support our members more than we need to find ways for our members to support us.

  • Anne,

    Look for Ted Floyd (editor of Birding) to begin a serious attempt at soliciting feedback on the content there.

    As to convention locations, we’re looking to do one sometime in summer, 2012. Where would you like it to be? Also, I’ve gotten lots of requests for cheaper events or at least cheaper options at events.

  • Andrew,

    I think our trick is to become a bit broader without getting shallower (as I said, it’s a trick!). We have to give many different kinds of birders things they can use. But being useful is of the essence.

    Thanks for the vote for support of online content!

  • Brian,

    I don’t think I’m slighting anyone to say that this is my favorite comment, here or anywhere, that this video has inspired. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls and cardinals. Brilliant!

    I’ve also found that when thinking about the ABA it’s very helpful to consider recreational organizations as models. I think we all care so much about birds and birding that it can sometimes blind us, or at least cloud our vision when trying to figure out what we should do.

    Thanks again for this. It’s a wonderful contribution.

  • Atlasses are a great example of what one can do, once one has caught the birding bug. The ABA should be all about spreading that bug, but also point people toward interesting projects like BBA’s that can really use their newfound skills.

  • Thanks, Mary Ann. All 3 things are important, and they’re all here to stay (though perhaps in revamped form).

  • Sage advice. I’ve appreciated your contributions all along the line, from last summer up through now. Onward!

  • Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, RAD. I missed this comment over the weekend. I don’t know why you’d have trouble seeing the video. It’s hosted on YouTube and it’s not members-only. Here’s a direct link to it on YouTube:

  • Philip,

    Your opinion, I think, is worth a lot. And it’s exactly parallel to my thoughts on the subject. I’ve often used the analogy of the Discovery Channel. It’s actually a family of channels, each offering different (sometimes radically different) programming, but still branded and unified in terms of approach. There’s a lot for the ABA to learn from that model.

  • Brad,

    I know we’ve already spoken about these ideas, but I want to publicly say that I think they’re good ones. The more positive options we give people for involvement, the better.

  • Thank you very much indeed. And the conservation activity is a great idea.

  • I know, I know. I should *always* listen.

  • Derek,

    I’m glad you brought up birder access. I think it’s a *huge* issue and will only get bigger. You present a number of great ideas here. And access to great birding opportunities is something that appeals to all birders, novice or veteran, etc, etc, etc.

  • Faye,

    Wonderful stuff. The conferences and conventions are coming back, starting with Half Moon Bay this fall, Sep 30 – Oct 3. I’d love your input on future events.

    Also, if there’s one single thing that this post and the discussion it has engendered has crystalized for me, it’s the need to come up with an ambassador program that is stripped-down, field-oriented, and member-driven. I think it’s the single highest priority now.

    Thanks so much for your thoughts.

  • Thanks, Ted.

    As I said in reply to another commenter, I think it’s really helpful to think of the ABA as “just another” recreation organization (of course, I secretly believe it can and should be the BEST one). Sometimes our passion for birds makes it hard for us to put things in perspective. But outdoor recreation is the business that we’re in and it’s important to keep that in mind.


  • Butch,

    Just more thoughts, but great ones. ABA’s central mission is birders. Inspiring people to enjoy and protect birds. That’s what we do. We should own it and do an awesome job of it. Partnerships with other great organizations that do other jobs very, very well will enhance our reach and our effect.

    And yes, we need to find some simple ways to reach out to more kids. Not just the ones that will become the future leaders of the birding community, but also those who will only have a peripheral relationship to it. They matter. And there will always be far more of them than will ever grow up to write a field guide or even to join the ABA. But they will make the decisions that will dictate our shared future, and that of many birds, too.

  • Hi KR,

    Thanks for commenting. As you’ve seen here, there is MASSIVE support for bringing back the membership directory and we are very much working on that.

    As for your remarks about politics and the ABA, I’ve never seen the conservation of our natural resources as something that is the exclusive province of either “liberals” or “conservatives,” to use the current, (extremely limiting, in my opinion) terminology. And enjoying birds is certainly something we can all agree on.

    In fact, one thing I’ve always liked about birding is that it exposes me to people who feel very differently than I do about the issues of our day. It gives me faith that we really all can get along, after all, even if our policy agreements may at times be sharp.

    But I hope that you don’t mean the ABA should not address issues that directly concern the welfare of our birds and their habitat. I think the muted, often confusing messages the organization has sent have been detrimental to our hobby, sport, and shared interest. We have to be clear about what’s good for birds and birders and what’s not. That’s not a partisan issue, unless the parties decide to make it one.

    For example, even Ducks Unlimited, a hunting-based conservation group that many might see (rightly or wrongly) as, “conservative,” has come out strongly against gutting the federal land and water conservation fund. Their mission demands that they do. Our mission will often compel us to take positions, too.

    But as for being scolded about my carbon footprint, I’ll pass on that. I will happily listen, however, to someone tell me about the amazing experiences they had birding by bike, or building their local patch list, or what have you. That, to me, is being truly inclusive.

    Hope you stay with us, KR. If you ever want to take advantage of the “open mic” category here on the blog, please get in touch.

  • Jesse,

    Glad your back in the fold.

    I agree that there are a multitude of fascinating stories to be told about our birds, beyond simply (or sometimes not so simply) identifying them.

    I’ll say, too, that Ted Floyd (editor of Birding) is very interested in your feedback and will be asking our members for more.

    If I can make one small comment without seeming defensive (and I have nothing to defend here, as I have had zero involvement, other than writing last-minute President’s messages, in any issue prior to the March one that is just now being printed), I think you might find that the several issues of Birding prior to January had more of a “bird focus” than January’s did.

    Thanks so much for your thoughts and for believing that the pygmy-owls and the cardinals can—for the most part—coexist.

  • Nate,

    I think fieldcraft is something that deserves a lot of attention, even study. As someone who made a living for quite a while as a bird tour leader, I think its an endlessly interesting and rewarding topic. You throw out some great tips here.

    As for reaching young kids, I believe we have to meet them where they are, meaning be present in that virtual space where they spend so much time. We also should look at offering activities for families with young children, where we might get to double our impact, reaching both parents and kids.

    Good stuff, Nate. Thanks.

  • Carrie

    brilliantly & succinctly stated

  • Jeff, since you’re really starting over with the organization, why not start back at the beginning?
    Have the 2012 ABA Convention in Minot, ND.
    Also, if it’s run similar to the Space Coast Birding Festival, people could pick and choose what events they want to attend and it wouldn’t be as expensive for them.
    You could also offer an all inclusive package to do whatever you want that would be a slightly discounted price from the total of all the events combined.

  • Jeff,

    I’ve been a member of the ABA for as long as I’ve known about the organization. I’ve been a firm supporter of the ABA and a devout promoter of young birders.

    Several people have mentioned doing more to get young people involved in birding and promote more interest in birding, particularly the youngest kids. Few have mentioned ways to do this. I like the suggestion of a nation-wide Speakers Bureau, to have people representing the ABA doing presentations and workshops.

    Getting kids out looking at birds is always a challenge. There’s simply too many things tugging at their attention. What the ABA needs to do is use some of these things (particularly social media) to direct and engage youth. Not just at the national level, but at the local levels as well. I know a few kids who regularly attend local Audubon walks who might just join the ABA if it could offer them something. Yes, the ABA offers summer camps, but too often these are too expensive and too far from home for the less hardcore birders to attend. However, many times, these YBs don’t even know that the ABA offers things like summer camps or the Tropicbirds Teams. I never would have been a member of the Tropicbirds Team if I hadn’t already been an ABA member and seen the ad in Birding Magazine.
    I’d like to see more advertising on this front, more subsidizing of attendance fees and lower attendance fees if possible.

    With a speakers bureau, the ABA could have someone do a young birder workshop at local audubon and other nature events that would be designed not just to get kids interested in birding, but also provide some knowledge and opportunity for more serious YBs to find out what the ABA has to offer and take advantage of it.

    I mentioned using social media too. I think the ABA is recognizing that Facebook and blogging are excellent ways to reach people. This new multi-author blog is great. The ABA’s official page is good too. However, frankly, I have been disappointed with the ABA’s Young Birder page. I feel that there has not been enough time devoted to it except for the occasional update about the Tropicbirds or the summer camps. In order to create more of a YB following, I think the postings on the page should be more regular and more engaging. Post things like photo quizzes, trivia quizzes, facts about birds, links to blog posts or helpful websites, ID tips, the kind of things that would get people thinking and get them interacting more. Not just with the FB pagemaster, but with each other.

    I don’t know if you know this or not, but my friend Jacob Cooper and I, a couple years ago, noticed that the Peeps listserve for Young Birders had died and nobody was posting on it. Using the database of YBs subscribed to Peeps and our own YB Facebook friends, we put together a more interactive chat group via the website We called the group Jocotoco Wanderings. Unfortunately, there were glitches with Meebo and content couldn’t be shared as much as we liked and it slowly died. Then, Facebook revamped their group pages and offered us a new venue. We moved the group to Facebook. The opportunity to share photos, links, thoughts, ID tips, etc via the Facebook group is enormous and it quickly took off. We now have 70 YBs as members of the group and many of them regularly contribute to the group. I have kept it a closed group however (invitation only) because I feel that all too often too many adults join groups like that and the YBs tend to get pushed aside by the (sometimes) superior knowledge and experience of the adults and end up simply listening and not actively joining in the discussions.

    I have been thinking of adding a few select “Celebrity” Birders to the group. In the old Meebo chatroom, we had Kenn Kaufman join our discussions from time to time to great success. It allowed those who look up to the “celebrity” birders to actually talk to them and ask them questions. If the ABA could have select knowledgeable “celebrity” birders like this work to try to engage YBs more, the effect would be to get the kids thinking and maybe give them some spark to work harder to become better birders.

    I attended a presentation the other night by Richard Crossley. He made one point that really hit home. In his home country of Britain, there is a birder by the name of Bill Audi. He’s a TV star in a show called The Apprentice. People will follow what their Celebrities do. If their celebrity is a birder, then there’s a greater chance that they too may take up the sport. This new movie coming out with Steve Martin and Jack Black I think is going to make an impression among the American public; two mainstream actors who are promoting the sport of birding. Crossley also mentioned that the US needs celebrity people like this. He held up James Currie, host of Nikon Birding Adventures TV as our current and future “TV celebrity birder” His point being that people who are well known draw attention. If they can draw this attention to birding, more people will become involved in it.

    But, getting back to what I was saying earlier, If the ABA is able to do this and offer something worth joining in, the YBs will come. Friends will tell friends who tell friends and the network reaches YBs around the country.

    But how does the ABA engage new, potential YBs? That has more to do with groundwork. Being there on the local level.
    Birding is beginning to go mainstream. Even with youth. I’m seeing Young Birders clubs springing up around the country. These clubs and the Audubon societies will find the youth interested in the outdoors and birding. It’s up to the ABA to engage them and take them to the next level, to promote birding with them and do what it can to help them become better birders. Offer them ways to connect with other YBs, offer them camps, workshops and field seminars to attend, do everything possible to keep prices for these events to a minimum. Try to make workshops that are free to attend.

    How do you find the best places to go to do workshops? Again, the local level. Talk to local Audubon societies, YB clubs, even local birders who know a few kids who would be interested. Every little bit counts.

    I owe the ABA a lot in my training as a birder. I used to (and still do) attend Audubon field trips, various local birding field trips, but it wasn’t until I applied to (and was accepted onto) the ABA/Leica Tropicbirds Team that I really took off. Here was birding on a completely different level than what I was used to, with birders who were skilled far beyond anyone I had previously known. I took in everything as fast as I could, learning everything I could during the few days I spent in Cape May. The next year, I was eager to try again. This time, was with you and Liz. This time, I was older, a little more experienced, but again, birding on a level I wasn’t used to, my skills jumped again.

    Then came the camps that I found out about. The High Island Camp that didn’t have enough people sign up to officially go, but thanks to some quick thinking and background work by the then Youth Education coordinator, Lori Fujimoto, I and another YB were able to spend a week at High Island living at the Tropical Birding house and birding alongside the TB guides. Again, it was a huge jump in my skills and knowledge as a birder.

    In ’08, I attended the YBC in Minot, North Dakota. This was one of the best events I’ve ever attended. An entire week spent birding not only with people my own age (which is a rare occurrence where I live) but also having mentoring by world-class birders (Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis, Steve Howell and Ron Martin along with Jane Kostenko and Tyler Bell). The daytime field trips were awesome and the evening presentations and the photo quiz were superb. Again, it made a huge difference in my skills and knowledge as a birder.

    I would really love to see something like this back on the ABA’s agenda. From what I heard about the camp in California and Camp Colorado, they weren’t even on the same level. I sincerely hope that the upcoming Camp Rio Grande will be about more than just birding the Rio Grande valley but really go into depth about the natural history of the birds and wildife present and the actual history of the area, how it came about as a birding mecca and where it’s going. Past, present and future are always important to know. Presentations and workshops at the camp about ID, molt and other things is always engaging as well. I have a whole list of things I’d like to see at ABA camps, but I won’t go into that here just yet.

    Speaking of camps, I would also really love to see a Young Adult Birders Conference. An event designed for birders who are between 19 and 25. Design it so that it caters to all levels. Help out the beginners who want to come, but also offer the more technical, in depth things that the more hardcore birders will enjoy (I particularly liked Steve Howell’s presentation about Molt at the YBC ’08 in Minot).

    I think the most important thing with any camp is that the camp leaders need to be more skilled and knowledgeable than any of the attendees. I would also suggest having one or two “Camp counselor” type positions (which I know the ABA has something along these lines already) at their camps for older (over 18) YBs who want to help out and give back to what the ABA has given them. I hold this in substantial importance because these are the people who will (hopefully) be the biggest promoters of YBs and the future camp leaders, the future teachers of the next generation of YBs to come through the ABA camps.

    I guess in all of this, the best thing the ABA can do is to be able to offer something to YBs that is worth their time to check out and get involved in. Work on engaging YBs via social media like Facebook and offer things to get them out in the field and teach them about birds and birding. Whether that be sponsoring workshops, or YB clubs or whatever else or simply just being a presence that can help mentor YBs who want to become better at what they’re doing and give them opportunities to advance their skills and knowledge through camps, workshops, birding with other their own age and birding with the best birders the ABA can offer them.

    The value comes in knowing that there are other kids about your age who love to do what you do. Nobody likes to do something alone. Birding with others your own age is really the most fun thing I can think of doing. Seeing old friends and making new friends, working a network of people your own age. It’s a really comforting thought that you’re not the “only one” so to speak who is the “nerd” in your school.

    Something else too, is not just to promote birding with youth, but to promote the older YBs and encourage them to help out the younger generations. Kids will look up to a celebrity birder who is older, but the real value comes in someone closer to their age who is willing to help them out. That is the person who they will look up to and follow.
    Having gone through all the steps to get to where I am now and having been through the ABA’s programs and knowing how to do things, I have tried to be that someone to the YBs I know;
    the leader of the group and the one who encourages, engages and promotes. I have done it with moderate success. Especially in the Jocotoco Wanderings FB group. It really makes a difference when kids know that there’s someone they can go to and ask a question, any question, and get a good answer. Even if I can’t answer the question myself, I’ll find someone who can. Whether or not my method is the best one or not, it works for me and I do whatever I can to promote youth in birding. The more YBs we have, the better. They are the Sibleys, Kaufmans, O’Briens, Crossleys and Jeff Gordons of the future. That’s why we need them and why they need someone to look to for guidance and support.

    When someone you really look up to takes the time to help you do what you want to do, that is the best thing that could happen to anyone. I’d like to see the ABA be that someone who gives kids a little nudge out the door so to speak.

    At any rate, that’s my 5 cents worth.

    –Chris W

  • Hey Chris!

    Terrific, heartfelt comments. It was great having you as part of the World Series Tropicbirds team Liz and I chaperoned a few years back. It’s been even better watching birding continue to be a major theme in your life.

    Anyhow, we should talk. Your post helped me synthesize and clarify a number of ideas and notions that have been clanking around in my head for some time.

    Nice job, man.

  • Jeff,

    The ABA used to publish “A Bird’s Eye View” which was a monthly Young Birder newsletter similar to “Winging It.” It was dropped a few years back for unknown reasons.

    The Eyrie has replaced that to some extent, but perhaps having a publication that is entirely contributions by YBs would be something to consider again. People could buy it for budding YBs as a gift subscription or something (even separate from ABA membership) and say, kids 6-16 or 18 could contribute.

  • Frank Wong

    Jeff: Membership is philanthropy. Like Nature Conservancy or Sierra Club Foundation, I join, I support, I belong. Get new members? Beat the drum more loudly. At the recently concluded San Diego Bird Festival there were over 500 registrants and where was ABA? It would have cost ABA $200 to have a table. Wouldn’t that have been money well spent? I miss the conventions and conferences a lot. Please bring them back. I also miss the Institute for Field Ornithology. Regardless of what you do eventually, ABA has my contribution and my Century Club. I like birding that much and I think ABA does a lot for birding.

  • Margaret Bowman

    I don’t think I’d ever get tired of birding in Minot, ND. I’ve been there twice on my own. How I’d love to share the experience with other like-minded folks.

  • Geoff Rogers

    On this point, I think putting past issues of Birding on the internet, via Searchable Ornithological Resource Archive or something like it would not only satisfy members like Alan and me but also advertise to potential members the huge range of topics the ABA covers and how we bridge the gap (pretty well, I think) between “drier” scientific material and popular topics.

    Has anyone looked into this or something similar?

  • Paul Hurtado

    I hope you and Chris W kept talking since March — those are some excellent suggestions!

    If I could add one suggestions: the ABA needs to look hard at how to creatively use technology to bring together birder of all ages and levels. Imagine the ABA was handed piles of money next week to contract software developers — what should they do? What iPhone & android apps should they create? What Facebook apps would birders want? Social networks exist (i.e. facebook), so how can the ABA help birders seek out other ABA members or just other birders in their area? What would help a tech savvy kid who wants to go birding find a local birder willing to take them out for a day, or to chase a local rarity? Smartphones have GPS capability — would birders in the field like to broadcast their location publicly to other birders?

    Even if the ABA doesn’t get involved directly with creating such services, they can probably come up with ways to grease the wheels a little.

    Thanks for taking the time to read all these comments,
    Paul Hurtado
    Columbus, OH

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