Bird brainiacs: Where tech meets bird-watching

Bird-watching is social, hip, 'geeky in an intellectual way,' and surging thanks to technology

For the second spring, Jennifer Chernecki welcomed two bushtits back to her Mount Pleasant balcony.

“I call them my tenants but they are completely wild,” she said. The brown songbirds delighted the artist who could spend hours observing their enchanted, twitchy habits as they went about building a new nest for the season.

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A bushtit on the Mount Pleasant balcony of Jennifer Chernecki. Photo Dan Toulgoet

She paints them, has named them Fudgie and Titty, and stages her patio as a kind of urban nature documentary since she started filming the bushtits live on Facebook.

“I just can’t resist,” she said. “Sometimes I want to call it the ‘Titty cam.’”

Chernecki, 33, is a bird-watcher who only just saw herself as such. “Birder is not a term I had ever used until this moment, but I do study birds, paint birds and visit places specifically to see birds. I used to raise birds when I was a child,” she said earlier this month before Bird Week, the city’s annual effort to create awareness about the region’s ecological health and winged-thing biodiversity.

Birding is surging. As one of those millennials who effortlessly forges technology into her art practice and relationship with the natural environment, Chernecki is an example of today’s modern birder. 

“It’s social and kind of geeky,” she said. “That is a very hipster thing to do. Geeky, I say that with tongue in cheek because I mean geeky in a grown-up intellectual kind of way.”

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Bushtits makes their home on the Mount Pleasant balcony of Jennifer Chernecki, a bird-watcher and artist who films the wild creatures she calls her "tenants." Photos Dan Toulgoet

Geek chicadeedee

As one of the fastest growing hobbies on the continent, according to Bird Studies Canada, bird watching is lifted by municipal events such as this city’s Bird Week. In 2018, Vancouver hosts the International Ornithological Congress and selected an official city bird, the Anna’s hummingbird, in a city-wide vote.

Bird watching was labelled the “unlikeliest craze” of 2017 by vacation tome, Conde Nast Traveller. Vancouver’s Bird Week appealed to young adults and early-30-somethings in an event called the “rise of the hipster bird-watcher” and lured them with a free download of EyeLoveBirds, a sophisticated and attractive birding app created by Vancouver developer Erynn Tomlinson, a Mount Pleasant birder who doesn’t live far from Chernecki. The name of the event was inspired by the Telegraph newspaper, which described the naturalist pastime “the new must-have string to the millennial’s bow.”

Also newly popular with young British men, according to a national survey in the U.K., in Canada, an average one in five people are active birders who spend more than a quarter of the year watching birds. More than half are women. According to the Canadian Nature Survey, bird watching is even more popular than gardening.


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Erynn Tomlinson developed the EyeLoveBirds app, used globally by bird-watchers to seek, identify and check-off the species they've seen in the Lower Mainland and elsewhere in the world. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Birds are an indicator of a healthy ecosystem, and in an urban landscape made from concrete and glass, birds are still one way people regularly (and mostly positively) engage with wildlife. It has cache as a bonafide scientific study that contributes to local and global habitat conservation efforts, another goal supported by technology and data collection.

Band of birds

Bird banding – the practice of affixing a light-weight tag with a unique identifying number to a bird – is one way biologists the world over track bird movement and migration.

“If you put a band on a robin here, and it flies down the US or south for the winter, you can actually see if another biologist or birder catches this same bird and report it on the system,” said Hannah Nieman, 28, a bird-watcher who works with a water conservation non-profit organization and is interested in habitat restoration.

“You can see where that bird goes. You can see that these birds have patterns. We have a lot of species at risk, especially with climate change, it’s really important to see how they are doing one year to the next and in large patterns,” she said.


Geuss who I banded! Lovely little palm warbler! #banding #birdbanding #birds #volunteering #palmwarbler #IBBO #wildresearch

A post shared by Hannah Nieman (@adventuresthroughphotos) on

As someone who has been birding since she was a child, Nieman now uses software to learn bird calls and better identify species just from their song.

“It’s helpful to fine-tune your ear,” she said.

With apps like Warblr and others, bird watching can quickly become bird listening, like being in the audience as an orchestra performs and trying to isolate the first violinist.

“It’s not just about using your visual senses but also your auditory senses. It’s almost like you can hear all these different songs and then focus on one. You can hear its particular tune through everything else,” she said. “It makes me feel really at peace.”

That's something for all generations.

Twitter: @MHStewart

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