Birding takes off during pandemic as younger demographic flock to watch fowl

More people were home watching their own feeders and even venturing to popular spots like the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary to check out what kinds of feathered fowl were perched high in trees. 

With offices at home and people looking for safe outdoor activities birding has a wider audience this year

A Great Horned Owl gives on-lookers a moody glare at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Birdwatching really took off in Calgary this year. 

According to many in the birding community, more people were home watching their own feeders and even venturing to popular spots like the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary to check out what kinds of feathered fowl were perched high in trees. 

It's a trend that is encouraging for avid birders, because this year especially, a younger generation has picked up on the interest.

Caitlin Acquroff is in her 20s and has blue hair -- a far cry from the Tilley-hat donning men with long lenses you might come across on any given day in one of Calgary's many bird-watching hotspots. 

"It gives me kind of a purpose instead of just saying, oh, I have to get outside, I have more of a goal in mind," Acquroff said. "So I can bring my binoculars or my camera and my bird books and then I have something that is actually getting me outside, having a purpose, I think has been really important the last few months."

She was first introduced to bird watching last summer by a friend, but her interest really started this past spring. Instead of going on a hike and hearing "the birds" Acquroff said she became interested in differentiating between species and appreciating the variety flying all around us. 

"It was a really nice way to kind of connect with nature and the and what was around me, it seems to me, it brings on a sense of calm and happy-ness when I'm just out looking at birds or other wildlife."

Introduced to birding through a board game

Without access to a car, going for walks with a purpose, like checking another bird off her list, has become motivating and fulfilling. And it's something Acquroff said she is excited to continue throughout winter. 

Sara Brooks lives in Tuscany where they have access to plenty of nature with a few nearby ponds and the Twelve Mile Coulee to explore. But oddly enough, the family's first introduction to birds was through a table-top board game called Wingspan.

"The game is fun, challenging, and contains beautiful artwork with bits of information about the birds. Needless to say, the game piqued our curiosity about birds in the real world," Brooks said. 

Brooks said her family already liked walks and hikes, especially finding cool fungi to identify and photograph. So, birding was another way to engage with nature. 

Birders getting younger

"Since spring, we've been buying bird books, binoculars, and I've recently gone on a bit of a bird feeder spree to try and attract birds to our yard," Brooks said. "Since October, we've had chickadees, sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, downy woodpeckers, northern flickers, one house finch, and many magpies visit!"

Kris Brown-Schoepp has co-owned The Wild Bird Store for 23 years. This year, Brown-Schoepp says sales are the highest she's seen, up by approximately 40 per cent with nearly double the new clientele she'd see in an average year. 

And her customers are getting younger. Brown-Schoepp said a decade ago they would see predominantly older folks, retirees, frequent the shop. During the pandemic, a new crowd was coming through the door.
"We want the newer parents to be teaching their kids about nature," Brown-Schoepp said. "It's part of what's missing. And we're losing lots of habitat because of construction, new home builds. And so we want to really get people back into the nature part of it and realizing that this is an important part of Mother Earth."

'Patience is free'

She said with people working from home and setting up home offices, people come in wanting to make their backyards more lively. Bird watching is the perfect pandemic pass time. 

Brown-Schoepp recommends getting feeders or, even better, a birdbath -- water is difficult to come by in the winter, and more scarce than food for birds. 

And then there's the thrill of adding a bird to your "life list" Brown-Schoepp says bird watchers are just like any other collector out there.

It's like people who collect stamps or collect coins … you know, you're always looking for that next best thing or the perfect shot," Brown-Schoepp said. "All you need is a pair of binoculars. It's really all you need. And patience and patience is free. So if you have the time and you're willing to drive around for four to six hours looking for one bird, you'll see a lot of others on the way."

Matt Wallace wears many hats, he is the organizer of the City Nature Challenge, he works with Nature Calgary, and has organized the 2020 Christmas Bird Count. He said in his friend group, more people are interested in birding. 

"You can go anywhere you can find birds, they're fascinating to watch and learn about," Wallace said. "

Overall, he says the trend is encouraging because it means people are engaging with nature in a positive way. Which connects people to the importance of biodiversity.