Don’t stop Celebrating Birds! Ideas for Celebrate Urban Birds’ activities in times of COVID


By Josmar Marquez

Celebrate Urban Birds (CUBs) is launching the 2021 Minigrants! This year they are focused on promoting events that center Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

You might ask, how can you continue to celebrate birds with your community despite COVID? Here we share a few ideas.

We know that these can be difficult times for an organization, group or person to create in-person events to celebrate birds around the world! So, we’d like to share some tools and ideas to create virtual CUBs events or in-person events with few people (only when possible).

The important thing is to keep our communities and each other safe while continuing to be active in celebrating birds and our communities.

Here are some examples of activities that you can organize from the safety of your home with your community.

CUBs Activities

Virtual festivals (online)
You might be thinking, how can we possibly create a bird festival or community event in these times? Think virtual! In 2020 we saw many examples of wonderful virtual festivals all around the world. You can organize a festival during a single day or it could span several days. Platforms like Facebook, Zoom, or Google Meet can work well – especially if you link it with other platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, etc.

Plan ahead. It is easy to connect people from different regions of your country or continent. Begin, by choosing a theme, naming your festival, and creating a plan to promote it widely!

Example of virtual festival promos. Images courtesy of AveZona.

It doesn’t matter where you are located. If you are in Latin America, WhatsApp groups are a great way to get neighborhood groups talking about environmental issues and encourage reconnection with nature.

But if you want to do something more ambitious then you’ll need to do lots of planning ahead of time. You’ll need to take into account several things to carry out a successful virtual event:

1) You must have stable internet access to be able to support bigger virtual events, such as conferences or talks with guests. This is especially important if you want to do it Live. But, you can also record the presentations and then upload them to a YouTube channel or Facebook page.

2) It’s important to do a lot of promotion ahead of time. A good way to reach more people is to cross-promote across many different platforms. Make your promotions colorful, interesting, and catchy! We also suggest that you look for collaborators so that they too can share your promotions. Remember to let Celebrate Urban Birds know well ahead of time of your event- so they can also promote your event widely!

3) Make your festival a participatory event! Creative artistic contests, bird photography showcases, and promote birdwatching from home! Be creative and find the best strategies so that more people are able to take part and be engaged in the Festival.

Raffles with prizes. Images courtesy of AveZona.

4) Remember that the most important thing is to reconnect with each other, learn from each other, learn about birds, justice, and community, and promote connection with nature and conservation.

Here you can see an example of the Online festival: https://celebrateurbanbirds.org/community/events/festival-of-migratory-birds-and-shorebirds-of-venezuela/ç

The arts and culture as a tool to promote Justice Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in birdwatching and ornithology:

Highlight storytelling, culture, and community connection with birds
Your virtual event can center on your community’s historical connection with birds via culture, storytelling, song, dance, poetry and the arts. Create a space where you can share the knowledge that already exists in your community. Interview elders, share stories, create a virtual mural, sing lullabies, explore dance, and more. Make it a space that honors your community’s knowledge and history.

The arts are a great ally at this time! Invite your community to do artistic work, but do not limit it! Art is very broad – keep it that way! You have many options. For example: nature-focused poetry slams or contests, song or music composing opportunities, bird song imitation contests, dance or choreography opportunities, sculpture, painting, and photography galleries, and so much more.

Arts and crafts made by students in Isla Tamanco, Amazonía Peruana. Photo by Marilu Lopez Fretts

Promote these events by inviting participants to share their creative work via photos or videos. Use hashtags if you use social networks such as Instagram, Facebook or twitter. For example: #CelebrateUrban Birds #createforbirds #ArtandBirds

Participants share artwork and information about birds on social media. Image courtesy of AveZona.

Create spaces for sharing knowledge and expertise
Use your virtual event to share knowledge about birds, history, culture, biology, policy and more! Bring on speakers to share their knowledge of birds, conservation, and community. Explore equity and justice in birdwatching and conservation. Bring on community elders, farmers, artists and others who have a had strong connections with birds and the land. Invite staff who work in citizen science and science institutions to share their perspectives as well. Create a space for youth to share their worldviews and ideas for the future.

Birdwatching from the safety of your home
You can organize birdwatching events, where all participants observe birds from the safety of their homes. Encourage participants to observe birds from a window, patio, terrace or a nearby park or natural area (if it is possible to do so safely). Global Big Day 2020 is a great example of this kind of event. There was a lot of participation in Global Big Day and many people watched birds and collected data from their homes. This was also true for the Great Backyard Bird Count 2021.

For this kind of event, we suggest you create a virtual invitation, using social networks, text messaging and emails. Create a promotional image, indicate the time and day of your event, and share it with participants, acquaintances and friends.

Invite participants to upload their observations on Celebrate Urban Birds but, make sure that participants follow the instructions: https://celebrateurbanbirds.org/cub/instructions – and take some time to teach (virtually) about the 16 focal species!

Ask participants to explore Merlin to learn to identify birds! If Celebrate Urban Birds does not have a species list/data entry for your region, use Merlin.org and ebird.org or just make a list. In our downloadable materials you can obtain species tally sheets, as well as focal bird guides for some countries and regions. See materials: https://celebrateurbanbirds.org/learn/birds/

Virtual tours of parks and natural areas
Finally, if you have very good internet connection, you can go on a virtual tour of a local park or natural area, and share it on social networks. These tours can last up to 30 minutes or if you prefer you can record it and then edit.

Make it fun, simple, and welcoming to non-birders!
Make your Celebrate Urban Birds virtual event a space to share knowledge, ideas, creativity, and history. But, most important of all, take time to center equity and explore injustice in birdwatching and ornithology.

Apply for a Celebrate Urban Birds Equity, Birds, and Culture mini-grant here: https://celebrateurbanbirds.org/blog/announcing-the-celebrate-urban-birds-equity-birds-and-culture-2021-mini-grants/


Announcing the Celebrate Urban Birds: Equity, Birds, and Culture 2021 Mini-Grants

We are pleased to announce that we are now accepting applications for our 2021 Celebrate Urban Birds Mini-Grants!

This year our Mini-Grants will focus on promoting events that center Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in birdwatching and ornithology. We will prioritize community-led applications that focus on sharing community knowledge and expertise and emphasize culture and the arts. 

Grant awards range from $250-$2500. We encourage virtual events due to COVID-19 pandemic.

These mini-grants are intended for community organizations located anywhere in the Americas.

Applications will close April 11, 2021

Apply HERE: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/mini-grants2021

Photo by Josmar Márquez

Birds… From My Window

During this time of social distancing and spending more time at home, I’ve been noticing more birds than before. I am blessed to be in a place that, even though it is urban, is next a pretty green space—a cemetery! By “pretty green” I mean it has plenty of trees and shrubs that offer a good habitat for birds and other wildlife. That habitat, along with some good neighbors that offer a menu of seeds, suet cakes, nectar, and fruit hanging on balconies, make it more attractive for birds (and others) to visit. Our living spaces have also become quieter and those bird songs and calls that start at dawn are pleasantly crystal clear.

In all the years that I have lived in this complex, I’ve never seen such a variety of birds at once, just from my window. Is having less noise a factor? I saw two different warblers for the first time: Black-and-white Warbler and a Nashville Warbler; I also saw a Wood Thrush. Other birds that I would not have seen so close to my building in previous years are now visiting my feeders, including Pileated Woodpeckers and Red-winged Blackbirds. Others coming closer are Northern Flickers, Blue Jays, and even a Cooper’s Hawk. I’ll be sharing photos of some of the bird visitors who are bringing me joy in these uncertain times…and are reaffirming the value of living in balance with nature.

From my window…to you.

Finding Peace During Stressful Times

During these unprecedented stressful times, our priority is to stay safe and healthy. Although numerous studies tell us about the positive effects that contact with nature has on our health, this might not be an option for everyone. But, with some creativity, and technology, we may be able to bring a bit of nature to our homes.

Pigeons on the window Image ID:104766431 Copyright: Aprilante https://www.shutterstock.com

If you are staying at home, and you have the option to watch birds through your window, this could help release some stress while staying safe.

If you are in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Panama or Puerto Rico, Celebrate Urban Birds (celebrateurbanbirds.org/learn/birds/fs/) offers an online guide to birds in your community. We also have inspiring resources free of charge that can help bring a little calm during stressful times.

Bird Academy Play Lab offer games that explore flight, song, dance, feathers, and more.

If you have children staying at home, you could enjoy fun activities from Bird Academy (academy.allaboutbirds.org/) where we have interesting videos and learning games that will make the time spent indoors at home more enjoyable and close to nature. All “About Fancy Males” (academy.allaboutbirds.org/features/fancymales/fancy-males)  and “All About Bird Song” (academy.allaboutbirds.org/features/birdsong/songbirds-in-action) are my nephew and niece’s favorites!

Macaulay Library (macaulaylibrary.org/), with over 17,675,846 photos, audio and videos of birds and other animals shared by people like you, offers a great way to explore bird species and takes you on a fantastic birdwatching journey all around the world while staying safe at home.

Macaulay Library is a scientific archive for research, education, and conservation, powered by people like you who share their sightings.

In addition, you can always download Merlin (https://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/) to help you identify those elusive birds that you see out your window.

If you spot any exciting birds from your windows, share them with us! And more than anything, stay safe, wash your hands and enjoy each day as much as you can!

The CUBs Team!

"Each morning I wake up to the birdsongs of the Northern Mockingbird and the Northern Cardinal in the trees behind my backyard. After 7:30 they are replaced by the road construction work sounds behind the trees." Photo by Carlos Figueroa. (Photo © ©Carlos Figueroa)

A Bird Celebration REVOLUTION is Happening Right Now in the Amazon

1000+ students from 26 remote Amazon rainforest communities participated in the first ever bird festivals in the Peruvian department of Loreto from September 9th to the 13th. They awoke early to travel to neighboring communities along the Amazon rivers, well prepared to present elaborate performances related to bird conservation.

These activities have gained momentum since 2017 such that a kind of revolution is building. It’s a celebrative kind, raising spirits and enhancing their cultural arts. Children are showing excitement for the natural world, and their parents are following suit. It’s in good time; Peru has been listed as the world’s best country for bird watching, and is second worldwide for most species of birds registered. Most importantly, these activities are showing concrete increases in bird conservation.

Thousands of students in K-12 have become involved in this movement over the past several years. Their teachers are consistently leading outdoor, project-based classes to inform them of the region’s bird species’ habitat, behavior, nesting, diet, cultural stories, and more. The show-worthy results have included activist theatre, portraying stories of birds fighting to retake their habitat after being encroached upon. Other students have nearly mastered drawing finely detailed portraits of the birds, and still others have crafted replica bird nests to explore nest functions. Much of this was shared during these festivals. One high school senior rapped about birds’ beauty and the tragedy of losing them. Another 14-year-old young woman’s dramatic poetry about respecting birds in nature left watchers teary-eyed. Groups of younger students were happy to be included too, sharing well-practiced songs about birds’ beauty. One mother even rose to share an unsolicited folk song about the Blue-gray Tanager.

The impact of this is visible. Children are heard stopping their classmates from killing birds, and their parents are reporting no longer hunting birds in unsustainable ways.

Behind these activities are 250 dedicated teachers, Peruvian NGO CONAPAC, led by Brian Landever, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen science project Celebrate Urban Birds, represented by Karen A. Purcell and Marilú López Fretts. They have been co-creating training workshops each year since 2017, resulting in dozens of dynamic lesson plans, materials, communication methods, and culturally embedded evaluations all focused on keeping enthusiasm strong.

The people in this region are strong, accustomed to the intense Amazon sun, and mainly fish and grow crops for sustenance. Children and adults cheerfully play sports every afternoon, and couples help one another with fishing. Their music with flutes, drums, and rattles, their regional dances related to animals, and their stories about the meanings behind bird encounters are just a few aspects of the people’s rich culture. Their homes may not have electricity or running water, and they be over 100 kilometers from the closest city, but the warmth and comfort they have amongst one another in communities makes international visitors appreciate coming here, and has many returning frequently. Still, until recently, the forest was not commonly explored for leisure; entering only when hunting was the priority. That’s all changing now. Now, there’s a greater awareness of how the birds are important to the environment, developing the people’s pride they have for their home.

These perspectives were inquired into more closely in open conversations about this effort following each morning’s presentations. These discussions amongst parents, community authorities, students, and teachers with Karen Purcell of CLO are building understanding of the movement’s impact on people’s lives and environment. New, exciting initiatives were also shared, including long trails, or “senderos,” complete with benches and gazebos, built by parents for children to birdwatch in the forest, building their understanding of how birds live in nature.

In 2017, the first ornithology training workshop was held for teachers from these rural communities. Karen, Marilú, and the “Celebrate Birds” citizen science team, began co-developing materials, and an engaging, fun, culturally sensitive educational program focused on bird conservation was launched.

In 2018, teachers began notably increasing their involvement following bi-monthly meetings with the CLO team. The large WhatsApp group began to receive hundreds of photos posted weekly by the teachers, excited to share their progress, in turn motivating one another.

In early 2019, there was no doubt that the program had matured when students presented unsolicited, elaborate skits and dances related to bird conservation during CONAPAC’s visits to their communities. Thousands of photos of class developments began to fill the WhatsApp group monthly, and the program supporters, JBQ Charitable Foundation and the Amazon Binocular Project, have stated they could not have used their donations in a better manner.

When the last workshop was held in June 2019, at Explorama’s lodges, located on the Amazon and Napo rivers, the teachers themselves opened the event. They had prepared creative songs, photo-realistic sketches of birds, and enthusiastic presentations of what they had accomplished to date with their students. The entire week was festive, productive, and further prepared the teachers with strong class curriculum. CONAPAC’s footage of these classes on its YouTube channel effectively capture the enthusiasm of these events. The students in turn are receiving motivated class sessions and can see that they have become part of something that is expanding, and being appreciated worldwide. The culmination of this, with the recent five bird festivals, has surpassed everyone’s expectations.

  • Isla Tamanco, Amazonía Peruana. Viernes, 13 de septiembre, de 2019. Marilu Lopez Fretts

At this time of writing, thorough, co-created program evaluations are being led by CLO that will analyze the progress made. The classes continue regularly, and bird clubs are meeting regularly amongst the most interested students from each community. Eight birdwatching trails have been developed, and more are being planned. The first community-led bird festival in Loreto was on October 30th, uniting 11 communities and more than 600 people.

The potential for this program to have a positive environmental and social impact is clear. As it gains more attention in Peru and internationally, it will add momentum to the global movement to respect and conserve the Amazon rainforest. For bird appreciators, incorporating ongoing citizen science data from students and community members will expand the database of birds from this region on Cornell’s ebird.com. If the Peruvian board of education replicates the training and materials in other areas of Peru, the impact would multiply tremendously, further fueling the country’s strong efforts to be a prime tourist destination. If more bird festivals occur, celebrating birds could become a proud new tradition. Nonetheless, what has happened over the past three years has given unforgettable, enjoyable memories to thousands of children in Peru, empowering them with activities that contribute to the wellness of the Amazon rainforest and the planet overall.

Article by Brian Landever.
Brian Landever is Director of Conapac, devoted to conservation and community development, in Iquitos, Peru.