Bird Counts, Bird-a-thons, Christmas bird count

When it comes to how you do it, birding is a wonderfully diverse activity. From level of participation, to effort expended, to amount of social interaction, it’s entirely up to you. Of course, like many hobbies, participants frequently find that they enjoy interacting with others who pursue to the same activity. But even in this, just what form that interaction takes if wholly for you to decide.

Becoming involved with a birding organization or club is one way many birders improve their skills, share their experiences, and find help in confirming challenging species identifications. Local clubs – such as those organized in schools or by chapters of larger organizations, can be excellent sources of information about what birds are being seen in your area, opportunities for exciting field trips, and general camaraderie with other birders.

To find your local birding club, checking with a prominent bird conservation organization in your country is a good place to begin. These organizations generally have local chapters that perform a considerable amount of the “on the ground” member-related activity organizing and will be happy to help get you connected. In the U.S., such an organization would be The National Audubon Society. In the U.K., check with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Those living in other countries can find their nation’s most prominent organization through the BirdLife International Partners directory. If you’re in school, be that elementary, secondary, or university, simply check with the school’s activities coordinator to discover if it has a birding club.

If you’re not “much of a joiner,” or simply don’t have a schedule for which, or live in a location where, club meetings or similar activities are convenient for you, participating in one of the big bird survey programs is another way many birders become involved with the larger birding community. These surveys are not only fun, they are also valuable for research into bird conservation as the data gathered through them is compiled and made available to ornithologists, wildlife biologists, and others working in similar areas of study.

In the U.S., the Christmas Bird Count dates all the way back to 1900 with the early Audubon Society. As an alternative to the usual Christmas bird hunts, Frank Chapman and a small group of other early Auduboners decided to go into the field and count all the birds they saw instead. To this day, each December, tens of thousands of birders spread out across the land doing the very same thing.

In February, large numbers of U.S. and Canadian birders participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. In the U.K., the event is called The Big Garden Birdwatch in late January. A bit more relaxed than the Christmas Bird Count can often become, these bird counts allow you to sit comfortably in your yard, garden, or local patch (or by a well-placed window overlooking any of these) and count the birds you see. These counts are also reported into the organizers for use by scientists.

But you need not wait for a bird count to occur to participate in the larger birding community on your own. Vast numbers of birders contribute sightings to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s famous eBird program right from a convenient app on their smartphones. And while it’s not exclusive to just birds, iNaturalist, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, is another great way to interact with others who are watching and noting birds as well as a wide range of other creatures and plants.

Of course, if competition is your thing, there are opportunities for that as well. The sport of bird racing involves seeing how many bird species you, or a small team, can identify within a given period of time. Often held as fundraisers for conservation groups, such as the New Jersey Audubon Society’s World Series of Birding held each May, wildlife or tourism agencies, like the Great Texas Birding Classic that runs from mid April to mid May, or more locally by chapters of larger organizations or local birding clubs, where they are slightly modified into “birdathons,” for the raising of funding for their programs, these events can be challenging as well as fun.

As with all things in birding, the activity or activities in which you choose to participate, and the level of effort you put into doing so, is entirely up to you. The important thing is to enjoy doing it. As a well-known birder once said, “When it comes down to it, how good a birder you are is essentially the same as how much you enjoy doing it.”