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Canadian researcher seeks input from Valley birders

January 28, 2019

HARLINGEN — Fresh air, beautiful locations, the thrill of a bloodless hunt and the eternal additions to life lists are all part of the allure of birding.

Now one Canadian researcher wants to compile data on some of birding’s intangibles, like which activities and skills birders consider most important in their enjoyment of birds and how they choose to interact and observe them in the wild.

Vanessa L. Johnson is an undergraduate at the University of Lethbridge, Ontario, majoring in psychology. She became interested in birding two decades ago growing up on Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off the northern Pacific coast of Canada.

“My neighbors were avid birders and, having noticed I had an interest in nature, took me out with them on a local bird count,” she said via email. “I hadn’t paid much attention to birds before that, but the bird count made me realize just how many birds there were around us and how interesting they were, from the tiny golden-crowned kinglets who tagged along down the trail with us to the beautiful harlequin ducks along the shoreline.

“That day really stayed with me and set off my love for birds, and I became quite curious as to how other people got involved in birding and what aspects of it caught their enthusiasm,” she added. “I had already done an applied study at the University of Lethbridge that looked into why people are drawn to birds, whether through watching them, feeding them or getting involved in conservation, so for my honors thesis I decided to dig further into that subject and investigate how people get involved with birds and why.”

Naturally enough, her interest includes the Rio Grande Valley, where per capita birders are concentrated to a degree generally not seen elsewhere in North America.

In her broad search for answers, she’s asking birders here in the Valley to help her with her thesis by responding to an online survey about their experiences and enjoyment of their pastime.

“You don’t need to be highly experienced to participate in the survey — I’m interested in hearing from as wide a range of birders as I can get, from casual feeder-watchers to hardcore twitchers,” Johnson said. “The survey is for anyone who has a particular interest in wild birds, mainly focusing on birdwatching but also including other activities such as reading bird-related magazines or blogs, maintaining a bird-friendly garden, putting out bird feeders, etc.”

The survey is open to U.S. and Canadian citizens 18 years of age and older. Johnson says previous surveys on her topics of interest consist of studies which are much smaller in scope, focusing on small geographical target areas like New York City or on specific events such as the Great Texas Birding Classic.

“A review study found these small-scale studies didn’t apply well across broader regions, so the goal of my study is to get a sense of what American and Canadian birders are like as a whole,” Johnson said. “Other studies have suggested that birders from different countries have different approaches, views and motivations on birding and get different things out of the experience, so I’m very curious to find out what our perspective is in the U.S. and Canada.”

The survey takes between 30 and 35 minutes to complete, Johnson says, and participation is confidential, anonymous and voluntary.

rkelley@valleystar.com

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