Creating A BirdFellow Group: A Tutorial

One of the cornerstone features of the website is "My Groups." Thus far, many folks have created accounts, but some seem to get stuck when pondering, "what do I do now?"  Since BirdFellow is designed as a social site, we suspect that many of you have come to this site hoping to connect and network with other birders who live in your area. "My Groups" is a great way to get started. Since we are new, just a few groups have been created. The upside is that you can take the lead in shaping your local BirdFellow community. We offer this tutorial showing how to create a group and, once formed, how to recruit members.

Creating a Group Step by Step:

1. Start by logging in to your account, then click on "My Groups" in the drop-down menu. You should see the page below. Since a group may already exist for your area of interest (i.e. Lane County Birders), you may want to first conduct a search (using the box at the top of the page) before creating a new group. If you don' find a pre-existing group, creating one is easy.  Click on "Create a Group" along the left hand margin (see second image).


2. Once the "Create a Group" dialogue box is open (see below), you will want to fill all the boxes.


3. Naming your group -- By clicking on the little red question mark, you'll find some helpful suggestions. The most important element of naming your group is coming up with a name that folks are likely to search. If you want to form a group for people who bird Cape May N.J., then a name like "Cape May Birders" makes sense. If your group has a more specific focus (i.e. folks who hang out at the Cape May hawkwatch platform), then something like "Cape May Hawkwatchers" might make more sense. In most cases, you will probably want to have a geographical reference in your name. If your group has a colloquial name that desired members use to identify themselves, that may be used in the name.

4. Group Access -- Determining whether you want to make the group visible to everyone or just those in your network depends on how many members you hope to attract. Remember, just because lots of folks have joined your group doesn't mean that they will all show up the next time you organize a field trip. Click on the little red question mark for further guidance.

5. City, State, Zip Code -- Filling the city and state are important as they will help others find your group. If the group is centered around a smaller town or suburban area with one zip code (i.e Cape May Point, N.J.) potential members will be able to find you by entering that zip code. In larger cities with multiple zip codes (like Portland, Oregon where I live) you might want to use the original zip code for the town (usually the lowest number in the series). For example, in Portland that is "97201." Unfortunately, we have yet to code an auto-complete function for this search box, so unless you enter the exact zip code or group name, it will not pop up. 


Photo caption here...

6. Group Description -- Offer a brief overview of the geographical area your group is associated with and the experience folks can expect by joining. Remember, this doesn't have to be perfect from the start. As the group owner/manager you can edit the the group profile anytime. All you have to do is click on "Group Profile"  in the left column of the group page and then on "manage group information" in the top right corner.  Every part of your group profile (including the name) can then be edited.

7. Add Group Managers -- As the creator of the group, you will automatically be assigned as the group "manager." If you have birding friends who can help you manage group event notifications or other group functions, you might want to add them as a group manager.

Once you've filled in all these boxes, simply click on the "Create Group" button on the bottom of the page. You did it!  Your group has been created. Below is an example of what your group page will look like when you are done. It will show a summary of the recent activities of members. If you've already posted lists, shared photos, or made connections with other members, a summary of those activities will appear immediately as soon as you are done creating the group.


Once a group is created, you can extend invites to other birding friends. If they aren't already part of the BirdFellow community, this is a great opportunity to invite them to join. If they are, send them a message and tell them about the group you've created and invite them to join. Any message you send via the BirdFellow messaging system will generate an e-mail notification to existing BirdFellow members.

If you are having problems navigating through the group creation/management process, you are likely not alone. We encourage you to use the comments section of this article to share questions and get tips from the BirdFellow team and other users. Together, we will work through issues and your feedback will help future users. We will monitor the comments and use this as a discussion board for those who want assistance with the group-related aspects of the interface. We recognize that we have  not designed a perfect interface, but with your feedback we can make improvements towards that end.

A Story We Had To Share

Editor's Note: One of the things we hope for when we publish articles in our online journal is response from you. Some of the pieces we publish inspire lots of comments, while others spur little if any feedback. As older pieces slide deeper into the archival cyber glacier they are only occasionally visited by those who are just discovering our site. I occasionally review the comments to older articles to delete spam and see if anyone has added anything new. This evening I found an absolute gem, posted by Bob Tarte on 6 March 2011. I've never met Bob, but I felt compelled share the story below. He posted it as a comment in response to our December 2010 photo essay about abused field guides entitled: No Easy Life: Abused Field Guides


This image shows the 1949 Zim and Gabrielson guide that Bob references early in his story. (photo sourced online at

I found BirdFellow quite by accident today, and I was pleased to see the essay on abused field guides. Yesterday at a second-hand store in West Michigan, I found a 1949 hardcover copy of Zim and Gabrielson’s “Birds” and bought it for the low price ($3.98) and because I enjoy the large illustrations and quirky text. Only after I gave it a second look at home did I notice that it had been autographed by Herbert Zim.

At the same second-hand store I found a field guide to birds of Great Britain last fall. I discovered a postcard stuck inside the book that was an invitation to a 1983 reunion of the Second Air Division Eighth Air Force in Norwich. On the back of invitation is a list of birds in the book owner’s handwriting, and inside the book cover is the price of the book in English pounds written in pencil.

So I’m guessing that an American serviceman who was stationed in England in WWII went back to England in 1983 for a reunion. While he was there, he bought the field guide and went birding in the area. The experience was undoubtedly very important to him, since he saved the postcard, and I am betting that he would have wanted someone to have his book who would value it, as I do.
I couldn’t let it sit on the shelf after that.

I love it, because I’ve never found another book that tells a story about the book’s owner as clearly as this one does. I’ve got email friends in England who report bird sightings to me, and whenever I look up the birds in this book, I feel the presence of its original owner.

Thanks again Bob for sharing this story. The Golden Guide pictured above was my mother's first bird book. She's bought a few more since then, including a few for a very grateful son, for whom birding has provided constant source of joy for 45 years and counting.

How Listservs May Be Altering Notions of Early and Late

In the course of compiling sightings and analyzing them as part of my North American Birds (NAB) editing duties, I'm noticing that the migration phenology of my youth seems to unravel a little more with each passing year. The Spring and Fall columns for our Region have been littered with "record" earlies and lates in recent years. We've come to understand that arrival and departure dates  once considered "early" or "late" may now be the norm. What has changed?


For many birders across North America, the return of Turkey Vultures marks the return of Spring. When the first reports begin coming in, eyes turn skyward.

There has been much discussion surrounding apparent changes in the timing of migrant arrivals and departures. One consistent discussion point is climate change and how birds may be responding to it. While it seems plausible to attribute record early and late dates to climate change (and we should continue to look for evidence of such), perhaps the real elephant in the room is observer effort or, more importantly, talented observer effort.

Birding has mushroomed in popularity over the past 2-3 decades and, not surprisingly, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of skilled birders combing the landscape. This collective increase in birding effort is hard to quantify, thus it is hard to draw solid conclusions about the cause/effect relationship between our cumulative time in the field and the body of observations that are modifying our perceptions about migration timing.

Another factor that probably can't be overlooked is the "game" aspect that is created when FOS (first of season) and FOY (first of year) birds can be reported in real time. Years ago, one would have to wait a month or two for the local Audubon newsletter to come out before they would know who saw the first of this or that. Nowadays, listservs allow us to share reports of early migrants almost as soon as we see them. In fact, many birders don't even wait to get home, they use cell phones to post the latest news from the field. When we received notification of new arrivals, do we sit home? No, we grab our bins and scope and join the party. Predictably, this response translates into numerous corroborating reports, where there would have been just one outlier a few decades ago. 

Listservs have clearly replaced the local Audubon chapter field notes or bird club newsletter as the place where we learn what others are seeing and have seen. In terms of overall population and number of birders, Oregon (where I live) is small potatoes. Had it been possible to create a "listserv" thirty years ago, I suspect we would have been challenged to drum up 50 subscribers statewide. Today, Oregon Birders Online (OBOL) enjoys a roster of over 800 subscribers. Beyond that, there at least a half a dozen vibrant sub-regional listservs that have sprouted up around the state. At least two of the more localized (non-statewide) listservs can now boast subscriber rolls that number into the hundreds.

This type of smorgasbord of reporting options likely exists in many states and Canadian provinces, allowing individual observers to choose a reporting funnel size that serves their particular needs. There are surely several folks who, like me, subscribe to a number of different listservs. Others use digest services like Jack Siler's or Sialia to monitor multiple lists, but avoid a daily deluge of e-mails. Perhaps you only want to know what is going on in your home county, or maybe you are interested in reports from a multi-state region. All of these options are available on today's birding listserv landscape.


Along the Pacific Coast of North America, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, no species inspires "me too" reports like the Rufous Hummingbird. With a flash of rusty orange and a buzzy "zee-chuppity-chup" the males announce their arrival and the start of the spring migration season.

In every region there are favored harbinger birds. Their arrival is much-anticipated, as they signal an impending opening of migratory floodgates. In Oregon, two such birds are Rufous Hummingbird and Turkey Vulture. Each year, in late-Feb/early-March, one can bank on flurry of online reports as birders statewide trumpet local arrivals. Our new-found capacity for experiencing these widespread arrivals via listserv reports and then going out to our local patch to experience them firsthand, cements their timing in our minds. These days, most Oregon birders could probably tell you within a 4-5 day window when they expect to see their first Rufous Hummer each year.

In the past, there were always a few birders who kept detailed notes and understood migration phenology, but before comparative data points were readily available, widespread understanding of migration timing was not very fine-tuned. Being connected to one another by listservs and other social birding sites has refined and will continue to refine our recognition of what constitutes "early" and "late." It truly has become a game in a sense, complete with a subset of birders who are out there trying to create new benchmarks.