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The Rise of Young Birder Clubs

Much has been written of late about the decline of “joiners.” The problem is especially acute, it is said, with young people.

To be sure, many commentators have remarked on the near absence of today’s young people from bird clubs, state ornithological societies, and bird conservation organizations.

13-1-12-05 [teens at conference]Is that true? Is it really the case that young birders aren’t “joiners”? Chad Williams’  article in the Jan./Feb. 2013 Birding (“Birding Beyond Your Binoculars: The Story of a Young Birders Club,” pp. 48–53) suggests otherwise. In his article, Williams describes the recent successes of the Indiana Young Birders Club (IYBC), an organization of young birders, by young birders, and for young birders. The IYBC is not alone. The Iowa and Ohio young birder clubs, to name two others, are importantly mentored by ABA Board members Carl Bendorf and Kenn Kaufman, respectively.
Left/front to right/rear: Teen birders Robert Reynard, Kathleen Seeley, Lukas Padegimas, and Rachael Butek unwind at the Ohio Young Birders Conference–2011. Photo by Chad Williams.

Needless to say, young birder clubs present to teen birders a splendid mix of opportunity, education, affirmation, and wonder.

Young birder clubs also challenge the broader birding community. How do organizations for “grownups”—including, if we’re honest about it, the ABA—interact with and nurture young birder clubs? Perhaps just as important, under what circumstances are we to back off, and let young  birders do their own thing?

13-1-12-07 [community project]And what of the question of legacy? How should adult birders transmit knowledge and wisdom about such matters as fieldcraft, bird conservation, and the birding culture? Or is that the wrong approach altogether? Should adult birders instead open themselves up to insights, and even paradigm shifts, from today’s young birders?

Left to right: Alexis Walden, Kasey Lasley, Cassidy Branagan, Victoria Byrne, and (front) Libby Hignite have just completed a bird conservation project at the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary in Connersville, Indiana. Photo by Chad Williams. 

Let’s address these questions honestly. One thing’s for sure: We’re all friends, and, ultimately, we’re all in this thing together.

A request, regarding a potentially touchy matter: As you weigh in on these questions, would you be so kind as to say how old you are, at least vaguely so (“I’m in high school,” “I’m in the 18–44-year old demographic,” “I’m so old that I’ve forgotten more than you know,” etc.)? Oh, and if your answer to that question is “I’m in high school,” then we really want to hear from you!


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  • Kenn Kaufman

    I’m an Ohio birder in the 12-to-95-year-old demographic; and just because I always enjoy debating things with Ted Floyd, I’m going to gently challenge the idea that young birder clubs present a challenge or a touchy subject for adult birders.

    My viewpoint is based mostly on experiences here in Ohio, where my wife Kimberly Kaufman was the primary founder of the Ohio Young Birders Club (OYBC) almost 7 years ago. Kim and the other adults involved made a key decision right at the start: rather than trying to design a club for teens, they were going to let the teens design it. Everything about the OYBC – the name of the club, the age range, the activities, the dues, everything – was decided by the kids. A rotating advisory panel of six of the most active young birders continues to make every important decision. Adults are there to facilitate, not to dictate. On the field trips, adult experts are around, but the older teens act as the primary field trip leaders. At the wildly successful annual conferences, ALL the presentations are given by people under the age of 20. There are plenty of adults in the room, but we’re in the audience, being educated and inspired.

    Sure, the education staff at Black Swamp Bird Observatory does a lot of work behind the scenes, a lot of advising and coaching. It might be easier and less time-consuming to just bring in adult speakers. But I guarantee that the results wouldn’t be as knock-your-socks-off amazingly inspirational. Every year, watching these phenomenal presentations by OYBC members, I feel renewed hope for the future. Do these young birders challenge the adult birding community? Only in the most positive and affirming way.

    By the way, congratulations and thanks to Chad Williams for writing a great article, and to Ted Floyd and the rest of the Birding Magazine staff for publishing it! The ABA’s support for young birders is very much appreciated!

  • Ted Floyd

    I’m a Colorado birder at one extreme of the 18-to-44-year-old demographic; and just because I always enjoy debating things with Kenn Kaufman, I hereby conjecture that Kenn and I are employing different definitions, or at least shades of meaning, of the word “challenge.”

    I looked up “challenge” online (here:, and I’m going with this definition:

      chal·lenge (chal’enj), n. 4. A test of one’s abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating undertaking.

    The word on the street is that Kenn and Kimberly have applied their amazing abilities and resources in the demanding but stimulating undertaking of inspiring today’s young birders to lead us all toward a brighter birding future.

    Kenn and I have a terrible record of trying to read each other’s minds (read old posts on Frontiers of Bird ID…), so it is with some amount of trepidation that I venture that Kenn is coming down mainly on the side of my Option #2. That is to say:

      “Perhaps just as important, under what circumstances are we to back off, and let young birders do their own thing?”


      “Should adult birders instead open themselves up to insights, and even paradigm shifts, from today’s young birders?”

    From my admittedly distant vantage point, the answer provided by the admirable successes of the Ohio Young Birders Club would seem to be resoundingly in the affirmative.

  • JB

    I don’t have the time to write as thoroughly as I’d like, including comments on urban birding youth, but here’s a quick note: The “fear” that less young folks are not getting into birding is actually not a legitimate fear at all. They ARE. Time and ways are changing. That’s what’s different. More young birders are taking advantage of the higher number of social opportunities for young birders – such as clubs (like OYBC) and ABA young birder camps. There are young birders ALLLLLL over Facebook. If clubs like Kirtland Bird Club in Cleveland, Ohio, for instance and others are seeing a drop in young birder attendance, it doesn’t mean that there’s fewer young birders or that youth are not interested in birds or birding – it’s far more likely that it means that the KBC needs BETTER programming with stronger and more fun opportunities. (Just one example). There’s always wax and wane of interested youth turning up in larger numbers in certain regions, too. Sometimes, Toledo, Ohio may see a boom in young birders popping or the next couple of years, Columbus, Ohio may see a boom. The question is not “oh my god, kids are not flocking to birding events, we need more young birders, is birding safe!?” Its: “where are they, what are they interested in NOW, WHICH social media outlets can we best reach them at, what are the best programs/field trips to offer them, and how can we get kids OUT in general to look at nature.” BIRDING will alllwwaaaays be HUGE. It will never go away. Never fear that. The focus should be NATURE. Get as many youth outside as possible. If they don’t end up specializing in birding maybe they specialize in salamanders. Awesome. If they don’t specialize in salamanders maybe they specialize in sea turtles. Or plants, or lichens, or conservation as a whole.

  • I am a South Carolina birder who remained the “whippersnapper” of our scene for a couple of decades. That kind of tells you how few young birders we have.

    Regarding the question:
    “How should adult birders transmit knowledge and wisdom about such matters as fieldcraft, bird conservation, and the birding culture? Or is that the wrong approach altogether? Should adult birders instead open themselves up to insights, and even paradigm shifts, from today’s young birders?”

    — I do not think those two notions are mutually exclusive. Knowledge transfer should be a 2-way street.

    * However, regarding certain things like fieldcraft and birding ethics – I think older birders have more to teach youngsters simply because older ones have more experience. But this is not to say they should discount input and knowledge from young birders. They can surprise you with their insights and independent discoveries.

    Now if only some parents with pre-college birders would just move to South Carolina!

  • First, thanks to Ted for starting this conversation. Second, thanks to Kimberly and Kenn and all the other folks (and its a long list) who have been pushing, pulling and just plain working hard to encourage young birders.

    When we started Iowa Young Birders last year, we initially targeted 12-18 year olds which is an age range adopted by a lot of the young birder groups. At its second meeting, my board of directors encouraged consideration of reaching a younger audience. This was reinforced when our first field trip attracted seven young birders ALL of whom were age 12 or under! Since then, on six additional field trips around the state, MOST of the participants have been on the younger range (we changed our bylaws from 12-18 to ages 8-18 quite quickly.) So, to JB’s point above about the need to go where the young birders are, at least at the current time, our “market” here in Iowa is a younger crowd.

    So we don’t seem to have a cadre of teen birders who could assume the leadership and design of their own young birder program as has happened in Ohio. At least we don’t have them yet. Hopefully, we’ll be “growing” just such as group as our current participants develop and as Iowa Young Birders gets beyond its first couple of years.

    At this point, I feel like we (Iowa Young Birders) are primarily reaching out to the PARENTS and not so much directly to the young birders. I think that will evolve over time but we are working hard to figure out the best ways to reach our audiences. Right now, we are focusing on our Facebook and web presence as well as a regular email newsletter sent to 900 (nearly all of whom are adults and not themselves young birders.)

    Regarding the question about how to transmit knowledge and wisdom, we received a grant from the Iowa Resource Enhancement And Protection (REAP) Conservation Education program ( ) to use participant surveys on our 2013 field trips to assess and test whether the field trips are effective in raising conservation awareness and also whether we are successfully tying into the Iowa K-12 core curriculum standards for science inquiry. Our goal is to be testing and refining a field trip model that we can potentially share with other organizations. We will be consulting with leadership at the ABA, the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union and Iowa Audubon on the development of this field trip model.

    Regarding Ted’s question, “How do organizations for “grownups”—including, if we’re honest about it, the ABA—interact with and nurture young birder clubs?”, we are trying a few things. First, we received a grant from the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union to purchase optics for sharing on field trips. Besides enhancing young birder field experiences, this has given us the opportunity to talk about the IOU to our young birders AND communicate with the IOU membership (via newsletter articles, etc.) about Iowa Young Birders. Second, at the upcoming spring meeting of the IOU in Cedar Falls, we are going to offer a dedicated young birder field trip alongside the traditional annual meeting field trips (which rarely seem to attract young birders.) We’ll be encouraging the young birder field trip participants to stay for at least part of the afternoon presentations or even to register for the whole weekend.

    Overall, we have a lot to learn and I hope this will turn into a lively conversation.

  • I’m 30, been birding since I was 12 or so. I’m (usually) living in California, where there has never been any sort of organization for young birders. My comments reflect opinions of birders in their 20’s more than those in their teens, but here goes.

    I would say, generally, that yes, younger birders are not joiners of much beyond facebook groups, although I was very active in my local Audubon chapter up until I was 18 or so (but thats more the exception than the rule). Some birders I know in this demographic don’t even feel comfortable reporting birds to email lists or RBAs, or at least don’t think its important. Many seem fascinated by eBird though.

    Why are we not joiners? Let me break it down.

    1)We don’t have much money, and so we are cheap (one reason I havent renewed my ABA membership in many years).

    2)Most bird groups don’t seem very focused on young people, and young birders don’t really feel like people two (or even three) times their age are their peers.

    3) I hate to point out the obvious, but birding is really nerdy. Awesome, yes…but also nerdy. Although some are in denial about that, many younger birders are very aware of this, which could affect their motivation to attach themselves to an organization of ubernerds.

    4) As someone else mentioned, times are changing. I don’t think many young birders think its unusual at all to not belong to any bird groups, since for people that age, nonmembership seems like the norm.

    That all said, I am under the impression that birding is slowly but surely on the rise among younger folk…I have converted a few people myself. All is not lost! No need for paranoia.

  • Maria

    I’m another 30-year-old birder and can really relate to what “Seagullsteve” said with my experiences of being a birder in their 20s.

    With his mention of a lack of money, I also wonder if some of the kids just do not have access to birding groups. They have to rely on parents for transportation, and not all families have reliable transportation or parents are working during times when there are birding trips. When people reach their 20s they are often just starting out living on their own or in a relationship and working 40-60 hours a week and don’t have time.

    I agree with him that most bird groups don’t seem very focused on young people. I have had the added experiences of passive-aggressive or subconscious behaviors from long-standing and very old members that had the attitude that I, a younger person, was interfering with the group by offering my ideas. There were assumptions that I must have very little birding knowledge/skill based entirely on my age. I’ve also experienced a group that was so consumed by wanting to get a certain very young age group interested in birding that I was told I was “not young enough” and that since I was the youngest, it was my duty to go figure out the way to get kids interested. I found this extremely demeaning.

    These might not be issues in all birding groups or chapters, but they do exist in some of them, and if they drive out a 20-something-year-old birder like they did me, I can only imagine why younger birders would hold their distance. So, I am glad the issue of whether adult birders should open up to the insights of younger birders was mentioned in the article.

  • I’m 27 and teach highschoolers. Recently, another teacher revealed to the students in my department that I’m a birder (not that I ever hide it), and the kids have been mercilessly asking me about it ever since. I think it’s more taboo to them than drugs.

    I don’t think adults should worry too much about guiding teen birders. The one exception I can think of is mentioning the importance of not disturbing nest sites and other sensitive aspects of birdlife maybe not all new birders know about. That they’re having fun and connecting with other young birders, which I think is actually fairly difficult for young birders to do, is what’s important.

  • I am Alex Forsythe. I am 13 and I am a teen advisor for the IYBC.

    I have learned so much from adult birders that I never could have learned any other way! Yes, adult birders teach us about birding and conservation, but it is so much more than that. They have a genuine love of birds and nature, and that love is infectious! They provide a sense of a multi-generational family that is incredibly supportive of young birders. That support and encouragement is so important. It gives us a sense of belonging, and it makes us want to continue. The new technologies, social networks and apps are wonderful, but they cannot replace or compare to the time spent with someone who wants to share their lifetime of wisdom with you.

  • Carl Wilms

    Children need a place to be themselves.

    In the United States today, we see too many day-to-day activities being dissected into compartments of achievement, regiments of academic excellence, organized competitions, and avenues of accomplishment, that are designed to thrust our children into futures that seem to foster fear and uncertainty for the adults that supervise the raising of our children. It seems that the days of independently wandering, and exploring, the world around a young child are lost for many of today’s youth.

    I have seen Chad Williams working with the children in in IYBC and have been impressed with his drive to make the organization an institution of its members. He provides an adult balance to the sometimes-whimsical pursuits of the membership. However, that is exactly what a mentor provides. He has voiced difficulty in exercising the restraint needed to refrain from imposing his desires upon the children in the group. But that restraint is what empowers the children to move forward. The young birders know that they are respected, and responsible, for the direction the organization takes. These elements of agency are essential components of personal identity and rise above perceptions of self worth brought about by test scores and soccer team success (not to suggest that the later elements are unimportant).

    My hat tips to those that support the young birders clubs around the world. I thank you for holding an open door for our youth to expand their experiences and wonder in the joys of nature.

  • This is such a great question about how we (adults) interact with our youth. As a 45ish woman who enjoys birding and organizes birding festivals, I’ve come to learn that our youth DO enjoy nature, birds, and the outdoors.

    As I see it, adults have the capacity to build the infrastructure to support our children’s curiosity. How many times have adults heard the story of “if you build it…they will come”? Yes, we can individually start Young Birders’ Clubs – but, is that enough?

    I say NO…it’s not.

    The successful organizations are building the foundations for the clubs. They offer the youth the ability to “build the house” and allow them to decide what they are interested in doing/learning. I believe that every adult has the ability to start a birding club, but without the youth voice, I highly doubt that it will be successful.

    Ultimately, adults need to think back to our “younger days”. As children, we wanted to be “heard”, we wanted to “connect” with someone, and ultimately, we wanted to feel “important”. Isn’t this what the IYBC, Ohio and Iowa Young Birders Clubs do? I’ll bet you…they DO! They are valuing their members and seeing their numbers increase because of what they are doing by listening to their youth. A great example is noted above. Alex Forsythe eloquently writes about her experiences with adults. If nothing else, adults can be the spark…the inspiration…for youth to enjoy and learn about birds.

    I’ve seen first-hand how Chad Williams and the IYBC Committee work with our youth. Everyone who is involved truly cares about nurturing the youth’s hobby and helping all of them grow. At every meeting Chad focuses on letting the committee members speak and have a voice. This is why they are successful in what they do!

    I can’t thank everyone enough – those who work with our Young Birders – for what you do. Ultimately – it’s about your connections to our young birders – your positive influence – and the way that you let them know that they have a voice… and that WE care.

  • Adrian Hinkle

    I’m in high school. My mom introduced my twin and I to birding when we were very young. We’ve learned a lot about birding by going out together and teaching ourselves and each other new things, but of course we learn a lot from adult birding peers, too. I don’t personally know any teenage birders, but I do know of others in my home state of Oregon and it would be fun to meet them. It is unfortunate that Oregon Birding Association doesn’t host a young birder’s club or some other branch of the organization dedicated to young birders. I would very much like there to be something like that.

  • Rachael Butek

    I’m in the age braket where some people think I’m too old to be a young birder, and some people think I should have a job, and I disagree with both. 😛

    In my experience pretty much all the birders I’ve ever met in person have been extremely supportive and delighted to meet a young(er) birder. On the other hand, the few organizations (the ABA excluded) generally seem rather unecxited. I wouldn’t say any of them were outright rude or anything, but I have felt a need to chisel out a place for myself, or remain on the sidelines where nobody will notice me. On the other hand, Facebook has been a great place for getting to know other YBs, and I feel much more support and warmth from the birding community.

    As to how to reach YBs – I think there are two very important factors. One is reaching the kids, the other is reaching the parents. My Mom once told me that anytime someone is nice to her daughter (ie me) she is immediately endeared to that person, that is to say, be nice to my kid and I’ll be nice to you! And if the parents aren’t on board, you are not going to get anywhere (especially with those ones that don’t have a drivers licence yet). And of course don’t forget, the kids don’t want to feel like they don’t belong, or aren’t good enough. Take time to help them find new birds, even when they’re “common”, and gently explain why their ID is incorrect. Better yet, be prepared to be blown away by their knowledge, because a lot of us know more than you expect.

  • I’m currently an undergraduate student (same age bracket as Kenn), and have been birding since elementary school. So I’ve been /still am a young birder and am beginning to gain a bit of no-longer-“young”-birder perspective on the whole topic – and what a topic. First, I want to fervently agree with Amy Wilms – great points!

    I think by far the most important thing for a prospective young birders’ club is its commitment to never underestimate its members – and fortunately, this understanding is almost invariably concomitant with the desire to start a YBC in the first place. Kids have great ideas, and their ignorance, if supported in the right ways, can become an asset, rather than a liability – especially when it accompanies a massive amount of knowledge, as it so often does.

    It’s an unfortunate truth, in many cases, that young birders are often isolated – it’s simply an uncommon interest at a young age (not that it has to be, and in many places, the fantastic work of people like Chad and Kim are altering that). But this makes bright kids with unique and exceptional knowledge (which tends to be FAR from appreciated by their peers) relatively sensitive to underestimation by adults, and perhaps over-motivated to “prove” themselves. In a young birders’ club, it needs to be overtly apparent that that isn’t necessary – it hinders the learning process for kids, and can make teaching them more of a chore for the mentors!!

    On the other hand, adults are incredibly important for these kids, and not just for sitting back and refraining from underestimating! Kids need to appreciate and seek out the help and invaluable teaching of their elders, and respect the efforts and experience of those who reach out. A successful young birders’ club facilitates this two-way street – and, as in most things, the underpinnings are mutual respect.

    For many adults, it’s a challenge to fully offer a young kid your attention and willingness to learn – to really see eye to eye and convince them (in certain contexts) that you see them as peers – but this is critical. Likewise, it’s often hard for kids to relinquish their unique, perhaps exceptional, and perhaps under-appreciated (by peers, at least) knowledge so that they can learn; it can be a challenge to understand that the mentors ARE more experienced (EVEN when a second grader has more free time and empty brain-space to cram in Sibley plates verbatim!) – life isn’t all about field marks! (…life MAY come to be all about conservation, but conservation isn’t all about birds, either…and that’s another topic).

    I remember a day at Point Pelee, when I was about 8, before I had engaged with birding mentors (during my pridefully independent Sibley-cramming years). I was on the sandy point stealing scope views through the glass of generous adults who were excited to see a young, interested kid. A small group of slender, fast waterbirds flew low over the water, flashing dark and light, and I just knew they were loons. The man with the scope pointed out a group of passing Red-breasted Mergansers, and wondered if maybe that’s what I had meant. Of course not. I knew what loons and mergansers looked like! Needless to say, logic won out hours later, and I knew I had been a stubborn, unteachable little bugger.

    As Amy said, adults need to provide the infrastructure and resources for kids to pursue their own curiosity, so that kids can benefit from their ignorance in the form of wild ideas being supported. They need to be patient, with an understanding of where young birders are often coming from (that frequent underestimation by adults and under-appreciation by peers). Likewise, kids need to recognize and appreciate the experience and passionate generosity of their adult mentors, and be willing to learn. Lastly, to answer one of Ted’s questions more specifically: I don’t believe there is a dichotomy of approaches here, where YBCs should choose between passing on wisdom of fieldcraft and conservation or letting young birders catalyze a paradigm shift. Both are completely essential and mutually dependent.

  • As a young birder, I first would like to thank the American Birding Association for continually supporting young birders. Through articles in Birding, the ABA-sponsored World Series of Birding and Great Texas Birding Classic teams, and the Young Birder of the Year competition, the ABA has done incredible work to promote the cause of birding among a generation otherwise occupied by video games, computers, and a range of other indoor activities.

    One of the biggest issues I have faced as a result of my age is disrespect from adults in the birding community. Several times when I reported unusual sightings, I promptly received an email stating that I had misidentified something common and that my identification skills will improve “as I gain more experience.” While I undoubtedly will learn more as I continue to bird, I have been seriously birding for over 10 years, and I have learned a lot during that time. I wonder if an adult who had been a birder for 10 years would receive similar criticism had they posted a similar report.

    I have even had people question my authority as a bird walk leader because of my age. About two years ago, I was leading a walk for a local group when one participant actually said, “I was expecting a knowledgeable leader” after I introduced myself. I can only hope that the information and birds I shared that day made this person regret saying that.

    I am not the only one who has faced issues like this. It happens frequently to a number of enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and experienced young birders. I encourage every birder to spend some time with young people interested in birds. Share with us what you know, what you have learned, and the things you have experienced. We will do the same.

  • As a junior in high school who has been birding for almost 11 years, adult mentoring has had a huge influence on my life. Living in a state (Colorado) that did not have a single young birder-type “club” until very recently, my exposure to other teen/pre-teen young birders beyond my brother was extremely limited until I was old enough to start attending YB camps. That being said, the vast majority of adult birders we’ve met have been extremely supportive of us, and willing to teach and include us in many of their activities. As we have gotten older and more experienced, we have been given increasingly difficult and “important” things to do, whether editing a column in the state’s ornithological journal, engaging in both paid and unpaid field work (bird surveys, bird banding), leading bird walks, or helping to found an Audubon-sponsored teen naturalist group who’s primary focus is to provide opportunities to engage in real world field work.

    Young birder clubs are a great way to spark interest in birds and create a positive social outlet for youth. However, there is definitely a place for the proven, old-style mentoring model where adults teach, take an interest in, learn from, and challenge younger naturalists on a more individual basis. If a kid has the drive and the passion, they will generally find a niche wherever they are, YB club or not. My flexible homeschooling schedule, supportive parents, freedom to explore, a sibling with the same shared interest, and a very supportive birding community (complete with a whole array of amazing mentors) are all factors that have been instrumental in my development as a birder/naturalist.

    Unlike some young birders who have spoken out, my brother and I feel supported and respected by both our local and national birding organizations. These organizations and their members have given us an outlet to publish, to gain experience in both leading field trips and engaging in field work, and yes, they give us an opportunity to make mistakes; they also have generously provided financial assistance so we could attend camps and meet other bird-obsessed individuals. Thanks in part to the youth memberships offered by the ABA, Colorado Field Ornithologists, Western Field Ornithologists, Boulder County Audubon, etc., my brother and I are “joiners.”

    If you represent an organization trying to attract young people, make sure you have an affordable youth membership and the ability for siblings to share it. Don’t hesitate to give your youth members a job or two and seek their opinions. Most importantly, regardless of how you reach out to young people, the overarching goal should be to prepare “young birders” to make real contributions to the avian world and be a part of the next generation of mentors. To all of you near and far who have spent the time and effort to invest in us, thank you.

  • Ted Floyd

    Ted Floyd here again; I’m the Colorado birder at one extreme of the 18-to-44-year-old demographic.

    Fantastic comments by Marcel Such, whose experiences with the Colorado birding community closely parallel mine with the western Pennsylvania birding community, back when I was a young whippersnapper in the 1980s. Life-shaping influences for me were the great interactions I had with adult birders and ornithologists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the University of Pittsburgh, and especially the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

    Two things, first a quibble with something Marcel said, and, second, a great financial opportunity for young birders:

    1. Marcel modestly alludes to his work “editing a column in the state’s ornithological journal.” In fact, he and his brother, Joel Such, compile and write quarterly summaries of avian status and distribution for the entire state of Colorado. Joel and Marcel’s work is as solid, as credible, and as literate as anything I’ve seen in the regional ornithological literature.

    2. Marcel wraps up by talking about the importance of providing financial support and “a job or two.” On that note, I’m happy to report that Western Field Ornithologists (WFO) is offering major financial support (a $1,950 value) to a young birder, ages 16-21, to participate in an 8-day birding and ornithological research trip in northeastern California. The expedition will be led by such luminaries as Jon Dunn. The only thing not covered is the cost of getting to California; fortunately, many state ornithological societies provide financial support for young birders to travel to such events. And WFO kicks in with everything else. Get details here:

    Go for it, young birders!

  • Many, many good points raised here so far – thus far I’ve fallen into the 12-28 year age range of birding and the biggest issue was time, money transportation, and overprotective parents. Even with a plethora of local-enough adult birders who were pleasant in the field, very few offered to pick up/drop off or meet-at-said-location for a day of birding… my mom was occasionally happy to tag along, but an adopted birder that the parents trusted was the best remedy to getting out more. Networking with other birders – for CBCs or general birding – seemed most important to help ‘get out’ for actual birding. The internet was fairly helpful, when Audubon meetings were an hour away on a school night, and membership was annoying (join as a student once, get the fliers for the rest of your life…)

    “Student” memberships are awesome. But even then, some of us are in worse financial shape after college than before, so we forgo *all* memberships, just to be fair. As for age and being taken seriously, I’ve been birding for nearly 15 years and still get snide remaks about age on occasion, but usually from old people who are new birders. It’s the challenging of authority, I suppose. I’m not an authority but I’m happy to explain a range map on a mistaken case of ID.

    Unrelated: if Eagle Optics (or any optics company, for that matter) had any sort of discount on optics for starving young folks, the world would be an amazing place. Crappy bins abound at all levels of age and skill, but decent, affordable bins for young folks – or folks with IPD of <55mm - are too few and far between!

  • Billy Kaselow

    As a Junior in high school I can relate to points brought up by Andy, Marcel and Corey. It is not uncommon for a young birder to feel that they need to hide their interest in birds as they are in such an isolated, specific field. When I began birding I didn’t tell a single person from my town, only a few of my closest friends. This past summer however I was fortunate enough to attend the Cornell YB Event and a YB camp in the cascades(with VENT who provide excellent scholarship opportunity). My life has changed drastically in the past year as the Cornell event opened a world of opportunity, I am now going to be able to contribute to the scientific community and that is thrilling. As Marcel said, many young birders would love to get involved with research as for the most part, our passion is not built on listing. Also through the Cornell event as well as Camp Cascades I was able to meet other young birders and have become very close to some of them. Prior to this past summer I had not met a single young birder. This is what makes YB events, camps and clubs so important. Without them we have no way of meeting each other. This is the main problem that young birders face, we cannot relate to or converse with an adult mentor the way we can with someone of a similar age with the same passion. YB events, clubs and camps help to build a young birders confidence immensely as we’re shown that there are indeed other kids out there with similar interests who are flat out awesome and aren’t weird social outcasts, which some may come to expect having never met another young birder.

    To add on to Corey’s points on lack of respect and from adults, there is a certain fear of losing credibility that goes along with this. If a person’s competence is constantly being doubted then they will in many cases withdraw from the birding community. A reputation is a part of birding that is extremely delicate and plays a major role in how you are viewed as a birder. I have never had a case as extreme as Corey’s when leading a trip but every young birder gets their share of criticism whether its from a field trip participant or just someone who was around. It can become extremely discouraging and can instill a strong sense of insecurity and self-doubt when it comes to making a tough ID. Though with that being said, adult mentors are essential to a young birder’s growth. I have been defended and vouched for by mentors and they are the first people young birders go to when seeking knowledge or advice. Guided field trips offer a wealth of knowledge and experience as leaders are for the most part very approachable and offer great sums of knowledge. I met the majority of those that I consider mentors on field trips. A common theme among young birders and I think birders as a whole is that we all love to learn new things about what we love. That is where mentors become the most important, but we (young birders) as students have a lot to offer as well in terms of knowledge and innovation. I have met many incredibly talented young birders as well as some very bitter adult birders. Age differences aside, interests among all birders and naturalists alike can be boiled down to a love and appreciation of nature which in turn leads to becoming aware of the apparent need for conservation. This is essentially the goal, to conserve what is left of the natural world so that the earth and all of it’s wildlife may flourish as well as allowing future generations to enjoy it as we do.

  • Chloe

    My name is Chloe Walker. I’m a thirteen year old, homeschooled birder (been birding since I was 9) and part of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS). Since I’m homeschooled, the only significant interaction I get with other people is with the TOS members. Sadly, there are only a few young birders here in Tennessee, and those that are live in different parts of the state. Does someone have information on how to start a young birders club or where to find information?

  • Chloe, check out Cornell’s newly-launched Young Birders’ Network:
    It hosts tons of information and resources for exactly that, including a kit for starting a young birders’ club. It will also be taking on more feature articles and media, from/for young birders’ around the world. It’s definitely worth exploring if you’re interested, and checking back every once in a while as it grows.

  • Chloe, definitely take a look at the link Andy posted–that is an excellent reference. If you are on Facebook, there is a Facebook group for young birders called Jocotoco Wanderings. This is an excellent resource for communicating with other young birders from around the world. Many people in that group should be able to help you out and share ideas.

  • Chad Williams

    First, I would like to say thank you to the ABA for allowing me to write this article and additionally Ted Floyd for not only allowing it but also for editing it in a such as way that it appears that I have been writing for years!

    I am 37 years old.

    I had been aching to write about my experiences of starting a young birders club for some time up until this amazing opportunity. And, during my time of waiting have watched many new clubs sprout up and others grow right before my very eyes! It seems to have caught on like a wildfire and I can only hope it sticks.

    I personally believe that we as adult birders have an obligation to support our youth. As with any interest – birds, mammals, etc. it is a moral responsibility to give back. Now, how an adult supports a young birder is up to them. To some it may be money, to others it may be to mentor. For me, I chose to endorse a young birders club. I’ve learned that I need adults who are willing to provide money and also those that are willing to provide support, talent, and time. A little from a lot is what makes it all work.

    When we first started the club, we adults dictated everything. We didn’t ask much of the kids and decided what we thought they would enjoy. Unfortunately, this didn’t work and wasn’t making the club very exciting. So, we stole the idea from OYBC to add some youth advisers! This alone has been huge for us and we have been growing at a steady pace ever since. This year, our advisers planned almost our entire year. Like Kenn, it has been so much fun learning from these kids; there isn’t an event or program yet that they have not taught me something new. We have some amazing kids in the IYBC!

    In relation to Andy’s point, as adults we have to listen and be very careful not to discourage. We can’t set a standard expectation for every child. Each child learns differently and will require a very patient approach. For example, if a young birder mid-identifies a bird, don’t embarrass or scorn them for being wrong, instead, talk to them about what was right in their identification and then explain how to better identify the bird going forward. And, if a child wants to stop and look at a turtle then let him/her look at the turtle!

    And to Carl B., who is the audience of you 900 newsletters? How did you determine who gets them? I agree Carl that parents are indeed a huge component of the overall success with our initiative. In most cases, if you can’t somehow grab the parent, you will have little to no success with the child. We have some great parents, no doubt, but we simply don’t see many of our members as often as I would like because the most of the parents can’t get them to our events. And to Rachael’s point, if you can win the parents, the sky is the limit! But, you have to get to the parents!

    Overall, I believe most adults want to support our youth, especially within the hobby they love. There are a ton of great adults that would and are bending over backwards to support this movement. And to these folks – YOU ARE THE BEST! And to the others, that one in the bunch that serves as a better Grinch then a responsible birder – you inspire me to do more and to do better! I am hopeful that someday I can look down the boardwalk of Magee Marsh and see a young/adult birder ratio of 1:1.

  • Chris Rurik

    24 years old, Denver-based. I want to reiterate Andy’s point: Intergenerational engagement is a two-way street, requiring the both sides to relinquish the know-it-all stance. The older folks, with years of experience, have so many skills (both birding- and people-wise) to pass along. The young guns bring creativity and the future. Only if both remain humble, willing to learn from the other, will the potentially incredible fusion happen, the multiplier effect.

    That said, I don’t think that the biggest problem here is the interaction between generations. On bird walks in several states, older birders have been gracious, helpful and excited to interact with an uncommon (pardon the distribution pun) millennial like me. No, the big problem is a lack of others my age out in the field.

    So I’d rather be asking a question tangential to the original topic. How does one recruit young birders/conservationists? Practically. Where do you look for young birders? How do you turn them on to the avian spectacle around them? This conversation has centered on young folks already interested in birds/nature. But I think we need to be talking about how to reach those not yet interested. And the onus is as much (or more) on me than on the older generations.

  • Chad, our current e-newsletter mailing list is comprised of a mixed bag of email addresses from my personal contact list, various local birder emails I’ve collected basically one at a time, county conservation offices (there are 99 counties in Iowa), sign-ups from our website, and so on. But, nearly all of these are people over 18. We definitely are looking for ways to connect more directly with young birders and also get them engaged in designing their own programming and field trips.

  • I’m a seventeen-year-old who has never been that concerned about what people think about me and always loved wildlife. So, when my pastor introduced me to birding, I definitely hooked. I’ve only ever met one other young birder (my first mentor’s grandddaughter), and though I sometimes wish I had a birding pal my age, I definitely enjoy birding with those older and more experienced with me. I draw on others’ knowledge wherever I come in contact with them, no matter age (minus my annoying younger brother:P).

    My list is pathetically small. With almost six years of birding, I only have 229 species (no heard-onlys), but I know most of them like the back of my hand. While listing does have bit of an appeal, I’m way more interested in conservation and research. That’s why I’m so big into the Texas Brigades (and we would LOVE to see out-of-state young birders come this year! We had Quail and Pheasant Forever kids from North Dakota, Kansas, and Michigan last summer, so y’all that ain’t from Texas are definitely welcome!) For the past two years, I’ve been doing my own little research projects on bobwhites, and have enjoyed that immensely.

    I always feel a little inferior to other young birders because I’m not leading tours (even locally), writing for this or that, and etc. But, my mom reminds me that I give presentations about quail and waterfowl regularly, and have been published in Texas Parks & Wildlife (at fifteen). Still, it would be nice to lead groups…

    And Andy, I crammed Sibley’s for about two years when I first started birding…could quote out of it too! But, it has paid off: now, I’m able to ID birds at first sight…which is rather boosting to self-confidence, if nothing else. 🙂

    So, no, never really birded with other young birders, and never been a member of a young birder’s club (though I would be in heartbeat if there was one nearby).

  • I’m beyond High School but not yet eligible to reside in a retirement community (not that I necessarily want to…)! As the Program Director for “PA Young Birders” (PAYB) club in the Philadelphia metro area, I greatly appreciate the variety of ideas and comments in this topic thread.

    PA Young Birders was founded in 2009 by large inspiration from Kim Kaufman and Ohio Young Birders Club. PAYB initially aspired to coalesce the many talented youth birders in the Philly area under one club that would be by/about/for/of these young people. In fact, PAYB’s biggest growth has been achieved through partnering with other like-minded organizations and entities, to provide program development, birding information, educational instruction and field trips to kids of all backgrounds and abilities. Adults are responsible for all organizing, funding, marketing and promoting.

    PA Young Birders considers itself a strong youth birding organization, even though the club is not run by kids. We are filling a niche of providing programs, trips and services to other organizations that are eager to expose their youth audiences to birding and nature. Many programs and trips are “one-off,” and we never see the same child again. For a few annual events, kids return as they grow.

    Many people believe that there are more active young birders than ever before in the U.S., and this might be true. Technology and information-flow facilitates birding in unprecedented fashion.

    However, the fastest-growing demographic of young people – those from minority backgrounds, living in urban communities – are less exposed to natural experiences than ever before. These kids are not leaders in local youth clubs; rather, they have never thought about birds beyond pigeons pooping on their cars. This poses a worrisome challenge to the future of birding. People do not embrace what they do not understand, and they do not understand what they have never experienced.

    I believe it is important to embrace a broad view of “young birders” and action accordingly. I advocate nurturing and sustaining all kinds of young birder clubs – those that are led by young birders, and those that help connect kids to birds, even if only for a few hours during a community festival or school program. The future is in the hands of young, urban children… let’s teach them well, to foster stewardship of habitat and the wildlife upon which it depends!

  • Brooke

    I wouldn’t underestimate the reachability of urban youth.

    I grew up near Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, and while most of my early bird memories involve Brewer’s blackbirds, pigeons, starlings, turkey vultures, house sparrows, and American robins, seeing something different really stood out to me. I remember seeing a crow on my street when I was about 9, and trying to turn it into a raven. I also remember finding a dead cedar waxwing when I was about 10, and being blown away that something that beautiful was in my yard. Even now, the Bay Area is full of young birders, many of whom are not white.

    All this being said, of course, my grandpa gave me my first binoculars when I was 8, I went camping with my family every summer in the Sierra, and I had “spark birds” in Alaska, coastal Sonoma County, the Lassen area, and other places outside the city. I went to a private school where we went across the street to the lake several times a week, and we were encouraged to look at the birds and the trees there. Most importantly, my growing interest in birds was something that my mom, my grandpa, and my teachers encouraged.

    I’d be curious to see some data on where established birders were living when they first got into birds. I wouldn’t be surprised if many or most of them were living in urban or suburban settings, not only due to the fact that that’s where most people in the US live, but also due to socioeconomic and cultural factors. For example, rural kids would seem to be more likely to grow up to be avid hunters than birders. But this is all just supposition on my part.

    This is just musing aloud, but I wonder how much cross-pollination there is between scouting groups and local Audubon chapters or YBCs. When I was a girl scout, working towards the birding badge was something that never crossed anyone’s mind, but looking at the criteria now, it would have been really easy to do with the resources in the area.

  • Sarah

    I am a little older than your target demographic (now in the latter part of my mid-20s), but I do consider myself a young birder, simply because I am a good 3 decades younger than most people I’ve seen on local bird walks! However, I have also only been birding for 3 years, so I am still a “fledgling” and as such have no delusions of grandeur 🙂 Still, it rankles to be patronized due to your perceived youth, no matter what your level of experience.

    What Maria said upthread about 20-somethings being “not young enough” struck a chord with me. I think it’s great that there has been such a push to attract and mentor the 12-18 demographic—it makes me wish I had started birding earlier, to be able to take advantage of some of that!—but I wonder about what happens to those who have “aged out.”

    Shortly after I began birding, I remember going on a walk with my local Audubon society to a migrant hotspot; the leader noticed my interest and commented that I should really think of joining their youth group, as they could need some new blood now that the first wave had graduated and gone off to college! Well intentioned though it may have been, as a 23-year-old gainfully employed college grad (one who, yes, does tend to look younger than her years…), that stung and did not make me want to get more involved. (I got over it.) If you’re not old enough to fit the stereotypical birder profile and not young enough to take advantage of the young birder clubs and similar opportunities that are popping up, where do you fit in? It’s a tricky space to navigate, especially when you are just starting out and trying to establish yourself as an adult.

    I love birding and have no qualms attaching myself to a nerdy activity, but the social aspect can be lacking and I wish there were more in my peer group out in the field. I have tried my best to get some of my friends interested in birding in the past year. One friend, an accomplished musician, couldn’t tell a chickadee from a cardinal when we started out on our walk, but by the end he was finding veeries everywhere he looked (or turned his ear, rather—the trick with him was to get him hooked on their songs). I don’t know if it stuck and I doubt he will become a birder, but I do know that he had a lot of fun when I took them out and definitely gained a new appreciation for the natural world. It’s a start.

  • Alexandra… as always, your writing is excellent. I just wanted to add that as an adult birder, I have learned so much from young birders such as yourself. You were selected as a IYBC Youth Advisor because of your amazing ability to inspire and encourage. I look forward to the day when you (and your peers) can take over the IYBC and make it even bigger and better!

  • What a great post, thank you Sarah. I can relate to what you mentioned about “new blood” and can remember that type of wordage being used on me when I was younger! Actually, I am in my 30’s now and still hear it occasionally from those slightly older than me and, I am probably guilty of now saying such things myself. However, I know that it is said only with the best intentions. The truth is, we encourage young birders from as young as they are willing to be interested to as old as they call themselves young birders. I think the energy and passion inside is what makes a young birder a young birder. So, stay on your friends and please, keep your enthusiasm always. Your desire and ideas are what we need not only in your 20’s but your 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s… and so on!

  • Great post! Any club that advocates youth encouragement in birding (or nature in general) is a club worth having, in my opinion. I think it is important to note in alignment of your post that if all clubs were the same across the board, they would certainly become an idea of the past at some point – probably sooner than later. Each of our organization, IYBC, PAYB, OYBC, etc. should promote youth birding in a way that is most important by our respective region or by providing an individual niche in addition to supporting the overall movement. I can only hope that as each of us move forward, we also work to merge our ideas together so to strengthen our overall mission!

  • I’m 15 and in Grade 10 and live on a farm in northeastern Alberta, about six hours (by car) north of the US border, and a six-hour roundtrip from the nearest big city. I’m the only young birder I know of in my part of the province, and I met other young birders for the first time last summer only because I was lucky enough to win a space at the Doug Tarry Young Ornithologist Workshop in Ontario (and meeting other young birders and the opportunity for field work were the main reasons I applied).

    So my problem has been one of geography more than anything else. Google “Alberta young birders” or “Alberta ornithology society” and you’ll see what I mean. I read about the opportunities in the United States, especially states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, and I get so envious! Chris’s question is a fair one too, about how to get other young people interested in birding and nature. I wish I knew. Even my own brothers call me a bird nerd, and none of my local friends share my interest. I’m involved with the Edmonton Nature Club putting together a Young Naturalist’s Corner at next month’s Snow Goose Chase, to try to interest young children and their families, but I don’t know for how many it will stick. There seem to be a lot of other things competing for the attention of young people, and in our Alberta climate — with winter temperatures keeping lots of kids indoors and limited species/birding between September and May — it seems hard to convert and convince them about the wonders of birding in particular and nature in general. And there is definitely a problem with “joiners” regardless of age. Last summer the president of our naturalist society was hoping to step down, but none of the other adults were interested or able to take on the position. I volunteered, and I’ll start this summer, after “understudying” this past year. Around here, it seems that a lot of the same people tend to support various activities and organizations. At least in small towns, there just aren’t enough people willing to take on the important jobs.

    I’ve been very grateful to all the adults who have helped and mentored me, formally and informally, in the past few years. Living where I do, and especially without any sort of a young birder or young naturalist club, I’ve depended on so many of them for birding opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have had, living on a farm outside a town with a population of about 5,000. They’ve also been incredibly supportive, like a booster team, when it comes to my blog and also the Baillie Birdathon I did last year, and many of them I’ve never even met in person. I’ve found that young birders are so rare in this part of North America that most adult birders are willing to make special efforts to encourage us, which has been great. I think I’ve been very fortunate in part because I’m such a novelty, and if I lived in a more populated part of North America like Corey, with more young and more adult birders, I might indeed have a tougher time getting taken seriously.

    I also wouldn’t have had the opportunities without my parents’ help (and they aren’t birders) — getting up early, driving me to various events anywhere from two to six hours away, giving me memberships to ABA and other groups for birthdays and Christmases (and the use of my mother’s credit card for such online purchases), and also being trusting enough to send me off with strangers, virtual and otherwise, all day. They’ve also let me bird on my own all around our farm and surrounding areas, including the provincial park in town, for hours at a time, without a cell phone, which I can’t see many parents doing; on Sunday night, I went owling in the dark for a few hours with just our dog for company. Somehow, getting up early, driving all over Alberta and Saskatchewan, and spending lots of money on equipment doesn’t seem to bother most parents when it comes to putting their kids in hockey, but birding, which is considerably cheaper, doesn’t seem to provoke the same family supper! I read an article recently about how the time and money spent on junior/minor hockey is considered an “investment” in a future NHL career by many Canadian parents. I’m glad my family has a different mindset than most around here.

    Is there a young birder club in my future on the prairies? Probably not. When I get older, will I remember all the help I received as a young birder and do whatever I can to be supportive in the same way? Absolutely. And it will probably be by helping out with a lot of the behind the scenes organizing, fundraising, and volunteering, as Kenn mentioned above.

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