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Fostering New Advocates for Birds

Author: Tommy Richey

New Hope Audubon Society’s stated mission is “to promote the conservation and enjoyment of birds, other wildlife, and ecosystems.” To that end, education is essential. You can’t do much if you don’t know what you’re doing — or why. For that reason, in the fall of 2015 NHAS assembled an education committee under the leadership of Mary George. The education committee had not been active for several years, so the committee did not have many existing activities or programmatic content to build on. However, we knew that we needed to engage all generations, backgrounds, and skill levels in order to foster knowledge in, appreciation of, and commitment to “birds, other wildlife, and ecosystems.” With that charge and a passionate group of volunteers, the education committee sparked an outreach revival.

Feather learning station at library

Our first big initiative involved developing learning stations that cover a broad range of information about bird life. Some topics include flight, feathers, nests, songs, and food. We later added a model Chimney Swift roost, a station that brings much-needed attention to an imperiled species. After creating our content, the education committee took these stations on a “Getting to Know Your Bird Neighbors” tour of libraries in every county in our geographic range (Orange, Chatham, and Durham). With the support of our volunteers and some wonderful librarians, the series brought learning and fun to many families of the Triangle. We have sustained this program’s success by building on these library relationships and bringing our stations to other library branches.

Learning about Chimney Swifts at Rogers-Eubanks

In addition to libraries, the education committee took its learning stations and outreach mission to underrepresented communities. As often discussed in National Audubon and other groups, one shortcoming of the birding community is its lack of diversity. This matters because, for one, birding should be and is for everyone. Moreover, the impact of threats to our beloved species and their habitats affects all who care about our natural world, and those who are not yet familiar with these challenges. We are all in this together, and we must work together. One of the education committee’s goals is to promote inclusiveness and to encourage a demographically (age, race/ethnicity, and income) diverse group of ambassadors for wildlife. In our first year, education committee member Maria de Bruyn organized educational activities and worked with other committee members to bring our programs about birds to the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Center in Chapel Hill and to Transplanting Traditions Community Farms. The committee also hopes to offer a children’s program at El Centro Hispano in Carrboro. Our outreach was met with great enthusiasm, and we intend to maintain these relationships with our new partners in education and advocacy.

Family bird walk in Hillsborough

The education committee’s other big initiative of the past year was family bird walks. The committee led families and new birders on two introductory walks. The first one was this past spring at Hillsborough’s Riverwalk. The second one was this September at Sandy Creek Park in Durham. Participants looked for familiar birds and tracked their sightings with a handy bird scavenger hunt guide. For bird education, nothing beats the experience of being in the field and directly encountering birds. Questions flow, and spontaneous opportunities for instruction arise. As an investment in our outreach, NHAS recently acquired 10 new pairs of binoculars for use on such walks. These binoculars were selected for their versatility and durability, so we hope for a broad range of participants to benefit from their use.

The education committee is now on its second year of activity after its revival. We intend to build on our recent successes and think of new ways to engage with our communities. We are always looking for volunteers to help run our events, so please contact me (tsrichey@gmail.com) or Mary (mcgeorge44@gmail.com) if you are interested in supporting us. Or please support us by simply attending our events. We welcome all learners!

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