Ladies and gentlemen, the state of the bird blogosphere is strong, stronger than ever, in fact. In the last ten days the two biggest bird blogs in the bird blogosphere, 10,000 Birds and the ABA Blog, have had their biggest days in terms of traffic ever. On a monthly basis more people are visiting bird blogs than ever before and traffic continues to rise. There are many fine birding blogs putting out great content, attracting lots of readers, and exploring the intersection of the internet and birding.
Sure, the state of the bird blogosphere is different than in past years. There has been an acceleration of the switch to group blogging and blogs with an institution behind them continue to grow in influence. Bird blogs run by individuals have seen their readership drop in absolute numbers as well as compared to the numbers put up by group blogs. Some blogs have grown in readers and influence and some have virtually disappeared. Big year blogs have grown in popularity and it seems that there is no greater way to engage people about a big year than blogging it. But what matters most is that we are still relevant in this age of social media and content sharing. Someone, after all, has to provide the content to share!
As of this post going live there are nearly five hundred bird blogs listed on the Nature Blog Network though only forty are averaging more than one hundred readers a day. There are, of course, quite a few bird blogs that do not list on the Nature Blog Network, and quite a few blogs that are listed there that do not categorize as bird blogs even if birds are a large part of their content. There are a lot of bird blogs but not a lot with a lot of traffic. Of course, people write bird blogs for many reasons other than amassing readers but traffic is the only metric we have to go on. (That is, until we launch the Bird Blog Awards.)
I thought it would be helpful to break down bird blogs into a couple of categories to see what is happening in different sectors of the bird blogosphere.
The monsters that are group blogs are dominating our niche. We at 10,000 Birds are on pace to break 100,000 visitors for the fourth consecutive month and this is despite fighting (and finally winning) a war with spambots. The ABA Blog has been putting out great content and helping to revitalize the American Birding Association. Birding Frontiers has added an excellent European flavor and a strong focus on tricky identifications to the bird blogosphere. Nemesis Bird has come on strong with a core of great young birders twitching rarities at a pace that astounds those of us with full-time jobs and families. Birding is Fun, the brainchild of Robert Mortensen, does exactly as its name implies. The Bird Ecology Study Group, perhaps the first true group bird blog, continues to put out great content about the ecology and behavior of the birds of Singapore. The only big group blogs that have seen a decline over the last year are BirdingBlogs.com and North American Birding, both of which have had very few posts recently. (North American Birding seems close to defunct, largely because the driving force behind the blog, Greg Neise, has been focusing most of his efforts on working with the ABA.)
The aforementioned ABA Blog tops the list in this category because of great content and because the ABA was smart enough to hire a bird blogger, Nate Swick (who 10,000 Birds readers will, of course, recognize), to run the blog. Cornell’s Round Robin is visually compelling but light on content. (Their last post was 21 December.) You can tell when they hit their mailing list with a link to their blog, however, because their traffic goes through the roof. Audubon Magazine’s blog, The Perch, while more of a consevation blog than a birding blog, gets very nice traffic. Though the ABA has a smaller base to work from their blog gets the most traffic of the three, probably due to their excellent use of social media and their willingness to use their blog as a place to make major announcements about the organzation. It’s nice to see them thriving and it makes me, as a blogger without an institution backing him up, worried should one of the big organizations get their online act together.
Though there is still a constant stream of new bird bloggers getting into the bird blogging game the age of the individual running a well-read bird blog is essentially over. In terms of traffic, the only blogs on the Nature Blog Network top ten in the bird category are Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus, The Zen Birdfeeder and Birdchick. The first is really more about Christianity than it is about birding, The Zen Birdfeeder is a labor of love for Nancy Castillo and she does a great job engaging her audience and her customers as a bird-feeding store owener, and Sharon Stiteler’s blog, while wonderful and with a unique voice, has seen a decline in traffic as she focuses on other projects.
It is nearly impossible for an individual to keep up with the amount of content a group can generate and a single voice gets lonely compared to the chorus that a group can provide. Even “celebrity” bird bloggers like Julie Zickefoose and Bill Thompson have had traffic slow down. Again, this isn’t to downplay the quality of the content being put out by bird bloggers blogging alone but to highlight the challenge of keeping a blog going year after year after year by yourself. It is amazing that it can be kept up at all, and also amazing how much good content can be found in the many blogs getting between thirty and two hundred visitors a day.
Big Year Blogs
The one aspect of individual blogging that seems to work really well is the big year blog. The limited time frame, the built in story lines, and the intense focus on a single goal make them very compelling. Last year featured several really good big year blogs come out and it looks like this year has another fine crop. Perhaps some birders should pitch in together and decide ahead of time to do a big year blog together in 2014? That would be a blog to be reckoned with!
I and the Bird
The return of I and the Bird is exciting (though I may be biased) and a great way for a new bird blogger to get some links and maybe some recognition. We bird bloggers need to help promote each other and drive traffic to each other’s sites. A rising readership lifts all blogs after all.
If you are a bird blogger and are seeking to be widely read you might be best served by joining or starting a group blog or finding institutional backing. If you insist on going it alone remember that writing about the intersection of birding and something else is a great way to get readers. Or you could always do a big year…
Bird blogging is here to stay though it will always be changing. What do you think the next big thing in bird blogs will be? And should we start a yearly Bird Blog Awards in order to help spread the word about the great content that is out there?