Dumbing down of ABA and "Birding" [long].

To: Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Dumbing down of ABA and "Birding" [long].
From: Glen Ingram <>
Date: Tue, 24 Jun 1997 12:30:40 +1000
Dear Birdingaussers,
Because of requests for further information, I present you with two diverse opinions on the dumbing down of  the ABA and ?Birding?. Some Birdingaussers, who understand more than I, have weighed into the conflict on other servers: hopefully they will also post some information on Birding-Aus.

Yours sincerely

Glen Ingram

?Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse taht progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things? Russell Baker


Subject: [BIRDCHAT] Why change sucks(was: ABA stuff)
   Date:  Mon, 23 Jun 1997 13:09:26 -0700
   From:  Mike Patterson <>

Doesn't change just suck?

Doesn't having to listen to a fairly narrow segment of the birding (and
BIRDCHAT) population whine about how much change sucks suck?

I have been a birder since the age of 13.  I turn 40 at the end of the
week.  I have birded on 4 continents, I have a substantial (though
unpublished) life list and I've been a member of the ABA since the time
I finally started getting a regular paycheck.

I get _Birding_ magazine because it comes with the membership, not because
I find it a magazine that I have to have.  I like looking at the pictures.
I like guessing wrong at the photo quiz.  I occasionally like reading the
letters to the editor battles over how to pronounce Pileated or whether
species names should be capitalized.  I rarely read any of the rest of it.
I'm really not much interested in feather by feather ID articles, but I save
them just in case.

I'm willing to bet I'm representative of ABA members.

I would, however, be no more inclined to read _Birding_  if it had more
conservation stuff (I have _Nature Conservancy_ and _Conservation Science
Quarterly_ for that.)  And I find nothing more tedious than monthly articles
on keeping squirrels out of my feeder and the merits of thistle seed (and
_Birder's World_ meets those needs, anyway.)

I canceled my membership to the National Audubon Society because it became
too aloof (I belong to my local chapter as a "friend".)  And I canceled my
subscription to _Audubon Field Notes_ when they stopped being _American Birds_

We have no real information here about the direction that _Birding_ is
going.  We have panicky diatribes by conservatives and wishy-washy responses
by a very few people connected to the ABA hierarchy.  I'm going to guess that
the magazine will head toward the "conservation market" in the same way
_Audubon_ did (the feeder watcher market is glutted.)  But I'm also going to
guess that their heart was pure (unlike _Audubon_ which just smelled money)
in that they are genuinely concerned with neotropical declines, habitat loss,
etc.(the whole Partners in Flight thing.)

Why they feel this overwhelming urge to preach to the converted is beyond me.
I doubt it will increase their membership any and I doubt that they will be
able to provide information significantly different or better than other
magazines that have been in the conservation news business for a longer period
of time.  The magazine content will probably reflect the archtype of their
membership demographics more exactly, but this is different than saying that
it will meet their needs or provide significant enrichment of their sport.
In the education business we call this aiming for the middle. Some might
suggest that this is tantamount to "dumbing down." I prefer to think of it as
misplaced pragmatism.

I will probably not cancel my membership to ABA if the format of the magazine
changes, but I will be less inclined to save the back issues.  There is no
birding magazine that meets my needs nor do I represent a demographic large
enough to bother with.  But the ABA as a corporate identity probably feels
that it has outgrown the small demographic of rabid birders upon which the
organization was founded...

Like it or not (given the upsurge in birding as a pastime), they are
probably right...

and that sucks, too.

Mike Patterson


   Subject:  BIRDCHAT] Fwd: Of Ted Eubanks statement to Audubon on the ABA changes
   Date:  Mon, 23 Jun 1997 15:10:44 -0400
   From: "John C. LeVine" <>

Hi Chatters,

Today I received permission to cost post Ted Eubanks,  a Board of Director of
Audubon, remarks posted to Texbird on Saturday.  I feel that it has
information which is important to the discussion on Paul Lehman in that it
shows what we, the hardcore birders, are faced with as more people are drawn
to our sport as a diversion from the stresses of modern life.  There were two
posts and because of my effort to limit my use of band with I am combining
the forwarding into one post of mine so his second post will probably appear
first in the order as you read my post.

Again, thank you to those chatters who are tolerating the take over of
Birdchat by ABA members and to Chuck who is tolerating my multiple post on
this subject.  I am trying to make sure each of my posts bring something new
to the issue, so bare with me if I am not.  I believe I have only one more
post in me on this subject, my response to Daniel Williams reply that will
include some suggestion on what needs to be done for the hard core birders of

Great birding and find that next lifer!

John   (One of Birders2)
Los Angeles, CA

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The second of Ted's posts.

June 23, 1997

At 01:00 PM 6/22/97 CDT, you wrote:

>Leaves me wondering however what Audubon would have left in the way of any
>real bird science publications. I have read in these posts that the refered
>to transfer is pretty much a done deal.  One guy even suggested the
transfer >of the Christmas counts as well.

What Audubon will have left, Brush, is Bird Source. I believe that Bird
Source will ultimately contribute more to our recreation and science than
all of the previous printed publications combined. The CBCs will stay with
Audubon. We will computerize all of the CBC data, as well as the Cornell
Project Feeder Watch data, as the first step in creating Bird Source.
Therefore the CBCs will continue as an Audubon activity, and the results
will be incorporated into Bird Source. Perhaps as more of the details
concerning Bird Source become public your disquiet will be resolved. But,
in my opinion, the cutting edge of birding will be defined by how well we
exploit these new technologies. Bird Source presumes to do precisely that,
and I, for one, can't wait to get started.

In my opinion the debate over the ABA and Field Notes is just picking over
old bones. We need a new innovative approach to stay ahead of the growth
curve in birding. Rather than retool the old machine, let's begin to
discuss another model.

Ted Lee Eubanks
Board of Directors, National Audubon Society>>>
Forwarded message:
From:   (Ted Lee Eubanks)
Sender: (Audubon birding discussion list for Texas)
Reply-to:       (Ted Lee Eubanks)
Date: 97-06-22 13:59:23 EDT

At 09:15 AM 6/22/97 -0400, you wrote:

>And I am beginning to wonder about that direction. Has Audubon Field Notes
>really been sold to ABA? If I am not mistaken the president of ABA is on
the >board of NAS. What does this mean?

We can always be assured that Winnie will provoke a lively discussion :-) I
am not certain that TEXBIRDS is the proper forum for this debate, and I am
willing to transfer the discussion to another site if our subscribers
choose to do so. However, I would first like to answer Winnie's questions,
and to philosophize a bit about this evolution of birding that we are all

Let me attend to the details first. At the June 1997 NAS board meeting in
Red Wing, MN, the Audubon board approved a proposal to transfer Audubon
Field Notes to the American Birding Association. A transition of two years
will be allowed, and Audubon will assist ABA in funding this move. The
reasons for this transfer are two-fold. First, NAS has struggled with Field
Notes for years, and the number of subscribers has now fallen to 3500. If
Field Notes is to be resurrected (in other words, saved), the effort must
begin now.

Second, NAS, under the leadership of Frank Gill (as well as Susan Drennan),
is developing Bird Source. Funding has been received for the initiation of
Bird Source, and therefore the organization's resources and efforts are
being focused upon this project. Field Notes simply does not fit into what
Audubon envisions for our post-Bird Source future. Bird Source will offer a
complete range of on-line capabilities, and will enlist our citizen
scientists in a fashion that is impossible with a printed magazine. Frank
is working with Cornell Labs (John Fitzpatrick is a member of the NAS
board) to implement Bird Source, and I expect to see the first results this
year. Therefore we believed that the shift of Field Notes was best both for
the magazine as well as our organization.

Does this divestiture mean that Audubon is continuing its move away from
birds? No. Audubon has been redirected to the conservation of birds,
wildlife, and their habitats, and Bird Source (as well as the transfer of
Field Notes) is evidence that we are implementing the strategic plan. I
would ask you to consider two other important developments that were
announced at the Red Wing meeting. First, Kenn Kaufmann has been hired as
Field Editor for Audubon Magazine. Kenn will greatly influence the
direction and content of the magazine, and I look forward to seeing his
touch in the near future.

Second, in Red Wing the board approved a strategic plan for Latin America
(the results of a task force that Hardy Eshbaugh and I chaired). We have
funded the first year of implementation for Latin America, and we will be
hiring someone to head this effort in the near future. As you may know,
Audubon has chapters in seven Latin American countries. Birding and bird
conservation bind these chapters together, and Audubon anticipates
expanding its role in the conservation of these critical tropical habitats.

Finally, the president of ABA (Dan Williams) is not a member of the NAS
board. Perhaps you were thinking of the American Bird Conservancy. Their
president, Howard Brokaw, is a member of the NAS board, and several NAS
board members were involved in the establishment of ABC.

>I wonder if maybe there shouldn't be a  committee to figure out which
>organization fits into which niche and have those organizations do the best
>job possible at there niches. If all "bird"organizations do all the same
>things it totally dilutes the efforts and gets less done instead of more.

In a sense this discussion does take place, yet rarely in a formal setting.
I have personally discussed this matter with most of the leaders of these
organizations, and these debates will continue. However, I believe that
what we are experiencing is the natural evolution of an industry (or
recreation) in its early development or infancy.

I don't need to repeat the data that show the phenomenal growth in birding.
Yet we often fail to recognize that most of that expansion is taking place
among the least avid group of birders. Most of us (through our bird clubs,
newsletters, magazines, organizations) are only in contact with the most
avid members of our avocation. We see the birding world through our own
experiences. However, most birders are not like us. Most are not like Pete
Dunne, Paul Lehman, Greg Lasley, or Winnie Burkett. Most of the birders
that I have studied (most recently along the Platte River in Nebraska)
consider themselves to be less capable than other birders. They consider
birding to be only one of many outdoor activities that they are engaged in.
For them, the competitive aspect of birding is simply not appealing.

Of the 65 million Americans attracted to nature through birds, the vast
majority fits into this genre we call "casual." Of course, a percentage of
these people will continue to develop and specialize, and I would imagine
that this advancing group has fueled much of ABA's growth in the past
decade. Yet we all admit that the mass of birders, those people who at this
moment are only casually invested in this activity, are (at best) poorly
serviced by our existing organizations. Audubon will continue its efforts
to bring our neighbors to birds, but who will bring them to birding?

Perhaps ABA has recognized the obvious. The future growth of birding as a
recreation will be concentrated at the lower end of the avidity spectrum. I
agree that the membership of ABA has a right to question whether or not
their organization should be restructured to cater to this burgeoning
group. I would imagine that ABA would continue to grow, albeit at a reduced
rate, even if no changes were made. If birding continues to grow there will
always be a limited number of people who will advance to increased levels
of specialization. Yet a more rapid rate of growth, I suspect, can only be
attained through a redirection (even if only a slight mid-course
correction) of ABA's efforts and out-reach.

Audubon has reformed itself within the past three years (a process, as
Winnie notes, that is still in process). ABA is now struggling with similar
issues, and those of us who were around from the beginning (at least of the
ABA) are startled by the rapid rate of these changes. But why? Are we
really bothered by the growth of birding? What could be better for the
birds? I believe that people value what they use, and that they conserve
what they value. We should be ecstatic that more of our neighbors are
finding their way to birds.

Birding is offering an increased number of Americans an opportunity to
interact with the natural (rather than the artificial) world. I really
don't care how people find their way to nature. Birding, butterfly
collecting, hiking, hunting, rafting, biking, fishing, and photography are
fine by me. What we should be more concerned with is that growing sector of
the populace that has no contact with nature at all. If birding has a
unique appeal to many within our society who otherwise might be divorced
from nature, then let's explore ways to bring that activity (and nature)
closer to those around us.

Perhaps we should be considering a new organization to attend to these new
demands and desires. If ABA chooses to reach down into the market, then I
support them. However, what about the most avid of birders? Perhaps a new
organization (or publication) should be developed to meet their more
specialized needs. On the other hand, perhaps ABA will choose to continue
to concentrate on serving its traditional core constituency (the group that
has complained so vigorously the past few days). If so, then I will support
that decision as well. However, I would next argue that the growing
population of casual birders will present a set of needs and desires that
can only be met with a new approach. Either way, something new and
innovative is demanded.

Audubon will focus on birds, wildlife, and the conservation of their
habitats. Audubon will not (nor has it ever) reshape itself as a birding
club (our chapters do a much better job of this than our national
organization ever could). The ABA has played a critical role in developing
birding as an important recreation (a sport), and I do not see that need
diminishing. The various magazines (Wild Bird, Birder's Digest) do cater to
less avid or accomplished birders, but they will never be able to offer the
social benefits of belonging to a membership organization. Therefore I
believe that unless Audubon and/or ABA are willing to expand their services
into this expanding world of beginning or casual birders, then that
challenge will only be met by a new approach.

I will end by stating that I consider both Paul and Shawneen to be friends,
and  that I look forward to seeing them resurface in an important new role.
Their voices have been critical to the development of birding, and I have
no doubt that they will continue to occupy an important position in our
expanding world. Birding magazine has improved immeasurably since Paul took
the reigns, and I am eager to see just what new venture Paul throws himself
into in the near future. Rather than continually retooling our existing
organizations and publications, we need to consider plowing new ground. I
have no doubt that Paul and Shawneen will be critical to these new

Ted Lee Eubanks
Board of Directors, National Audubon Society
2200 Parkway
Austin, Texas 78703
Home: (512) 477-0017
Fax: (512) 477-8033

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