The question of when bird watching or birding was officially considered a past time, hobby, or sport is hard to answer. No one really knows the true date that birding was defined, but many believe it to be around 1968. This isn’t just a lucky guess; it’s believed to have become an actual past time in 1968 due to the first known birding publication was produced in that year. This publication was called The Bird Watcher’s Digest and could be describes as more of a newsletter than anything. There were only about 5 pages of literature, but it was the first official document of a bird watching nature. This new literature was founded by the “American Bird Watchers Association” or the ABA as they deemed themselves. With this newly proclaimed association quickly came America’s official interest in bird watching.
Once the American Bird Watchers Association was established so was a membership status. You could buy a years’ membership for the nominal fee of $3.00. So what did this newly found literature encompass for the sport of bird watching? For the first time in publication, there was a publication not only providing documentation about birds, but also listing the rules for this new found sport. In 1969 the title changed from The Bird Watcher’s Digest to simply Birding as became the popular term for bird watching, and is still in print today. The magazine prints and distributes their issues every other month to their readers.
As more issues were published the official guidelines for birding were defined. Also in 1969 it was proposed that the ABA that originally stood for the American Bird Watchers Association be changed to the American Birding Association. By the end of that year there were already 128 members participating in the ABA as well as newly appointed officers in the organization. Between the ABA and the Birding publication, birding was becoming a popular sport. With the rising popularity would also bring a change in both the publication as well as the organization.
In the short period of three years the publication was ready to take on a more professional appearance to the bird watching world. Birding was made into a more journal like publication in 1971 and no longer took on the appearance of the mere newsletter form that it originated from. The new publication gave readers a variety of articles to read. There was a total expansion on pieces that delved into the true art of birding, no more were there just species lists and opinion pieces, but true reporting pieces that brought a new form of excitement.
The July/August edition of Birding in 1973 brought quite a buzz to the birding community. It was the first issue to have pictures printed in the publication. It was also the first issue to report on the first convention held by the ABA in Kenmare, North Dakota. The edition printed in July/August help define many of the new aspects of the ABA such as their checklist report, newly elected leaders of the ABA, and the newly ratified laws of the ABA. This new issue was popular for many reasons and was a wealth of information to the birding community that was quickly growing in number. The ABA’s membership had grown from their original 128 members in 1969 to 1,872 in 1974, a difference of 1744 in as little as five years.
The 1970’s brought some evident changes to both Birding and the ABA. In 1976 for the first time since the first 5 page publication in 1968, Birding printed a publication that was 400 pages; a vast different from its meager beginnings. Also, the ABA recognized their second president, Arnold Small. In 1977 the cover of Birding began to take on a different appearance, printing beautiful covers that awed many bird enthusiasts. There was also a bit of disturbance in the birding community between east coast versus west coast. It seems that many were annoyed with the Californian birding styles that were constantly being praised.
From its beginnings in 1968 to 1988 Birding had gotten behind schedule in its publications as well as harder to understand. It was up to Editor Paul Lehman to bring the journal back to its origins and back on track. He focused on making the magazine easier to understand for readers and outlined a number of focal points to expand on. In 1989 Lehman made good on his commitment and came out with a very different looking magazine that boasted a completely new layout. Lehman helped take the magazine back to being the true form of communication for the birding community.
In 1992 the ABA focused on the demographics of their member. They soon realized that a majority of its members were over 40, as a whole, they were getting older. Alarmed with the statistics, they focused on gaining a younger demographic by offering reduced membership as well as youth camps. They realized that without some sort of change, the sport of birding could begin to dwindle. Although membership was up to 10,200 active members, the concern of gaining young birders was still an issue for the ABA community.
It being 2007, almost four decades have passed since the first publication of The Bird Watcher’s Digest¸ now known as Birding. The hopes of the ABA have been recognized, and the art of birding is rapidly growing among North America and Canada. As many have been taking notice, with growth also comes change. The new birders don’t necessarily hold on to the same ideals as the older generations of birders. The new generation is also more focused on the newly emerging technology that many old timers might shrug away from. The Birding magazine is also feeling the impact of the new generation due to their updated staffing crew. Change is in the air both in the ABA community as well as Birding publications, but change is not always a bad thing, with change comes a new opportunity for all of those in the birding community