The future of bird clubs
As bird bloggers and readers of bird blogs we’re all pretty well-versed on several aspects of social media, right? I mean, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. And you’re probably pretty aware of the rest of the world of bird and nature blogs, too. You probably even write one yourself, and therefore consider your web-based colleagues as much apart of your birding group as birders in the real world. I certainly do, and I think it’s a testimony to nature bloggers as a whole that so many of us feel a legitimate sense of community from our regular interactions here. As Mike Bergin of 10,000 Birds like to say, our blogs are the bird club of the 21st Century.
But what about actual bird clubs? You know, the ones that require crowding into a church rec room and watching a slide show about someone’s recent trip to Arizona. Those obviously still have a purpose, as that’s still how the majority of birders enjoy their birder fellowship and likely will be for the foreseeable future. For all the great work that’s put into online bird community, there’s something to be said for the simple camaraderie of the monthly meeting and the importance of involvement in local organizations for building social ties between people with a common interest. After all, there’s scarcely a better way to encourage participation for local conservation issues than a face to face appeal. In any case, neither appears to be going anywhere soon, nor should they.
A problem arises, however, in the rather significant dichotomy between the primary users of the two media. It’s no shock to anyone who has been involved in bird clubs for any period of time that the membership tends to skew older. Birding certainly appeals to folks with a bit of discretionary income and free time for obvious reasons, it’s from whence come the well-worn generalizations about birders. But generalizations often exist because they’re generally true. Birders are older and trying to deny that simple facts like trying to deny that your new squirrel-proof feeder will eventually succumb to the nefarious rodents.
You’d never know that looking at the birding blogosphere though. The purveyors of bird blogs trend significantly younger than the birding public on the whole. This, too, is hardly a surprise. Young people tend to flock to new technology disproportionately. In fact, one of the most exciting things about being involved in the birding, and by extension nature, blogosphere has been the realization that there are lots of like-minded younger people out there. And yes, I still consider myself, at nearly 30, to be on the younger end of birder demographics. That probably says something about what we’re dealing with here.
I wonder, however, how many bird bloggers, and young people in general, are involved in their local bird clubs. When I was a mad-keen teen birder back in the mid 90s I was pretty heavily involved in the local greater Ozarks Audubon Society, but I was surely in the minority. Since then, and especially since I moved to North Carolina, I’ve been pretty negligent about going to meetings and talking face to face with local birders beyond those I’d come across on local bird walks, but it was something I was interested in fixing. Until my friend Becky, who just so happens to be the president of the Wake County Audubon Society, asked me to become a member of the board of that organization. So I took it.
Organizations like Wake Audubon are always looking for new members, not only to leverage our voice as a local authority on conservation issues, but to have the money through dues to actually make an impact on projects that fulfill our mission, things like the Young Naturalist’s Club for instance. As older membership stagnates or even decreases, it’s important to look for like-minded people wherever you can find them. Ideally, people between 20 to 40 years are a group that organizations like Audubon have sometimes struggled to attract, but Wake Audubon has been doing some really useful things to get the word out to that group of people who, it should be noted, are no less enthusiastic about doing things for the local environment and in many cases are specifically seeking out organizations that will help them do it.
Wake has already done some interesting things to that end. There’s a page on Meet-up.com, a site that seeks to get people pointed to organizations that they’d like, than has already seen some dividends, and a move to update members on late notice field trips via RSS feeder or e-mail subscription to the site seems to be an appealing way to keep people up to date on the very latest with a minimum of tech savvy required. All in all, the boards seems receptive to incorporating these web 2.0 ideas into their regular rotation as long as someone is willing to take the reigns, as is the case with so many volunteer organizations.
In any case, I’m interested to see how these ideas and attempts to bring the old and the new together are received by all involved. I think it could pay off in a positive way. For my money, what we do here on the blogosphere ultimately means little unless we can find a way for it to benefit birds and bird appreciation in the greater world
Have any of you out there done anything like this with your local bird clubs? Does it work? Any other ideas?