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Bird Clubs: Relevant in the modern era or remnants of a bygone era?

Tawny-flanked Prinia

I am a proud member of my local bird club and often lead walks for the club. What I love about these walks is how I get to connect with a diverse group of people from different age groups and backgrounds – simply united by our love of birds. The groups are normally made up of birders with different levels of experience. An exciting moment on a walk a few years ago was when one of the newer birders was the first to see the Rufous-bellied Heron that has made itself at home in a local reserve. It has been exciting to see the willingness of birders in the group to not only enjoy the birds themselves but also to share their knowledge with others in the group.

The question that many ask is how relevant bird clubs are in this day and age.

I have heard stories from older birders about the challenges they faced before in sharing news about sightings. Nowadays, we have the convenience of cell phones and email, so you can only imagine how long it may have taken for news to spread of certain species that had been found. Information was also found in books and in the minds of the great birders. Much of the information that would have been shared before would have taken place at a bird club gathering. Today, almost all the information that one requires can be found in a few minutes on the internet. Club gatherings and walks were a big part of the draw of clubs in years gone by, whereas in this social media age, a bird outing can be organized with anyone in your contact list.

Many younger birders prefer the thrill of twitches, listing, and birding adventures with their friends to the organized outings that clubs provide. Growing WhatsApp and Telegram groups dedicated to connecting younger birders together have, in many ways, taken the thrill of joining a bird club away for these youngsters.

Life is busy for many people, and they would rather have the flexibility of birding on their own terms than committing to joining a bird club.

With all these challenges, many bird clubs are losing members, with many birders preferring to simply bird independently of clubs.

So, do bird clubs still have a place in this era?

The argument that one may make is that they can simply join BirdLife South Africa, thereby contributing to conservation but bird on our terms. The truth is that birders actually have the freedom to do just that and still make a contribution to conservation. We live in a democratic society – and this is the freedom that is afforded to birders.

But I do feel that doing this does rob you of many of the benefits that clubs provide. For newer birders, clubs are a great place to learn about birds and birding in a safe environment. Many clubs are not only organizing walks and events for older birders but have also created events for kiddies. This means children can learn about birds from more experienced birders in a safe, fun environment.

For the more experienced birders, teaching others is a great way to grow your understanding of birds. One of the ways that you will keep on learning is by teaching others. I often get asked questions that I must find out the answers for when doing walks, which benefits me as a birder.

Bird clubs also provide a valuable tool for conservation in local areas. Our local club has been able to tackle local conservation issues in our area, being able to draw on not only the resources of the club but also the knowledge of the various members of the club. Bird clubs allow you to add your voice to conservation challenges so that they can be fought more effectively.

There is something special about getting together with a group of people at a bird club outing. I have been able to form friendships with people that I would have never expected to spend time with.

Let me know in the comments if you feel that bird clubs are still relevant?

I encourage you to look for your local bird club and give an outing a try – I am almost sure you will be hooked and look to sign up for the club.


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