Be a 2020 Master Birder

By: Pat Yingst, Travis Audubon Master Birder

December 6 is the deadline for applying for the Travis Audubon 2020 Master Birder program. If you are at least an intermediate birder, love birds, and have the time for the 3 months of evening classes (total of 10 sessions), Saturday morning field trips (total of 8), and time throughout the year to contribute at least 30 hours of volunteering to Travis Audubon, you should check it out. Information for applicants, the 2020 syllabus, and the application are available on the website here. As a graduate of the 2019 program, I talked to a lot of people at the Sixty Years of Birding at Hornsby Bend Celebration last Saturday. Following are some of the questions that visitors asked me.

If you are a Master Birder, are you expected to lead bird walks?

Absolutely not. Although the name implies a special Godlike knowledge of bird species, that is a mischaracterization. There is a lot to do that does not involve leading walks. On the other hand, if leading walks is something you want to do, the Master Birder program is a gateway into that. At least 2 people from my Master Birder class are now leading walks or helping to lead walks.

What are the volunteer opportunities?

Here’s an incomplete list: being on a committee, tabling at events, writing blog posts for the website (like this one), clearing invasive plants from sites like Baker Sanctuary, participating in or leading children’s programs, giving presentations. Of course, you can help out with many of these things without being a Master Birder, but as a Master Birder, you are in a direct line to hear about the opportunities. The most fun one for me was getting to be a bid spotter at the Victor Emanuel Conservation Award Luncheon. We learned the ins and outs of auctioneering from a professional auctioneer and then got dressed up and came out dancing to “Rockin’ Robin” carrying flashy lights and wearing big smiles. It was a glitzy moment of show biz.

What is the age limit?

The person who asked this had a 13 year-old relative who was an avid birder and was very interested in dong the program. I didn’t know the answer so checked with Caley Zuzula, the Travis Audubon Program and Education Coordinator. She thought about it a little while and said “Well why not?” So I think the answer is that there isn’t really a specific age limit: a teen that demonstrates maturity and a strong interest in birding can apply. On the other side of the age spectrum, I am over 70 and I don’t think I was the oldest person in the group.

What are my personal take-aways from the Master Birder experience?

Knowledge about feathers, bones, internal organs, genetics, migration, molting, and more. Plenty of tips about how to look for birds, how to ID them and where to find them. How to use eBird. Then there are many intangible benefits like ramped up enthusiasm, companions, elevated comfort level on bird outings, and, last but not least, good snacks.

For questions regarding the Master Birder Program, please contact Caley Zuzula at