Bird Nerd Q&A: David Garcia - Seattle Audubon Nature Shop Manager
Welcome to the first in what just might be a series of Q&A-style articles on the Bird Nerd blog featuring birders and nature enthusiasts of all sorts.
Through our partnership with the Seattle Audubon Society (SAS), we’ve gotten in touch with David Garcia, manager of the SAS Nature Shop. According to his bio on the SAS website, David is an an advocate for diversity in the environmental movement, originally hailing from California.
David came to Seattle after graduating from Fordham University in New York, where he studied environmental policy. He’s a former AmeriCorps Service Member with our Education Programs and currently serves as an ambassador for Latino Outdoors.
We posed the same questions to David that we’ll be asking of our panelists at the The Bird is the Word: Spreading the Word About Birding panel, March 16 at the Wings Over Water Northwest Birding festival. Read on for his thoughtful and thorough answers!
Bird Nerd Blog (BNB): How does birding enrich your life?
David Garcia (DG): Birding gives me a whole new way to experience everything, and adds a layer of excitement to my everyday life that wasn’t there before.
I grew up playing Pokemon, and if you’re familiar with the game then you know the slogan – Gotta catch em all! Birding has turned my childhood fantasy of going out in search of every Pokemon into a reality. As a birder, I feel like Ash Catchum all the time – constantly looking up at the sky and into the trees in search of birds to add to my list or simply just observe for their beauty and intrigue. On days that I’m feeling lazy or like the weather is keeping me indoors, the possibility of seeing a cool bird I haven’t seen before or seeing some bird interactions that I’ve never seen before gets me up and out of the house. This can be especially hard to do on those dark dreary days in Seattle, but always makes me feel better.
Also, once you start to gain more knowledge of birds and the habitats that they favor, you find yourself going to places that you never knew existed or that you never thought you’d find yourself in search of specific birds.
Additionally, birding gives me a whole new way to experience places that I previously knew very well. My hometown of Chula Vista, CA, for example is a place that I feel like I know like the back of my hand. But knowing all the shortcuts and side streets and skate spots is different than knowing the different habitats and the bird life that exists within them. It’s like getting to know my hometown all over again.
Lastly, I kind of see birding as a “gateway drug” to learning more about the natural world around us as a whole. The more you observe birds and learn about their behaviors, diets, habitats etc., the more you start to learn about the other wildlife that they interact with, the land they use, and the way that the ecosystems function as a whole. Even if you don’t have interest in other wildlife – it’s inevitable that observing and learning about the birds around you brings you closer to the rest of nature.
BNB: Why is birding important?
DG: Controversial opinion: I wouldn’t necessarily say that birding is important. I would say that environmental stewardship is important, and birding is just one of the many pathways that may lead someone to become a steward of the environment in their community.
Everyone takes on birding in a different way. Some birders really like keeping lists of the birds they see; lists by state, county, neighborhood, etc. Some birders are artistically inclined and the natural beauty of bird plumage and wing patterns inspire them to create incredible art or poetry. Some birders like the thrill of chasing rare birds in remote areas. I guess birding is important in the sense that it is open and accessible to everybody, and the world of birds is so diverse and omnipresent that getting into birding can lead to so many other positive outcomes.
BNB: What impact does birding have (and can it have) on the world as a whole?
DG: Whoa, this is a loaded question! If you’ve ever read birding memoirs about people who travel the country or the world in search of birds, you know that birding can bring people from all walks of life and from all ends of the earth together for a common cause, and anything that can do that is an amazing and beautiful thing. Additionally, birding causes people to understand and appreciate birds and nature as a whole on a much deeper level, which in turn can lead to people taking action to protect the critical habitats that their favorite birds inhabit, or even spread the joy of birding to their friends and families.
If people don’t know that something exists, they don’t have any reason to care about that really specific legislation that is aimed at protecting a specific birds habitat, but that also coincidentally will impact their own health and well-being. Spreading the joy of birding has the potential of creating a more environmentally conscious and proactive community.
But, all of the globetrotting that birders have been known to do also has environmental impacts on the planet. Flying from Seattle to Texas in a weekend to observe a rare event like a “migration fallout” (in which large numbers of migrating birds are forced by a severe weather event to find refuge in an area that they normally would never set foot) isn’t the most sustainable use of non-renewable fossil fuels. When I think about what kind of carbon footprint I have as a birder when I take a day trip up to Blaine to catch a glimpse of a Long-tailed Duck, it hurts my soul. Imagine if we turned the whole world into rarity-chasing birders, how would all of our traveling impact climate change? It’s a tough question – and one that I’m sure birders are constantly wrestling with.
Overall though, I think that opening up the doors to birding to as many people as possible is a positive goal. The more minds we have working together to figure out how to minimize our impact on the planet, the better I think.
BNB: What are the best ways to spread the word about birding?
DG: I feel like birding and birders are unfairly portrayed in the mainstream media. In movies and TV shows birders are often portrayed as old folks with funky vests, goofy hats, weird jargon and lugging equipment around in the wilderness. To be fair, that kinda does describe some of the birding community. But why must we latch on to stereotypes so hard?
I think birding could be a much more mainstream outdoor activity if people understood that birding is something that can be taken on by anyone anywhere – regardless of age, race, proximity to wilderness, fancy gear, knowledge of Latin names of birds, etc. You literally don’t need anything to go birding except your eyes. Sometimes you don’t even need eyes! Birding by ear is a great way to experience your surroundings in a unique way. I was so surprised at the diversity of sounds that birds make the first time I sat and just listened with my eyes closed.
If people only have the images of birders and birding that they’ve seen in movies, TV, binocular ads, etc., then they might not feel like birding is something they can do because they don’t have the right gear or don’t “fit the mold” of the typical birder.
I guess what I’m saying is the best way to spread the word about birding is to diversify all the ways in which birders are portrayed; to make people’s first association with birding something that they could relate to or see themselves doing.
BNB: How can we get more young people into birding?
DG: I think the best way to get young people into birding is to start showing them from a young age that cool birds are all around us all the time, all you have to do is look up and take notice!
Setting up a bird feeder in your yard, or a window-mounted hummingbird feeder if you live in an apartment, is a great family activity. It gives kids a sense of responsibility to the birds that will inevitably start to frequent your feeder, and brings the birds in close enough to observe them without binoculars. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a hummingbird at a feeder, you know how amazing it is to see them up close as they often hover in mid-air to drink nectar, wings beating so fast you can’t even see them.
You don’t need to turn your kids into hardcore birders when they’re 5 years old, just opening up their eyes to the wonders of the birds around them is enough to plant the seed.
Check out the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop website to see all the engaging programs and activities, plus the birding books, gear, and other goodies, they have to offer!