Timothy Barksdale is a birder, Prairie Chicken documentarian, and wildlife videographer well-known for his stunning Adventures with Birdman. He’s got a different view on how bird watchers should respond to The Big Year than the one Corey recently expressed here. We’re pleased to share his thoughtful perspective and plea for your consideration…
Dear Friends and Lovers of Birds,
On Friday, October 14th, to my knowledge, the first feature film with the subject being Birding ever made, with any intent to portray birders as human beings, will be released. I am already on record that the story will effectively change birding forever. Because, in between the moments of comedy- beyond the errors of ornithological expertise- lies a story about people who share passions, compete over numbers, and care about the birds. That is a very human thing and from what I know, I believe this film will bring out the humanness of birding along with so many other wonderful aspects.
During my 20 years of filming birds for television and producing products for broadcast, I can not tell you how many times I have heard stupid statements from executives along the lines of “Tim, we are not really interested in shows about birds” or the classic ” Birds just don’t do anything interesting, do they”….
These stereotypes have gradually begun to break down over the years. But in certain sectors- including advertisers- they simply do not get birding nor do they feel birding is a segment of the economy.
When Corey wrote his ideas about spending money on blogs and birders, I felt a very familiar feeling that I have felt for many years: Why are there not 20 birding shows and a Television BIRD NETWORK?
However, I reacted totally differently. In my public speaking to various birding groups over the years, I have been trying to get birders to take more responsibility for the place we find ourselves. We have to take baby steps to promote our way of life.
If you want to do something to help Birding advance as well as help birds worldwide please go see this film and encourage every person you know to do so as well — Every person who knows you love birds, and all of your relatives too. If you can not go Friday then do it this weekend. Do not hesitate, Do not Pass Go.
Advertisers, press and Monday morning news, Hollywood and how people see birders are the issue. If we have a very good box office on the first weekend- the film will stay in theaters longer. People will notice as the film racks up dollars. Advertisers will notice. As our hardcore group of birding attendees- will dwindle at some point, other groups perhaps more interested in the actors or a segment of more family oriented viewers will then take over from us. The more money this film generates the better for birds and conservation in every way.
“Hold it,” you stammer. “How will that help birders? I don’t see how they are connected.”
Simple business. Winged Migration, March of the Penguins, and Pale Male each made money for the producers. If The Big Year makes a good return, birding and birders change. More shows on birds will developed and more series too. The young person who now longs to lead birding tours full time has a real chance to earn a decent living. The bird artist who would like to make a decent living will be able to better compete against the few bird artists currently remaining financially successful. The revenues for every aspect of our lives will increase.
Money will spill over to sponsor research projects, money to support nature centers, money to fund education. The better this film does on the first weekend is critically important to us and the birds.
How will it help Birds?
Even though we spend more money and are far more numerous than hunters this is not commonly understood. Our age demographic is skewed a tiny bit to certain age segment- which while we see ourselves as a very desirable audience, advertisers tend to want a younger 23-54 year old group. We tend to be slightly older than that.
The figures released by the United State Fish and Wildlife Service show there are millions of us…. so… since I am from the state of Missouri: Show Me. Or perhaps even better Show Them.
Go to the theaters with your binoculars show everyone We Are Birders.
Please spread this message to every list serve and every birder you can this week. From the Cerulean Warbler whose home will not be removed by dynamite in West Virginia to the Greater Prairie Chicken who will be hatched on a restored prairie sponsored by a new company who understands for the first time that birders care about birds.
While I respect Corey’s opinion and I can see his point, in this case I have to say that I agree with Tim Barksdale. The opening weekend is a critical time in deciding the box-office success or failure of a film. So we should go see The Big Year this first weekend. We should go to see it twice or three times, and take all of our friends, even if the movie sucks. If a movie about birding is financially successful, that WILL translate into more support for bird conservation, even if it’s in a very roundabout way. The people at National Audubon understand that, incidentally, and their support of the film makes sense in the long term.
Amen! I already saw the movie. I doesn’t suck. I took seven non-birding friends to see it. They loved it. The riddled me with questions about birds and birding after the movie. They were delighted with my birding apps on my smartphone. This is a golden opportunity!
Couldn’t agree more with what’s written here. I’m not convinced it’s a good movie but I’ll be out to see it for sure. Hell, I’m attempting to make a documentary about changing that age-related stereotype about birders. Many of my friends (non-birders) were concerned for me that a big year movie is already being done (with a budget beyond my gold visa card to boot) and that my film would seem less original. To that I always answered the same thing. They are doing my advertising for me. People will go see the film, flop or not, and then hopefully, they are more inclined to see yet another side of birding passion. A real person, with a real, crazy love for birds. Enough to show them off until the day I die as tattoos on my body. Then, hopefully more films/TV shows, etc. Come out on the subject of birders, birds and most importantly, bird conservation.
It’s kind of our time to shine, let’s not be as dull as non-birders think we are!
Punk Rock Big Year
A group from Audubon saw a preview of The Big Year September 29; personally I was pleasantly surprised at how beautifully birds featured in the movie (a huimmingbird hovers in front of Steve Martin’s face, an owl brings together estranged father and son;) plus in the soundtrack is a lively song about loving to bird.
See this interview with the actors with Audubon President David Yarnold http://t.co/7xy7n7Wc
I couldn’t agree with you more. This movie could be exactly the push the birding community needs to get the recognition they deserve. However, I would like to point out that some birders are younger. My son is in his twenties and has been birding since he was five. He actually was the inspiration for the main character of my Birder Murder series.
Respectfully I’m skeptical of theory that this movie offers some form of longed for for mainstream validation or even simply more money for the birding “industry.” What size gross could we really point to as somehow moving the needle in that regard? Even if it has a large gross (say 25 million or more) that might be because of elements in the movie totally unrelated to the ostensible subject. Did “Life Aquatic” spark a craze for marine biology?
But the idea that we should support a movie, whatever it’s merits, to support our “way of like” is curious. What’s so great about this way of life in itself? Obviously, spending time in nature alone or with friends and family is great. But chasing down rarities? Having the enormous leisure time and resources to see huge number of birds across the continent? If people want to do that, great, but let’s not pretend that is somehow intrinsically valuable to the rest of the world or birds themselves, nor that that sort of “lifestyle” is characteristic of tens of millions of people in America. I would be delighted if more people took a greater general interest not just in birds but in the natural world we all share, and if there was a greater public literacy in the biology of that world. But the idea that a two hour studio comedy is the ideal vehicle to advance that goal is, again, curious. So anyway, why should I do unpaid advertising for a movie when I have no idea whether it’s any good? If the movie really delivers a solid expression of reconnecting with the real beauty and calm of the natural world (and not CGI hijinks) great. If it’s slapstick humor and mugging for the camera, well, that might be funny but it doesn’t have much to do with discovering nature.
@Jackson Childs – While I see your point very clearly, I just couldn’t resist pointing out that one of the people who was an inspiration for the book and the movie, Greg Miller, had very little leisure time and very few resources before and while doing his Big Year. I point it out because it is what impressed me the most about his story. He worked intensely at his job throughout his Big Year just to be able to do it, and had to use credit cards most of the way through, which he spent years paying off!
Just came back from the movie. I was skeptical beforehand. Now I am absolutely glad that I went! The movie was tons of fun, quite funny at parts, touching, even painful to watch. It also made me want to go birding again ASAP. I’m not sure the effect it has on non-birders, but there were a few in the cinema who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the movie as well!
I was there, opening day, first showing (which is the discount matinee) and I loved the hell out of that movie. Will have to get it on Blue Ray so when friends and relatives ask ‘what the hell is it with you and birds’, I’ll be able to sit them down, show them the movie, and bird in my back yard until it’s over.
I agree with Mr. Barksdale! Was there opening day, went again last night. The movie is a wonderful. It was thrilling to see the intensity, the quirks, the hits and misses, and all the other birding related stuff on the big screen. My non-birder sister, who accompanied me on my second trip to see the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it, stated that my mom should see the movie as it would help her understand my passion…why I spend so much time birding and in birding related volunteer activities. Wish more folks would have went on opening day but those that didn’t still need to go. And to any naysayers I’d like to remind them that it’s not a documentary, it’s a really good Hollywood movie loosely based on a book.
I haven’t intended to see it myself, as I consider it listing not birding. From what I have seen most listers are more interested in the checklist and totals than the actual birds. Birding has become a sport characterized by big days, big months and big years. The purpose is to list as many species in a given period or location. It involves traveling long distances to see birds that have already been seen but not seen in that area. Thus a recent post about 2 listers traveling 900 miles round trip to add 2 birds to their state list.
When I read about polar bears running out of ice, Texas burning, flooding in Thailand, etc, all the things that result from global warming, I consider it ironic that those who would most be expected to think about their personal carbon footprint often seem to compare to NASCAR racing in their gas consumption, which is the most easily reducible action an individual can take, but which the movie epitomizes the opposite of, repeated back and forth travel to add each tick.
If the amount of time spent to add to lists was spent observing bird behavior instead of rushing to the next one, I think the observations incurred would make a quantum leap in our knowledge, rather than mere ego boasting. I know this though is unpopular and expressing it has resulted in me being banned from several “birding” forums that don’t want this unpopular view posted.
If this movie results in millions more listers, driving around to keep trying to set record totals, it will be the worst thing for the birds, whose habitats disappear at an ever faster rate.
@Rob – Respectfully, not all “listing” is ABA Area Big Year listing, and considering it as such is akin to calling a person with a window box an industrial farmer. You can’t assume all expressions of an activity are like its most excessive incarnation.
Listing isn’t just a competition, it’s a way to preserve memories, or a way to contribute data to appropriate parties, or a way to drive yourself to expand your own personal horizons with difficult identifications of cryptic species.
I, for instance, am really interested in my county lists, so I don’t generally travel more than I usually would in my recreational birding, but it does encourage me to travel to off the beaten path places and to bird year round for unusual birds. And finding vagrants, which is a big part of any Big Year or list, teaches us a lot of migration, status, and distribution.
Sure, taking on an ABA Big Year is intensive and not especially good for birds on a broader scale. But let’s not put all listers and competitive birders in the same boat here. There are lots of ways to bird, and they’re almost all valid. Whatever makes you happy in the field.
To clarify, I am not condemning keeping a list. I am talking about comptetive listing where that is the main thing, as exemplified in the movie as described by so many already. Where one goes out of their way rpeeatedly, not just to see some bird they never saw before, but where the goal is to just build a higher total for another area.
When you say whatever makes you happy is OK, I would argue that – since the overwhelming majority of scientists believe global warming is real, and man-made or enhanced, and that the easiet thing anyone can do to cut their personal contribution, is to reduce unecessary driving – there is a great difference in regards to the environment and future of the world.
If millions of birders are happy to find birds in there local area and have that list, or make an extended trip, as in a vacation, to some new area and see lots of new birds, that is inherently going to be much better for the future of the world than jackrabbiting back and forth across an area repeatedly, to tick off as many birds as one can and where totals are the priority.
That numbers are of great importance is evident in the number of posts that start off with the numbers.
I once saw afictional movie about 2 obsessed stamp collectors who rival for the largest collector. There are 2 copies of the rarest stamp in the world. One collector kills the other and then puts a cigar to the 2nd stamp so he will have the only one.
To me, the ultimate obsessed lister movie would be where, 2 are tied for the world total. One kills that last Ivory billed Woodpecker so that no one can ever have exceed his record. Unfortunately I believe it could come to something like that someday, as I have seen so many cases where there is so little regard for the actual birds and there future.
In the movie do they use terms such as junk birds or garbage birds for easily seen ones? I have often heard such references and it says a lot about attitudes and values.
So to reiterate, I am referring to the type of listing which the movie is all about, competetive list building, and saying that if millions of birders are inspired to act thus, then climate change will pass into high gear and the extinction of birds and thousands of other species will result. In this consideration all behavior is not equally valid and whatever makes one happy is not so OK in the total scheme of things.