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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stephanie Cadieux, recently re-elected as MLA for Surrey South, has been named BC Liberal Caucus Chair. (contributed photo)
Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux named Liberal caucus chair

Longtime MLA confident BC Liberals will present an effective opposition

The 3D Digital Breast Tomosynthesis Mammography machine, new to the Surrey Breast Health Clinic at the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre. (submitted photo)
New 3D breast-cancer technology in Surrey ‘has already helped so many women’

Digital breast tomosynthesis new to Surrey Breast Health Clinic

Anita Huberman, CEO Surrey Board of Trade. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Surrey Board of Trade calls for ‘immediate’ government help for businesses shut down

‘Don’t punish all businesses for the sins of a few,’ CEO Anita Huberman says

Gurdawara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar in Surrey is warning the public of a possible COVID-19 exposure at the temple between Nov. 18 and 20. (Photo: Google Street View)
Surrey gurdwara warns of possible COVID-19 exposure

Facebook post says individual was at the temple Nov. 18 to 20

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

(Pixabay.com)
Man, 28, warned by Kootenay police to stop asking people to marry him

A woman initially reported the incident to police before they discovered others had been popped the question

Winston Blackmore (left) and James Oler (right) were sentenced on separate charges of polygamy this week in Cranbrook Supreme Court.
No more charges expected in Bountiful investigation, special prosecutor says

Special prosecutor says mandate has ended following review of evidence from Bountiful investigations

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Refuse to follow B.C.’s mask mandate? Face a $230 fine

Masks are now required to be worn by all British Columbians, 12 years and older

BC Teachers' Federation President Teri Mooring is asking parents of school-aged children to encourage the wearing of masks when possible in schools. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
LETTER: Teachers union encourages culture of mask wearing in B.C. schools

BCTF President Teri Mooring asks parents to talk with children about wearing masks in school

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Police lights
Vancouver elementary school locked down after unknown man walks into classroom

Police arrested the man and sent him for a psych evaluation

Most Read