Beyond the Binoculars: How Birding Can Make a Difference in the World - Holly Merker

Are you curious about how birding can have a positive impact on not just your life, but also the world around you? Discover how this hobby can make a difference in conservation efforts and connect you with like-minded individuals by reading on.

March 2023 | revised January 2024

What do you think a teenager can gain from birding?

In addition to the myriad of wellness benefits birding can bring to teen birders, the community of like-minded young birders coming together can significantly and positively transcend into other aspects of your lives. And this is a hobby or awareness that you can and will take with you wherever life takes you, which sets it apart from many other interests. Additionally, because of eBird and other projects young birders can get involved with, birding offers a way to make a difference in the world around us and help efforts which address the impact of climate change

Can you share any advice for aspiring birders?

The best advice I can give to young birders is to be yourself. Birders don’t have to fit a mold that is predesigned. It’s okay to be a birder who doesn’t identify everything. And it’s okay to be a birder who does! Whatever style of birding works for you is what makes you a good birder. While striving towards goals in birding is great, having no goals and just enjoying observing birds is equally as great. 

Some of the most astute birders I know are not birders who seek every rare bird, or have the longest life lists, but instead those who pay careful attention to the common birds in their own neighborhoods, learning about their lifestyles, habits, and behavioral nuances that many birders never take the time to notice. 

One more piece of advice- get involved. Seek opportunities to volunteer – whether that be with Christmas Bird Counts, Bird Atlas projects (PA [has started] our 3rd atlas in 2024!), or other local projects/organizations. You’d be surprised how much volunteer hours count towards college acceptance and future paid jobs! In fact, I am certain I got into my first choice college because of my volunteer work as a teen – the admission counselor focused the entire interview around that because he was so intrigued and it set me apart from others with my same grades and scores (I had been a “Junior Zoo Keeper“ at the Maryland Zoo).

What opportunities do you know of? 

There are many terrific opportunities for young birders to participate in. From local bird club outings focused on young people, to camps just for young birders! 

I am involved with two such camps for just teen birders: the American Birding Association’s Camp Delaware Bay where I am the Camp Director and National Audubon’s Hog Island Camp in Maine

Camps like these are two examples of how teen birders can come together and develop life-long friendships surrounding the joy of birding, and share their passion for birds with people in their age group! There are many other opportunities for young birders, and many teens try all the teen birding camps around the US (look for VENT’s Camp Chiricahua and Camp Cascades, and a few new camps now offered in the US). Note that both of these camps (ABA and Hog Island) offer scholarships! 

Also, the ABA’s Young Birder Mentoring program is just fantastic! Check it out and learn more about other opportunities on this site:

And in 2023, the Frontiers in Ornithology Symposium for youth will return! This is a single-day event that will be held in northern Delaware for students aged 13-23 opportunities to The Frontiers in Ornithology Association aims to educate and inspire youth to take their passion for birds to a higher level by encouraging opportunities in ornithology, conservation science, and related academic and professional pursuits. 

In 2019, just before the pandemic, the event was held in late September and sold out. The symposium brought in students from 14 different states and featured over 18 speakers – all leaders in their fields – who shared how they got to where they are now in their careers, inspiring those attending through presentations and in-person networking. This is a great opportunity to connect to college professors, scientists, inventors, and even artists, all of whom have made a significant splash in modern bird conservation. Stay tuned to our website to find emerging details:

So, there are many opportunities out there for young birders today. Many more than when I was a kid, which makes me so excited for the future of our planet and the birds around us!