News headlines everywhere you look are dreadful these days, so it’s important to take breaks from the doom and gloom.
Thankfully, birds and the birdwatching community offer plenty of ways to escape, even for those of us under stay-at-home orders. Here are more than a dozen options to connect with our feathered friends and the people and organizations that advocate for them.
Shirts for a good cause
Like virtually every other spring festival, Black Swamp Bird Observatory in northern Ohio had to cancel its Biggest Week in American Birding. Each canceled event means lots of lost revenue — and fewer dollars for conservation. To help offset the losses around Biggest Week, the good folks at Rogue Birders and PRBY Apparel are selling inspired, superbly designed T-shirts. All proceeds benefit Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
If you know of a similar fundraiser for another canceled birding festival, let us know.
Birding on TV
The Palm Beaches TV, a television service from West Palm Beach, Florida, offers on-demand commercial-free programs, including three seasons of Birding Adventures, a fun and engaging series hosted by wildlife enthusiast James Currie.
The channel is available as a mobile app, on Roku, and via the Internet. (The channel is also available in more than 4,000 hotel rooms in Palm Beach County.) Get caught up on the series now because new episodes of “Birding Adventures” will be in production near the end of this year.
Films and other video
“The Birders” is a beautiful 52-minute documentary about birding in northern Colombia. To support everyone who is “quarantine birding,” the film’s producers created a checklist of more than 100 species that appear on screen and are encouraging viewers to check each one off while they watch. You can watch the film and find the checklist here.
If you’re a Netflix subscriber, the service has a few flicks to check out. “Birders” is a 37-minute documentary about birds and birdwatchers along the Rio Grande and the importance of the river to borderland birds. “Dancing with the Birds” is a documentary about the spectacular mating behaviors of birds-of-paradise and a few other tropical species from around the world. (Read our review.) And “Beak & Brain: Genius Birds from Down Under” dives into the intelligence displayed by Keas from New Zealand and New Caledonian Crows.
The 2011 feature film “The Big Year,” loosely based on a book of the same name, stars Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson as three birders trying to see the most birds in a calendar year. It’s a sweet and fun film, even if some of the bird sightings strain credulity. “The Big Year” is available to rent or buy on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer:
Of course, you can also get lost on YouTube watching videos of all kinds of birds. For example, here’s a five-minute clip of Sandhill Cranes over the Platte River in Nebraska.
Probably the best reason for a birder to visit YouTube is to watch Jason Ward’s excellent series Birds of North America. Ward is an avid birder who grew up in the Bronx, and in this show, he travels around the U.S. meeting lots of great birders, finding cool birds, and reflecting on the experiences of minority birders, including his own. Most recently, Ward was a guest on NPR’s Science Friday. He and Nature Conservancy land steward Kari Hagenow discussed the best ways to get started as a new birder under quarantine.
And, if you need a bit of bird-inspired music in your life (and who doesn’t?), check out the videos from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Wind Ensemble and its performance of the Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds. The music is paired with animations from the project and is available on YouTube.
Free books for kids
Rich Hoeg, a birder, photographer, and author from Duluth, Minnesota, is making his bird books for children available as free downloads. “During the Coronavirus crisis, Susan Larson Kidd (author of my first two books) and I have worked together to make the electronic versions (PDF’s) of our books available without charge,” says Hoeg. “If you like our books, please consider coming back to this page to purchase a printed copy ($12 each). It is our hope our books will provide you and that special child some peace and serenity during these troubling times.”
Several organizations in the birding community have started online video chats and webinars. Here are a few:
National Audubon Society. “I Saw A Bird: Audubon’s Spring Migration Show” is a new weekly Facebook Live show bringing viewers bird content – sometimes funny and weird, sometimes educational – and the comforting sense of community to everyone finding joy in birds while stuck at home.
The show is hosted by Audubon’s Social Media Producer, Christine Lin, and Chief Network Officer, David Ringer. They welcome celebrities and guests each week to offer a fresh look at the world of birds and birdwatching. Episodes will air every Wednesday at 7 pm Eastern time on Audubon’s Facebook page.
The first episode, from last week, featured Saturday Night Live’s Melissa Villaseñor and author, artist, naturalist, and conservationist Kenn Kaufman. You can watch it on YouTube. Episode 2, featuring Emmy-nominated actress and Audubon board member Lili Taylor, takes place tonight, April 15, at 7 pm Eastern. Sign up through Zoom here.
American Birding Association. The ABA has launched a Virtual Bird Club on its website and social media featuring smart conversations with Nathan Swick. He is editor of the ABA Blog, the group’s social media manager, and the host of the American Birding Podcast.
In the first episode, Swick interviewed Nick Lund from the website The Birdist about the “sorry state of state birds.” And in the second episode, Swick talked with Tessa Rhinehart, a researcher studying bird calls at the University of Pittsburgh. More to come!
International Crane Foundation. Our friends at the ICF are creating two weekly series. The From the Field webinars are aimed at adults and are offered on Thursdays at 11 am Central time. The first episode, from last week, was about Sandhill Cranes in North America. Tomorrow’s second episode will focus on crane conservation in South Africa. ICF is also presenting a K-12 educational series called Quarantine with Cranes. It presents lots of good stuff for young craniacs!