The Joy of Being a Bird Ambassador

More than 300 Audubon members described a time when they introduced others to the wonderful world of birds.

In June, we asked a group of our loyal members (who had opted to participate in Audubon's Donor Insight Panel survey) to tell us more about their role as a "birding ambassador." More than 40 percent of those surveyed said that they share their love of birds with a relative, friend, colleague or stranger who may not yet appreciate the wonder of bird life . . . all the time! Here at Audubon, our staff can certainly relate. The majority of our members were most likely to reach out to friends and neighbors to share their passion.

We couldn't agree more with Steve T. from Laurel, Montana, who shared:

"Allowing others to look through my lens or binoculars opens them up to a new world of birds in a way that they never imagined. Many people never viewed avian feather and eye details/colors and they are often astounded. I have found that sharing my passion through images, knowledge, and birding enables others to view these creatures in an appreciative and curious new light."

Our members instill a love and respect for bird life in others through a variety of methods:


  • Pointing out specific birds and naming them while walking
  • Using birds at their feeders as a conversation starter
  • Sharing bird stories and photos on Facebook
  • Inviting people to come on a bird walk

We asked our Donor Insight Panel members to think about all the things they do to conserve birds and their habitats and asked how important instilling a love and appreciation of birds in others is. The majority felt that it is an important task, but it is not the only way that our members try to help birds. As Scott O. from Sharon Springs, New York, said, "I live the bird-lover life, and wear my reverence for birds on my sleeve".

To dig a little deeper into the idea of serving as a "birding ambassador," we challenged our members to tell us a story of a particular time when they introduced someone to the wonder of birds. We wanted to know who they were with, what did they do, and most importantly, how did it work out?

Here are nine of our favorite stories:

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch. Photo: Brian Kushner/Audubon Photography Awards

"My parents and I have always shared a love of birds. I introduced my two children to birds, talking about them and getting them their own bird books, binoculars and packs to take on 'hikes,' when they were 4 and 6. I did not know how much attention they were really giving it until we took our annual trip to the family cabin in the woods of northern Wisconsin. There the feeder is positioned outside the screened dining porch.  While we were eating my older daughter yelled out, 'Look! A finch of gold!' Her enthusiasm tickled all of us. Now the Goldfinch is forever re-named the Finch of Gold in our family."

—Stacey S., Denver, Colorado 

Merlin
Merlin. Photo: Howard Smith/Audubon Photography Awards

"I was birding with my son in a local cemetery near our house. A month or so earlier, as an 11-year-old, he had come to me and said 'Dad, I think I want to be a birder.' One of the best days of my life. For the next seven years, he was pretty much my constant companion while birding. But on that one day in the cemetery, we encountered a Merlin, perched at the top of an ornamental pine. It was his first one, so he was pretty excited. We were watching it from the car, and he asked an important question: 'Can we get out and get closer for a better view?' I told him we could try, but that in all likelihood, the Merlin would fly when we did so. Of course, as soon as he opened his door, the bird was gone, with the kind of speed only a Merlin can muster. Greg's comment was: 'Wow!! That was the coolest thing ever!!' That is, of course, the highest praise an 11-year-old can give anything! He's now 26, and although he's just begun his residency as a radiologist and is pretty busy, he's still a birder (so is my daughter, but that's another story!) and we still bird together whenever we can. We bought binoculars for his new wife too!"

— Bruce A., Lake Forest, California

Wood Duck
Wood Duck. Photo: Teri Franzen/Audubon Photography Awards

"One of my earliest birding forays was in Columbus, Ohio with my eldest daughter. She and I were both new to birding and we were observing a Wood Duck from a blind. The duck was fairly far out on the pond and we were intrigued and puzzled by its behavior. We couldn’t figure out why it was so immobile, despite activity by other nearby ducks. We took several photos and spent long moments staring through our binoculars discussing its behavior. Finally it dawned on us that the duck in question was a wood duck — literally. It was a decoy. We laughed at our foolishness and were very grateful there were no witnesses."

— Yvonne B., Glendale, California

Swainson's Hawk
Swainson's Hawk. Photo: Marina Schultz/Audubon Photography Awards

"Over the last two school years, I have introduced my fourth grade students to my love of birding. One day last fall, I rescued an injured Swainson's Hawk from the side of the road on my way to school and took it to the Birds of Prey Foundation (a bird rehabilitation center). I shared this experience with the kids which led to a great discussion around human impact on bird communities. My students asked lots of questions and had great insight as to how we might make a difference for our feathered friends. As a result, we started a class passion project to raise money and tangible items for the Foundation. My class designed flyers and posters, made videos to share with other classes, and made morning announcements to the school asking for support. The kids worked so hard and were able to raise over $1,100 and two large boxes of tangible items to give to the Birds of Prey Foundation. I was so proud of my students and because of their efforts, I made arrangements with the Foundation to visit my classroom and bring a few of their ambassador birds. The visit was a huge success and meeting the birds was impactful. My students asked lots of great questions and learned so much."

— Kelly O., Longmont, Colorado

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland's Warbler. Photo: Eric Fishel/Audubon Photography Awards

"I did a Lunch and Learn at my workplace that opened with an account of my lifer Kirtland's Warblers that I saw on a birding vacation in Michigan. I played a video of one singing, I explained the jack pine habitat conservation efforts that saved it from extinction, and I used this example to go on to a further presentation on the importance of native plant species. At the end of the presentation many people said that they had no idea that native plant species were an issue. One of the people who attended really got on the native plants bandwagon and told me several times how his eyes were opened and how he always has that in mind when landscaping his property now. The title of the presentation was 'If You Plant It, They Will Come.'"

— Auralee C., Columbus, Ohio

Barn Owls
Barn Owls. Photo: Pamela Dimeler/Audubon Photography Awards

"My daughter-in-law has had Barn Owls nesting on her property for years in southern California. She always considered them noisy, sleep-disturbing, useless animals until I photographed one and showed her a close up of its countenance. She was astounded and could not believe that it was 'her owl'. She now watches them and wants to protect them. I have many other similar stories with family members and friends who did not appreciate wildlife until they viewed my images and learned of my love and respect for birds and wildlife in general."

— Steve T., Laurel, Montana

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron. Photo: Susan Allen/Audubon Photography Awards

"My dear husband... he wasn't against birds, he just didn't think about them. I started calling his attention to the birds that came to a little feeder I put up. Soon he was asking me the names of different birds he saw at home and elsewhere. He asked questions about them — if I didn't know the answers, I looked on Audubon or eBird to find the answers. Soon he started to care about the birds at our place and made several feeders and nest boxes. Now he always asks if he needs to buy more bird food when we go to Tractor Supply. We put in a 4,000 gallon fresh-water pond with a waterfall and stream so the birds can have water year-round and stock it with inexpensive fish for heron snacks. Now he sends photos we take of 'our' birds to his friends. Several of them have put up feeders and nest boxes."

— Dixie C., Tehachapi, California

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch. Photo: Paula Brown/Great Backyard Bird Count

“I made Flat Stanley scrapbooks for both my niece and my nephew when they were in the early years of grammar school. I placed Flat Stanley in the ground by the bird feeder and highlighted all of the birds that came and gave them fun facts about each of them. They still talk about it to this day and can tell me those facts.”

—Marlene K., Homer Glen, Illinois

Osprey. Photo: Jason Zangari/Audubon Photography Awards

"My young daughter first watched birds with us in our suburban backyard. Her childlike excitement and wonder for Cardinals and Blue Jays was nurtured by grandparents, who introduced her to Ospreys and Great Blue Herons. Her college career led her to investigate Dark-eyed Juncos. Graduate work was with Thick-billed Murres and Lesser Auklets. Post-graduate work has been with Blue-footed Boobies and the ubiquitous House Sparrow. Her wonder for birds is not dimmed by the hard work of academia. Go, birds! Go, Rebecca!"

—Laura Y., Nashville, IN

If you are interested in participating in our Donor Insight Panel Survey, please email Great Egret Society Manager Lindsay McNamara at insightpanel@audubon.org for more information.

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