Many young birders I know hope to turn their passion for birds into a career. Some may think, however, that “birding” is only a hobby which can hardly provide a source of income.
There is something to be said for choosing a career you can put your heart into. It may be true that a bird-oriented career will not bring in big money, but if it is something you enjoy doing there are a number of options. There are enough “professional birders” out in the real world to prove that a career involving birds is possible.
1. Writer—Ok, I’m biased. Writing will never bring you much money, so it’s something you have to enjoy doing a lot, no matter how discouraged you get. There is a niche for nature writers and people who can bring the complex language of science to “non-scientists”, people who enjoy nature and love learning about it. A few birder-writers you may be familiar with include Kenn Kaufman, Pete Dunne, and Scott Weidensaul. Many writers are not just writers, so you will want to consider combining your writing with other interests.
2. Artist—Scientific illustrators are called upon to illustrate plates in field guides, textbooks, or even magazines and journals. Scientific illustrators must be capable of accurately depicting their subject—it would be wrong, for example, to depict certain passerines with more than 10 primary feathers. That said, there is a niche for artists who want to take liberties and work outside the strict box of scientific illustration (like children’s books or art meant for the general public’s enjoyment).
Consider Julie Zickefoose, who has made a career through both her art and writing. If you are an artist, you are always able to illustrate your own adventures. People like a good story, and birders have good stories!
3. Tour Guide—Your friends may wonder why you bother learning to identify birds. There is actually a whole market out there for people who can point out birds to other people. This job definitely requires some people skills, and a desire to share your enthusiasm for birds with others. People birding in South America for the first time want a guide who can show them as many birds as possible, correctly identify them, and perhaps even share some extra knowledge about the location. If you have ever been to a young birder camp (like Camp Chiricahua) than you have seen what the responsibilities of a tour guide are. Your leaders had to consider transportation, sleeping, and eating arrangements for the participants in addition to finding birds.
4. Wildlife Biologist/Ornithologist—For people who enjoy tackling birds from a scientific, research-oriented perspective. Tasks include data collecting, working outside in the field, analyzing data, and perhaps even writing up your findings in a paper. I suggest keeping your options open and considering becoming a wildlife biologist rather than strictly ornithologist. All wildlife is interesting and there are possibilities for studying relationships between various species. If this is the path you are considering, you might consider getting your BA in wildlife biology, biology, or zoology.
5. Vet/Wildlife Rehab—I don’t know much about this one. I just think it would be fun to be that person with a Golden Eagle perched on his/her hand while presenting at a nature center program. This job would require a pre-vet education and desire to know about all aspects of animals, from identification to physiology. If you have an interest in medicine, you might consider this route.
Soooo…those are a few of my ideas. How about you? Any advice for young birders considering a bird-oriented career?