There seems to have been a research paper done on practically everything any human has ever thought or carried / tried to carry out. Want to know how biscuits are crunchy? There’s a paper. How about which can jump the highest, a cat flea or a dog flea? There’s a paper. Can flatulence help the immune system combat cancer? There’s a paper.
The defining characteristics of community are embodied in a group of birdwatchers.
There are several studies on what it means to be part of a community, and a specific article published in 2002 called The Social World of Birding highlights the fact that all of the defining characteristics of community are embodied in a group of birdwatchers.
(Incidentally, that paper was published on an excellent site that promotes research focussing on recreation, called The National Benefits Hub, a Canadian organisation, but the work is universal).
The word “community” itself can be defined as a group of people living in the same place, but sharing geography is only one aspect; having something in common like attitudes, interests, or belief systems create community.
There is also the expectation that a community cares deeply about each other, and works closely together towards a common purpose that all involved care about. The most frequent outcome of any community is social bonding, or to put it in less scientific-speak, making friends.
Birdwatching soon left its origins as a hunter’s pastime far behind and in recent decades has come to sit comfortably in the top ten most popular hobbies in the world. With so many of us at it, it makes sense that we’d get together in groups to do it, too.
Meeting other like-minded people and caring about nature and conservation helps many of us either balance out the challenges of work or raising a family (or both), or for some who as older adults are free of those obligations and now have ample free time.
At retirement age, many people feel unsure how to occupy those years of life left, but to paraphrase the old saying, why not add life to your years, not just years to your life in the form of a shared activity like community birdwatching.
Birding there for each other
Another aspect of being part of a birding group is how much clout we can exhibit, known in science terms as “Social Capital”. This effectively means that by working together, the birding community has collective strength when it comes to issues like lobbying the government with respect to environmental policies.
The educational value of a collective voice speaking on behalf of birds can be seen throughout history.
One of the most famous and far-reaching birding communities in the western hemisphere, the National Audubon Society, has over 500 local chapters across North America and through their love of birdwatching they frequently advise lawmakers on issues like pollution, providing vital data about species nearing extinction, or those that are beginning to suffer from loss of habitat.
The educational value of a collective voice speaking on behalf of birds can be seen throughout history in the formation of societies like Audubon and the RSPB in the UK way back in the 1900s, to the fantastic shift that is happening now, where farmers, particularly in the USA, are installing nest boxes on their land to encourage birds who are natural predators or deterrents to pests, and reducing their use of harmful chemical pesticides.
Your level of experience does not matter in a birding group.
Groups of birders all over the world have also founded bird sanctuaries together, saved vital habitat from overdevelopment, and formed school outreach workshops to help children cultivate an interest in nature. Bird feeding in suburban and urban environments can also bring a community together, helping adults and children alike make those vital connections with nature that are essential to conserving the world’s wildlife.
You also don’t need to specifically join a group just to enjoy the company of others and the birds of course; you can just go on an organised walk led by the local bird group, for instance, or attend a festival (which are coming back, we promise), or maybe try your hand as a volunteer at an organised survey at a reserve nearby, or sign up for any of the many online bird counts around the world such as the Big Garden Birdwatch in the UK, the Christmas Bird Count and Project FeederWatch, and Celebrate Urban Birds in the US, or the Aussie Bird Count and New Zealand Garden Bird Survey in the southern hemisphere.
If you are unable or prefer not to join a birding group in person for whatever reason, there are ample online opportunities to find virtual birding groups as well as the festivals and seminars, where you can just chat about what you have seen lately, such as Bird Forum, which is free to join.
By joining in this way, you also contribute to that rapidly-gathering-pace phenomena of citizen science. eBird is a bird species database, where you can log your sightings whenever you want to, and you can easily find out if a species you would love to see is nearby.
These submissions supply critical data for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to use about movements, behaviours, and interactions for thousands of bird species across the globe, so citizen input is literally influencing the work of the scientists.
Learning about birds through these resources has also shown how easy it is to connect with people; even though you can be thousands of miles apart, the sublimity of community birdwatching can be felt.
Joining a birdwatching group in whatever form provides an opportunity to network, find shared values, and often, a sense of self-identity.
Your level of experience does not matter in a birding group, as the adage that everybody has to start somewhere is most keenly felt among birdwatchers, and 99% of the time everyone is happy to share what they know, always willing to teach or help other birders spot that distant creature or identify that beautiful song above.