So What's the Birding Co-op?
An excerpt from Booms and Peents, Nighthawk’s little magazine. Read or download the full magazine for free »
As of September, The Birding Co-op has been around for a year. What started with a group of friends discussing a piece of the birding world that was missing in early 2020 morphed into a determined team that spent months forming an organization that strives to be a link to many facets of birding, and now has hundreds of members and is working with a wide range of birding and conservation groups.
The Co-op’s Mission
The Birding Co-op is a grassroots organization that promotes inclusivity in the global birding community by creating accessible travel experiences that foster meaningful connections among birders and nature enthusiasts while supporting communities through responsible tourism practices, advocating for social liberties, and advancing science-based environmental changes.
Unique Birding Experiences
Just as the mission states, the Co-op was foremost formed on the idea of unique birding experiences. The founding team was connected to many companies and organizations that support small, localized birding and conservation initiatives, and wanted to find a way to work with companies to connect individuals directly to those initiatives and the people who make them possible.
For instance, Icaro Birding, which runs small-group tours in Colombia, is deeply connected to local Colombian guides and small local initiatives such as Semillas Agroecológicas, which works with family landowners to encourage environmentally-friendly practices. Icaro supports these worthy groups in both informal and formal ways, including donating portions of tours to the causes, but the Co-op wanted to take the involvement a step farther by making direct connections with individuals to these groups.
To do so, the Co-op is working with Icaro to create an experience that combines aspects of a birding tour with community involvement. Segments of Icaro’s existing birding tours are being merged with time spent with community projects and initiatives. The result is a slow-paced trip that is focused on immersing participants in many aspects of one area and incorporates birding around the projects and people involved. Taking this approach is the opposite of a birds-first itinerary and allows the initiatives to share the stage alongside birding.
A Global Virtual Community
When it became apparent that the pandemic was going to have a long-term effect on travel, the Co-op was forced to pivot to find ways to connect and engage remotely. This turned out to be an opportunity for the Co-op to examine its role outside of working on travel-based activities and instead connect to a much wider audience virtually.
The heart of this effort is the Co-op Community, a virtual platform that allows Co-op members worldwide to connect and share ideas. The Community is organized around topics, such as activities and partner initiatives, and has dedicated spaces for things such as the Co-op’s popular virtual hangouts and a video library of recordings of member presentations. Any member can contribute to each of the online spaces.
The result has been an opportunity for like-minded birders from all over the world to get to know one another. An unexpected bonus is that members of lesser-known organizations have joined the Co-op, met others in the Community, and been able to connect over mutual goals.
This has already led to partnerships where the Co-op is able to promote causes to the membership. In Icaro Birding’s case, the Co-op approached the language barrier between many Colombian birders and guides and U.S. birders – who make up about 80% of the Co-op’s current membership – to create Bilingual Birder Hangouts. These virtual hangouts are geared toward intermediate to advanced English/Spanish speakers and are predominately in Spanish, but participants are encouraged to speak and write in their second language. The Co-op uses software that allows for real-time captions to aid communication and is experimenting with real-time translation services, too.
Reaching New Audiences in Birding
Without the Community, the Co-op’s growth would have been limited to individuals who were interested in travel in the near future and potential partners from within the founders’ networks. The Community has allowed the Co-op to grow organically to include anyone who is inspired by the Co-op’s mission, which has resulted in faster growth.
The Co-op’s goal is to use its mobility to continue to look for small-scale ways to grow and connect the birding community. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Co-op can work with tour operators, lodges, and festivals to make unique experiences to fully cover guide and staff costs for partners without added costs of a middleman. Promoting these opportunities to the Co-op’s membership is reaching an audience that is typically not targeted by other birding businesses. These components all lead to the accessible opportunities that the Co-op strives for in its mission.
What’s Next for the Co-op
In August and September 2021, the Co-op is hosting its inaugural Optics Drive, where used optics and donations are collected to be distributed to Co-op partners who have been involved with the Co-op over the past year. The drive was formed from discussions around how not having optics for bird guides is one of the most limiting challenges for building a birding community in emerging locations. This is an effort that the Co-op hopes to build on annually to support a variety of organizations and efforts.
Looking forward, the Co-op is eager to get on the road as it partners with birding festivals, and, starting in 2022, launching Co-op Experiences throughout the U.S. and world. The Co-op has carefully selected each of its starting destinations in hopes of building sustained relationships at each location, and rather than covering as many destinations as possible, focus instead on offering multiple trips with the same partners in upcoming years to maximize ongoing relationship-building and connections.
The Co-op still has plenty of room to grow and plans to continue to increase partnerships as volunteer capacity allows. There is a balance to be struck between size and impact, and The Birding Co-op strives to maintain a grassroots approach to continue to work in small, meaningful ways.
The Co-op is eager to hear about ideas for collaboration, volunteers to help out, and welcomes unique ideas. If you are interested in learning more about how you or your organization can get involved with The Birding Co-op, visit www.thebirdingcoop.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.