The Future of the American Birding Association (ABA)

Of late there has been a lot of discussion about the future of the American Birding Association (ABA). Without knowing too much of the inside tribulations, we hope to provide some thoughts on what the ABA can do to once again become an essential resource for birders and encourage new members to the “club”. The ABA now seeks a new president, one that can reestablish the strengths of what is a first-class organization. We have a suggestion for this too, but that’s at the bottom of this post.

I have been a member for nearly 10 years, my nephew was a winner of the writing module of the ABA/Leica Young Birder of the Year Contest, and I often bird with two past presidents of the ABA. The future of the ABA may be a bit shaky, but they’ve seen worse and I feel there is a lot of hope still.

The ABA has been around since 1969 and has gone through some pretty rough times, including a period in the 80s where it almost went under completely. A lot of forward thinking leaders turned things around. Two of these leaders, Larry Balch and Dan Williams, are currently active birders and members of our very own bird club in Rockford, North Central Illinois Ornithological Society (NCIOS).

Larry Balch was ABA president from 1983 to 1989 and Dan Williams was president from 1993 to 1997. Both are excellent birders and dedicated conservationists.

Dan wrote some wonderful messages about the future of birding and how ABA would be a part of it, especially in his first message printed in the Feb 1994 issue of Birding. This twenty-fifth anniversary issue looked back on the past but with the goal of seeking a positive and successful future. Dan pointed out how ABA would still remain true to its roots—a meeting place for birders. But, as the organization has grown and matured, the ABA has been evolving into something broader (in terms of the initial “lister-based” membership).

It is this broadness that we wish to focus on: as an organization for birders, the need for conservation and education has never been so necessary. In the 16 years since this 25th anniversary, the ongoing discussion of conservation, education, and also increasing membership is still going. And we don’t just mean membership in the ABA, but growing the number of BIRDERS as a group: birders that contribute their time, knowledge, and funding to help new and existing birders as a whole.

What we’d like to see the ABA do is find better ways to tap the resources they already have: their current membership! Thousands of active and knowledgeable birders with information that is lost or poorly broadcast. Numerous members have blogs and are active on Facebook and Twitter but, for all but a few at the top, their words and photos are only viewed by small numbers of people.

If the ABA could incentivize these content producers to contribute to Birding and the ABA website as a whole, imagine the new amounts of information that could be spread in a way that the internet hopelessly can not do: in an organized, well-designed, focused arrangement, with edited and additional professionalism added to it.

Essentially, we think that the ABA could create a sort of print-version of user-generated content from “regular” birders all across the country. The internet has become so distracting that many birders can’t keep up with it all, other than monitoring their local bird sighting list-servs and reading a handful of popular blogs and other websites.

This new approach would cut through the clutter and provide a unique and sought-after resource for all birders, positioning the ABA in such a way that they aren’t competing against technology but embracing it. Not only that, but the ABA would be reaching out to their members in ways never before seen.

Who Should be the Next ABA President?

We think Kim Kaufman would be perfect for the job. Kim is the Executive Director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and started the Ohio Young Birder Club in 2006. Most recently she organized The Biggest Week in American Birding, an immediate success.

These are just a few of the “big ticket” accomplishments of Kim. What really makes her stand out is a personality that epitomizes birding. Her attitude to birders is always open and friendly, whether you’re a seasoned expert or brand new to the scene. She has insanely good people skills as well as organizational skills. Her dedication to young birders is unsurpassed, which alone qualifies her for the position in my book.

I met Kim twice, once in the Quad Cities for the Midwest Birding Symposium where she spent a great deal of time hiking with Dakota and teaching him all sorts of stuff about nature. The second time was during the heat of the Biggest Week. She graciously took time out from juggling a bazillion tasks to speak with Stacia, Jennie, and I and even let Bella (my dog) give her a big kiss.

Kim may not want the job, but I know she’d make a perfect president.

3 thoughts on “The Future of the American Birding Association (ABA)

  1. Ohmygoodness, I can’t tell you how much this vote of confidence means to me, especially coming from the BirdFreak Team! But, I’m really not ready to leave BSBO. We are on a strong upward trajectory; I love Ohio; I love the migration here; and I love the people! To be completely honest, what I’d really like to do is steal away the remarkable staff at ABA and bring them all to work for BSBO! Can you imagine that combination?!
    *cue Thunderstruck by AC/DC* ; )

    Thanks again for your far too kind words about me. And, thanks for all that the BirdFreak Team does to promote bird conservation. The birds need people like you now more than ever.

    with appreciation and admiration,

    ~kimberly kaufman
    Black Swamp Bird Observatory

  2. Kim – you are most welcome. The number of birders you reach out to is astonishing and the whole birding community needs to know this. Perhaps ABA should move to Ohio . . . there are certainly a lot of fine birders in the Buckeye State.

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