American Birding Podcast



“Strictly for Bird[watch]ers”


Here at The ABA Blog, much of our focus has been on the future—the future of the ABA in particular, and the future of birding more generally. That’s great, and that’s the way it ought to be. And that said, I’d like to do a complete 180. I’d like go waaay back into ancient history, and share with you now the very first article ever published in Birding magazine. This anonymous editorial is from the unnumbered page 1 of the undated (it was 1968) volume 0 number 0 of what was then called—wait for it—The Birdwatcher’s Digest. How many of you knew that Birding was first published as The Birdwatcher’s Digest?

I’ll have some comments—and I hope you will, too!—at the end, but, for now, and without further ado, let’s take a look:

There are many magazines which appeal to the birdwatcher, but until now there has never been an American journal which is created for, and totally centered around the specific interests of the birdwatcher. The Birdwatcher's Digest will, we hope, fill this gap. It is beginning not as a giant splash of color or as a fantastic advertizing spree, but as a small bulletin which in spite of technical shortcomings will grow or die depending on its acceptance by birdwatchers across the country. Nowadays when a new journal is in the making, a market must be created and to create the market large sums of money are necessary which makes the whole venture a gamble. This is XXX not the case (as you can tell from that mistake that was just X'd out) with the Bird Watcher's Digest. It is the result of some dreaming and impulsive planning on the part of several enthusiasts. These individuals have formed the embryo beginning of an organization called the American Birdwatcher's Association (ABA), the official publication of which is the bulletin you are now seeing.
    It is not the purpose of this publication to create a market for high cost production. Such magazines as the Audubon Magazine and Natural History are superb examples of this type [of] material and every birdwatcher should have access to if not subscribe to these journals in addition to many other fine magazines.
The Birdwatcher's Digest is for the birdwatcher. What a birdwatcher is will be the subject of editorials and hopefully letters to the editor; but for the present a birdwatcher is anyone interested in amateur bird study, bird-finding or listing, and/or just "watching" birds.
Look through this issue and let us know what you think of the idea. Even if you don't subscribe, drop us a card or letter with suggestions and criticisms.

* * * * *

The first thing I’m struck by is how far the medium has advanced. I mean…Good Lord!—the thing was typed out, for crying out loud, and dittoed. I can practically smell the purple ink from the ditto machine. Ditto machine?—Why, ABA Blogmeister Nate Swick surely has no idea what I’m talking about. Poor young chap probably hasn’t ever even seen a typewriter.

But once we get past the initial shock of the archaic “technology,” everything in that inaugural editorial comes across as disarmingly contemporary. Here, as I see it, are the major threads in that editorial:

1. Sure, there are lots of general resources out there for birders, but what about a resource that caters only to birders?

2. Specifically, what is the niche for the magazine of the ABA? How should the magazine differ from, say, Audubon?

3. Oh, and what the heck’s a birder? The implication in the editorial is that there is not consensus.

4. We’ll make a few mistakes along the way, but we’ll muddle through and make our way forward.

5. This is an organization of the birder, by the birder, for the birder. [I love that line about “dreaming and impulsive planning on the part of several enthusiasts.” I mean, isn't that the essence of much of the history of the ABA?]  

6. And on that note, one last thing: We want and need to hear from you.

Sound familiar? We’re still at it—aren’t we?—nearly 43 years later.

Immediately following that vol. 0 no. 0 editorial is the following note, also on the unnumbered page 1:

To begin with The Birdwatcher's Digest will be a bimonthly, but there is no reason to assume that it will have to remain so. It is the hope of the Association that a monthly can be realized as soon as sufficient interest makes it possible.
    The subscription rate will for the present be a basic $3.00 per year. This amount includes membership in the American Birdwatcher's Association—for what ever that is worth.

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Okay, the $3-per-year subscription rate is a bit quaint, but other than that, It’s déjà vu all over again. Today, in March of 2011, we in the Publications Department at the ABA are seriously talking about what it would take to make Birding monthly. At the same time, all of us—ABA members and nonmembers alike—are engaged in broad, and I think salutary, discourse about the nature and meaning of “membership in the ABA—for whatever that is worth.” And it's as true today as it was in 1968 that “future plans depend on interest.”

As a wise person once said:

Even if you don't subscribe, drop us a card or letter with suggestions and criticisms.

For sure, keep it coming. Keep sending us e-mail, keep posting comments to The ABA Blog, keep up the conversation at the ABA’s Facebook site, and so forth. And if you’re a true throwback, drop us a card or letter. We’ll read it, I promise. And you’ll make a difference.