I consider education to be one of the universal truths of birding, but that can mean anything from simply looking up a new bird in a field guide to pursuing advanced research in genetic ornithology. Obviously, that is quite the broad range, and part of being your own birder is finding your own way to learn more about birding and birds.
Recently, I focused on the education component of my birding by beginning classes in the Florida Master Naturalist Program from the University of Florida. It’s a comprehensive program that covers a variety of topics, from habitats and wildlife monitoring to conservation and restoration. There is no specific order to the program, and it can be completed on each individual’s timeline, allowing for flexibility and adjustment to scheduling needs.
The course I took, Environmental Interpretation, is a special topic within the program and features intense study and analysis of different interpretive approaches, from presenting lectures and talks to guided walks and tours as well as displays and signage. There is much more to engaging the public in a topic than just teaching or presenting facts, and I’ve learned a great deal about how to effectively connect to individuals and visitors of different interests, needs, and backgrounds. I’ve studied the logistics of interpretive programs, and participated in a dozen or more case studies analyzing a variety of options and why they work or not. I’ve worked with other participants with a range of interests and expertise to coordinate sample interpretive programs, and been guided through multiple examples of different applications to see the vast variety and creativity involved in connecting nature to the public in a meaningful way that can lead to further engagement and passion.
So how does this apply to my own, personal birding? The work I do – writing about birding and wild birds – is one form of environmental interpretation. I’ve learned more about the importance of providing a personal connection for my readers, and different ways of doing that, particularly when I don’t know who may always be reading my articles. I’ve also learned techniques that can be helpful should I lead bird walks or tours, and I’ve learned more about how I can offer feedback when asked to consult on different bird-related projects, such as feeder development, newsletters, and festivals (all of which I have done in the past). All in all, this is one step along the path to enhance my birding and help me to bring birding to others.
And it will be only the first step. I fully intend to continue enrolling in the master naturalist courses, though scheduling, deadlines, and other commitments must always be juggled (as we all have lives beyond birding). It may take several years for me to manage all the parts of the program, but as we continue to be birders, we ought to continue educating ourselves so we can better enjoy the birds. This is only one way I’ve chosen, and I hope you find a way that is just as enjoyable for you.
Be sure to check out your local extension offices, community education centers, nature centers, garden nurseries, and similar options that may offer single courses or full programs you can enjoy as you learn more about birds and birding!