Joining a birding group or club is a great way to connect with other birders, but what do you do if there is no local organization? It's easier than you think to start your own birding group.
Checking Local Connections
Before planning the first meeting of a new birding club, investigate any local and regional birding organizations. While there may not be a group that meets in your hometown, it is possible that a nearby group also covers your territory and would be a good fit for birding companionship. You can also investigate any regional chapters of established groups, such as the National Audubon Society, to see what local events they may offer.
If there are no nearby groups at all, the best place to begin your own group is at a bird supply store. Store owners or managers may know all the local birders who would be interested in organized events, and they may be willing to help spread the word about a new organization.
Growing a loyal membership can be the hardest part of starting any new organization. To get the word out to local birders about a new birding group, place fliers or advertisements in a range of places, such as:
- Wild bird supply stores
- Pet stores or garden centers
- Library bulletin boards
- Community announcements in local newspapers
- Bulletin boards at local nature preserves, zoos or aviaries
- Community recreation centers or wildlife parks
The flier may be an advertisement for an initial meeting or just details about how to get involved, but it is important that other interested birders can respond. Include basic contact information such as a phone number or email address so anyone interested can ask questions. Before placing fliers, however, ask permission for posting, and offer to return to remove the fliers after a reasonable period of time.
If you are tech-savvy, it may also be helpful to start a blog, website, Facebook page or other online presence for your new birding group. This can be a great way to attract new members and keep everyone informed of upcoming events.
Planning Field Trips
Field trips are the primary way any birding group will take flight. Even with only a few members, plan field trips at least 1-2 times per month, and with even more frequency so long as there is sufficient interest. Ideally, field trips should visit a range of local birding hotspots and different habitats so everyone will have the opportunity to see unique birds, and each trip should last 1-3 hours, or longer as group members prefer. Planning trips on different days and at different times will help accommodate a wider variety of schedules as well. If carpooling is an option it should be encouraged, and directions should be available to each birding site for any participants who wish to drive themselves.
To get more people involved in the group and to help it grow, ask different members about their favorite local birding locations and invite them to lead field trips to areas they are familiar with. This will give everyone a sense of involvement with the group and will encourage a more loyal, dedicated membership. As the group grows, longer field trips or regional excursions can also be added to the schedule.
Going Beyond Field Trips
While field trips are the core of a birding club, other events can also help the group grow and will keep members involved in more ways. Popular types of birding group activities include:
- Planning discount group travel to a regional birding festival
- Arranging regular lectures or discussion groups on birding topics
- Scheduling activities such as dinners or holiday parties for members to interact as friends
- Choosing community service projects, such as a litter pickup or trail cleanup event
- Getting involved with larger birding projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count
- Arranging a charity drive or fundraiser to benefit a local bird rescue organization
While field trips should always outnumber other activities, it is the non-field trip options that can make a group grow closer as friends who all share a passionate interest in birds. At the same time, flexibility is essential with all field and non-field arrangements so no one feels pressured to be more involved than they would like.
More Tips for Starting a Birding Group
To make even more of your new birding club and help it be successful for years:
- Collect members' email addresses or phone numbers so they can be kept informed about upcoming events.
- Plan a blog, email newsletter or other regular way to announce new events, rare bird sightings or to share resources with the group.
- Have extra equipment, including optics and field guides, available on trips so every participant can be fully involved.
- Be sensitive to beginning birders or visitors new to the area so everyone feels welcome, no matter what their level of local birding experience.
- Consider small, personal touches such as bringing refreshments to field trips or giving thank you notes to field trip leaders so everyone feels appreciated for being part of the group.
Just as birders enjoy seeing a variety of birds every time they go into the field, variety is the key to a successful birding group. With different activities and commitments, your new club will attract a flock of birding friends.
Photo – Birders © D.L. Brubaker / USFWS