Number of birdwatchers in Australia

To: <>
Subject: Number of birdwatchers in Australia
From: "Mules, Michael" <>
Date: Fri, 2 Mar 2007 09:45:28 +1100
 I don't think it's a hole in the curriculum - most state curricula have
a large component devoted to biodiversity, ecology and issues affecting
the environment, either through 7-10 science, or in a SOSE/Geography
context.  Many schools also run additional co-curricular or
extra-curricular programs to increase students' engagement with the
environment.  I would hesitate to prescribe a bird-specific component of
curriculum across an entire state or territory.  My gut feeling is it
may even be counterproductive.  What gets left out?  Should mammals or
cephalopods get equal billing?

I would put the lack of engagement of "today's youth" down to several
factors.  One is lack of empathy with the topic, rather than lack of
exposure to the topic - it isn't relevant or doesn't provide them with
an obvious benefit.  An equally (if not more) important factor is too
much engagement:  many adolescents are being bombarded with messages of
doom, gloom, environmental or political or economic catastrophe; all
topics that affect them and they care about.  Birds are part of these
issues, but students may feel overwhelmed or helpless, or find another
aspect to focus their efforts on.

I know I'm a bit biased in the sample of teenagers I encounter on a
daily basis as I work at a private school, but they seem to me to be on
average more driven, more engaged, and much more active than I recall
being at a similar age.  I think that for many young people, they don't
have enough time in their life, or have too many competing demands -
sport, part-time job, study, helping the family, music lessons, etc... -
to fit a time intensive pastime such as birdwatching into their schedule
(it is time intensive for an urban learner: daylight hours only, travel
to and from areas to go birdwatching, time taken in learning ID and
fieldcraft skills, large upfront costs in binoculars and fieldguide for
a teenager, giving over half a day if going on an organised trip).
Teenagers are actually really lovely people (some of the time), almost
the opposite of the ACA/Today Tonight concept of "youth".

On a more selfish note, do we really want to have more people
birdwatching?  The stories of twitches in the UK makes my blood run
cold.  I actually intensely dislike going birdwatching with more than a
couple of people - it ruins the occasion for me.  I suppose it's why I
only recently joined any clubs, and keep failing to renew my membership.
I know, on an intellectual level, the more participation, the more
powerful the political voice of birdwatcher will be.  But I am just not
a fan of too many birdwatchers in the one place at the one time.

Sorry, the above reads like a rant.  It wasn't meant to be.

Having written all this, I haven't even answered the original question
of how do we stop people believing we're dorks or old? (My wife calls it
"nerdwatching" by the way).  I suppose on one level, we can't.  People
will believe what they believe, whether we like it or not.  On another
level, most of my students know I birdwatch; I do so on school camps, my
screensaver on my computer is of wildlife photos I have taken.  It is
not seen as a lesser thing to do (although still unusual) by my
students, because I don't make excuses, or pass it off as an
embarassment or jokingly or as anything other than a very enjoyable and
worthwhile enterprise.  They accept it at face value as a result. Unlike
my fellow staff...

Michael Mules

Carey Baptist Grammar School
Kew Campus
349 Barkers Road Kew Victoria Australia 3101

-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of Allan & Hazel
Sent: Thursday, 1 March 2007 5:24 PM
Subject: Number of birdwatchers in Australia

Is this the result of Australian children being more involved with
sporting activities during their school years or does it reflect a
gaping hole in our school curriculum?  How can we change the perception
that birdwatching is for dorks, retirees, or just dorky retirees?

Hazel Wright
Canberra ACT


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