Social media, digital photography allow millennials to flock to birdwatching

Social media, digital photography allow millennials to flock to birdwatching

More young people are flocking to birdwatching than ever, aided by social media, digital photography

Yousif Attia wasn’t exactly a typical teenager. He had always been fascinated by birds, and he wanted to participate in a local Christmas bird count — an annual event where people across North America note the number of fowl in the Western hemisphere.

No one at his Calgary high school shared quite the same passion for ornithology, but fortunately it was the late 1990s and local birdwatching groups were just a few clicks away on the internet. Attia found his community.

“I found a mentor who kind of took me under his wing, as far as driving me around and taking me on Christmas bird counts with him and then encouraging me to lead walks myself,” said Attia, now a 35-year-old tour guide. “It kind of took off from there.”

More young people like Attia are flocking to birdwatching than ever, aided by the internet, social media and digital photography, avian enthusiasts say. While previous generations had to dust off old bird books at the library, millennials have easier access to information and like-minded individuals than ever before.

Attia is among the thousands of people who have descended upon Vancouver this week for the International Ornithological Congress, a global gathering of highly respected bird scientists held every four years. It is the first time the sought-after event has been staged in Canada since the 1980s, and convener Robert Elner pushed to bring it to British Columbia.

“It’s a sense of incredible pride, not for myself but for Canada to actually host this. This is a real big endorsement of Canadian science and basically Canadian culture,” said Elner, a scientist emeritus with Environment Canada.

Organizers partnered with the inaugural Vancouver International Bird Festival, which is also being held this week and features such millennial-friendly events as fowl-themed improv comedy, a laid-back nature walk dubbed “Return of the Hipster Birder,” and bird-inspired outdoor yoga.

Festival chairman Rob Butler has observed the demographics of birdwatching change.

“It used to be the purview of generally retired people, but it’s really becoming much younger. The average age is now in the high 40s, early 50s, because the people have a bit of money and can travel,” he said. “But it’s coming down.”

Travellers who are entirely focused on seeing rare birds are relatively few, while most want a broader cultural experience that involves birds, said Butler.

That’s why the festival is “all about connecting you to culture through birds,” he said.

Cam Gillies, owner of Eagle-Eye Tours, which facilitates guided bird tours in dozens of countries, said most of his clients want a tour that features some birds but also includes other animals and natural wonders.

More people in their 30s are signing up for his tours than ever, Gillies said, driven by the rise of digital photography and websites like Instagram and Facebook.

“You can fill the frame with some beautiful bird, which normally would have taken thousands of dollars of camera equipment and a really big lens to achieve,” he said. “People are now able to capture those images and share them on social media.”

Some millennials are pushing the artistic limits of bird fandom even further. Hillary Esdaile, 33, and Jennifer Miller, 36, are artists and birdwatchers who have created full, lifelike avian costumes, which they wore to the opening ceremony of the congress on Monday.

Miller said her elaborate costume depicting a bearded vulture — a near-threatened bird of prey — is a fun way to spark conversations about protecting wildlife.

“I really like being able to engage with people. They might not know about the species that I’m costuming as,” she said. “To let people learn about this bird through this interactive costume has been very rewarding to me.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Co-creatorsAdrianna Hatton and Malcolm McKenzie stand next to the little free library revealed Sunday at 9710 First St. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Literary crowd helps opens little free library in Sidney

Located at 9710 First St., the book sharing box features original art and reclaimed wood

Deep Cove Elementary School principal Shelley Hardcastle (right) and vice-principal Mary Kaercher help to restock Reay Creek with fish – in this case, coho fry – after a recent bleach spill killed hundreds of fish. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich’s Deep Cove Elementary School helps to restock Sidney’s Reay Creek

Restocking followed bleach spill that killed hundreds of fish in creek

A new report pegs the annual cost of hiring a third party to monitor use of pickleball courts in North Saanich at $12,000. (Black Press Media file photo).
North Saanich could end up hiring third party to monitor pickleball courts

Other options up for consideration include use of cameras and timed locks

The barred owl is the most likely to be spotted in the south Island. (Ann Nightingale photo)
Barred owls dominate Greater Victoria owl-scape

Western screech owl population decimated, partly due to barred owls

Between June 1 and 7, 168 net unconditional sales were made for properties in the VREB region. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria home sales slightly behind last June’s pace

Benchmark value of single-family home in Greater Victoria tops $1 million

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read