Watching birds is fun, educational and it can also be deeply spiritual – helping us to feel more connected to, and more caring of, our natural world.
It is no surprise therefore that birdwatching (or birding) continues to grow in popularity around the world and among people of all ages and backgrounds. In addition to recent mainstream western movies featuring birds and birdwatchers (such as The Big Year), birdwatching celebrities already apparently include both Mick Jagger and Cameron Diaz (Kellaway 2009). More importantly, an astonishing 46 million people in the USA now consider themselves to be birdwatchers. Twenty million of these travel to see birds each year (Berger 2012), spending more than 32 billion USD on birdwatching in the USA annually (UNEP 2012). In the UK, six million people (about one in ten of the population) enjoy birdwatching every couple of weeks or more (Kellaway 2009) and membership of the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) exceeds one million. And because of the massive support of this membership, the RSPB now owns and manages more than 200 bird reserves and is able to influence national and regional conservation policies (http://www.rspb.org.uk).
It is perhaps worth pausing to repeat just how popular and important birdwatching has now become in some countries. There are now more birdwatchers in the USA and the UK combined than there are people in the ROK.
While birdwatching is not yet as popular in East Asia as it is in North America, much of Europe, or Australia, it is on the rise and likely to become enormously popular in the future. The Wild Bird Society of Japan already has 45,000 members that belong to 90 local groups nationwide. And in China there are now birdwatching societies and clubs in more than 20 major cities – most started within the last decade (http://www.chinabirdnet.org/network.html).
Here in the ROK, the number of birdwatchers and birdwatching events is also growing, albeit rather more slowly. Birds Korea is especially proud of our role in supporting the growth of interest in bird and habitat conservation during the past decade. Only formally founded in 2004, we already have members throughout the country (and overseas), conducting research and sharing their knowledge and passion with others. Collectively and as individuals, Birds Korea has therefore already been able to introduce many people to birdwatching and to the importance of bird conservation for the first time. through media accounts, school visits, and eco-classes, books and scientific reports, exhibitions, field events and thousands of pages of information and images freely provided on our websites and blog.
Fortunately, with time and the right kind of support and opportunity, an initial interest in birds and their conservation is easy to grow. One way is by helping people to see and hear properly the birds around them. It is especially thrilling, for example, to look closely at an ubiquitous species like the Eurasian Magpie, and to see for the first time the iridescent green and blues of its wings and tail, or to find the intense yellow and black head pattern of a male Yellow-throated Bunting shining out from amongst spring-green leaves. And who is left unmoved when they hear the gentle chatter of Barn Swallows at the nest or the trumpeting calls of geese or cranes over-flying the city, or when they learn more about migration, linking such birds to distant lands?
Here in the ROK, more than 90% of our bird species are migratory. Their conservation needs the understanding and the support of birdwatchers, conservationists and governments both here and in other countries. For example, the baueri Bar-tailed Godwit is a pigeon-sized shorebird that comes to us each year in March and April by completing a single enormous non-stop flight from New Zealand and eastern Australia, before flying on to breed in Alaska. In autumn, the same birds then fly non-stop for more than 10,000km across open sea all the way back to New Zealand. There, they again put back on the body-fat that they require to power their northward migration the following spring. This extreme feat of migration is only possible if the chain of tidal-flat sites that Bar-tailed Godwits use during the whole year is maintained. The same is true of numerous other species. This understanding has already helped to connect researchers, birdwatchers and conservationists in countries all along the Bar-tailed Godwit’s migration route, the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Its migration is also inspiring countless people in the same countries – through direct observation, through books and through last year’s prize-winning documentary “The Great Flight” directed by Chin Jae-Un. If we can help people to have the chance to connect with such beauty and natural perfection, then love of birds and their habitats often follows soon after – and so does the desire for their conservation.
This spring, Birds Korea would therefore like to invite you to join us, wherever you live, in celebrating birds and their migrations, and in sharing your passion for the natural world with others.
We have already started the celebration. In March, Birds Korea worked with students at schools in three cities (Gimhae, Incheon and Busan) as part of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper animation project initiated by the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society. The same month a team of five eco-interpreters (all Birds Korea members) also started a year-long program of informing, educating and inspiring visitors to the internationally-important and still highly-threatened Nakdong Estuary.
In April, several of our members (will you be one of them?) will take part in the international Fledge-to-Pledge campaign (http://www.globalbirdinginitiative.org/pledge-2-fledge). On one or more dates between April 25th and 29th all around the world those who already birdwatch will have the chance to share a little of their knowledge and love of birds with first-time birdwatchers, and to share their experiences through a dedicated website.
And in May, we will hold several further events. These include our third annual Birdathon (a kind of sponsored birdwatch) over the weekend of May 11th and 12th, held to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day (http://www.worldmigratorybirdday.org/2013). Funds raised will go toward more networking (both within the ROK and in North America, where several of our migrant species nest, including the Bar-tailed Godwit) and also in helping to finance our mini-documentary on one of the World’s most charismatic and threatened migratory bird species: the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
Now is a great time to get involved, to birdwatch for the first time or to share your knowledge with others: please join Birds Korea and please help us to help the birds!
For more on birdwatching equipment (and special rates for Birds Korea members): http://www.birdskorea.org/Support_us/BK-SU-Partners-Supporters.shtml
And for more on the increasing popularity of birds and birdwatching:
Kellaway, K. 2009. 'To a birdwatcher, one glimpse, one moment is happiness enough'. The Guardian, November 22nd, 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/22/birdwatching-popularity-kate-kellaway
Berger, M. 2012. “New USFWS Report: 46.7 Million People Call Themselves Birdwatchers”. Audubon online magazine article, August 23rd 2012, at: http://magblog.audubon.org/new-usfws-report-467-million-people-call-themselves-birdwatchers
UNEP. 2012. “Bird Watching Can Help Eco-Tourism Fly High in a Green Economy”, Press Statement, May 2012: http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=2683&ArticleID=9130&l=en