If your stereotypical image of a birdwatcher ("birder" in today's language) is that of a solitary, stodgy old man, then you haven't met Jason Ward. Mr. Ward is almost single-handedly revolutionizing the world of birding through mini-documentaries on YouTube. In fact, his series Birds of North America With Jason Ward is less about the birds than the people who pursue them. That is exactly what wildlife conservation in general needs desperately.
Ward recognizes some fundamental realities that the generation raised on David Attenborough, Jacques Cousteau, and George Page (am I dating myself yet?) have largely ignored in current media production models. Number one, we have shorter attention spans now than we did back then. Most episodes of Birds of North America With Jason Ward are seven minutes or less. It takes a few episodes to get accustomed to the sometimes abrupt endings, but it also leaves you anxious for the next installment.
Beyond acknowledging our easily-distracted nature in the digital age, Ward understands our need to belong, to engage socially in healthy ways, interacting in person instead of relying on social media to feel a sense of connectedness. Jason is never alone in a single video. He reveals the shared passion of birders by talking to other birders, to ornithologists, to family and friends. The natural flow of each video is the direct result of this conversational approach to birding. Birders have been stereotyped, wrongly, as those people who admonish others to be quiet as if the outdoors is a library. Sure, you hear more if you are quiet, but you should have the freedom to celebrate your discoveries, even with a "lifer dance" after seeing a species new to you.
It is a difficult line to walk between reverence and exuberance, but Jason Ward nails it. He is young enough to have a contagious influence on millennials, but old enough to have respect for his elder mentors and colleagues. He recognizes the recreational aspect of birding while asserting its importance to science, personal physical health, wildlife conservation, and environmental health. Always, there is the social component to birding. The festivals. The regular group walks in Central Park. The ritual is all important. The commitment is the thing.
Any person or organization wishing to increase public participation in natural history recreation and citizen science would do well to emulate the style of Jason Ward in recruiting new blood to entomology, botany, mycology, herpetology....basically all the "ologies."
Back in my day, you engaged in "nature stuff" at risk of ridicule. A childhood friend, now deceased, played hockey and was otherwise considered a rugged and appropriately masculine young man. He swore me to secrecy before showing me his butterfly collection. Today, there is no more need to do your thing on the down-low. You can be proud of your interests and know there are others out there like you. This is a powerful new facet to nature study.
I have studiously avoided stating the obvious, that Jason Ward is a "person of color," but it would also be disrespectful to not say so. Human diversity is still sadly lacking in birding and other science-based activities, and that condition must be improved dramatically if birding is to continue to expand its ranks, and bird conservation is to truly excel in achieving its goals and fulfilling its missions. There is no place for exclusion in an endeavor built on the principal that all organisms on the planet deserve dignity, respect, celebration, and protection.
Please avail yourself of any and all opportunities to view Birds of North America With Jason Ward, online, or through your television streaming service. I guarantee your life will be enriched, your mood enhanced, and your passion for nature ignited or re-ignited in every episode. This is inspiring work with a unique and creative style perfect for meeting the challenges of wildlife conservation today.