Birding is currently one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the world. A blog article on the Chirp Birding website gave a staggering statistic about birding in the United States, ‘In the US, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service compile a National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation every five years. Their most recent 2016 report estimates that there were 45.1 million birdwatchers (16 years or older) in the country.’
As exciting as the news is that birding is growing at the rate that it is, we also need to remember that as the profile of birding grows, there is a greater awareness from not only those who are interested in nature but also from those that are interested in the equipment that birders carry. The sad reality is that we are now hearing more and more accounts of birders that are becoming victims of criminals. Many birders go out into the field with valuable equipment – binoculars, fancy camera equipment, 4x4 vehicles, and a range of other items that are very attractive to those who wish to ‘make a quick buck’ at the expense of someone else. A sticker on a car that says ‘I stop for birds’ might be of interest to those that are interested in birding, but as criminals become aware of the equipment that birders use, that same sticker may make someone with motives that are not so pure aware of what equipment that person has with them.
As we go about in our pursuit of the birds that we so love, we MUST stay vigilant. I am not saying that everyone that has been a victim of crime has in some way not been vigilant, but we can all do small things to lessen the risk of us becoming another statistic in the police records.
So here are a few things that we can do as birders to keep our guard up:
1) BIRD IN A GROUP – Personally, there is nothing I enjoy more than getting out into nature by myself and getting my ‘birding fix’. There is something strangely therapeutic about getting out into nature alone. As much I enjoy birding alone, I have realised that, for my own safety, I need to bird with other people as often as possible. As with a flock of birds, the greater the numbers the smaller the risk of one becoming a target. We know that criminals are becoming more brazen now, but birding in groups still makes it a bit safer. This is why it’s becoming more important to belong to a local bird club – this not only allows you to connect to the club outings that are done in groups but also, as your network of birding friends grows, it becomes easier to make arrangements to bird with other people when you want to go to places. The small annual fee of joining a club is well worth the value when you take this into account.
2) BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS - When you look through binoculars and cameras, it is quite easy to become unaware of what is happening around you. Birding, in many ways, offers one the opportunity to shut out the noise of the world and focus on the birds that you are out to see. It is important to focus on the bird and its behaviour – but it is just as important to be aware of what is happening around you. Become aware of vehicles and people that are moving around the area – lookout for unusual behaviour when you see people in the area. This is also a lot easier when birding with other people, while you are looking for birds, someone else in the group can keep an eye out on what is happening around you. If you notice someone that is displaying any sort of strange behaviour – it is a good idea to listen to your instinct and rather be safe than sorry.
3) READ THE NEWS – Be aware of crime hotspots and stay clear of them as much as possible. Your life is more important than trying to add another bird to your list in someplace that is not safe. Our local bird club has a WhatsApp group that members can connect with and this allows us to stay informed of many of the incidents that take place in our area. There are also many great birding groups on Facebook that provide valuable information on the safety of various birding locations. We don’t need to become crippled with fear, but we do need to be aware of places to stay clear of.
4) BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA – I often see birders placing posts of what equipment they are using and where they are going to bird on specific days. This advises criminals about where they can target their next victim and the equipment they might be able to acquire. When we post on certain Facebook groups, we do not know everyone on the group and why they have joined the group – so always be careful before posting. Also, be careful of friend invites from people that you do not know - this again allows people to track whatever you post on your personal profile.
It is sad that we need to put out these kinds of posts, but I hope that it will ensure that we have a far smaller list of crime statistics amongst our birding community.
Please let us know if there are any other tips that you think that we should have included.