What Have I Been Up To? Talking about Birds!

Since I’ve been at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I have been a busy bee! I have been developing multiple programs and facilitating guided hikes, porch talks, and birding sessions. Today, I’m going to talk about the porch talks I’ve been doing. 

Porch talks are a way to interact with visitors while they’re at the visitor center. It’s a 30 minute discussion where you bring awareness and educate the audience on anything you want. I chose to have my porch talk be a 30 minute rundown on birds you can find around the visitor center and other areas of the park. I also discuss how you can easily get into birding and how to continue the hobby back at home. 

Here's a picture that shows the typical set up. On this day, I had my talk set up to where you can view the field from the left. I usually have it set up to where the field is facing behind me.

I start my porch talks by asking the visitors where they’re from and where they’re currently staying while they’re visiting. I also ask if they’ve seen any cool birds! Once we talk about that stuff, I go into some of the birds you can observe near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, where the porch talk takes place. I provide eight different pictures of birds and invite the audience to identify any of them if they can. Afterward, I identify each bird and describe where you will most likely find them around the visitor center and mountain farm museum.
After this, I talk about how bird watching benefits our mental health. I ask the visitors what emotions they feel when listening to birds. Visitors usually describe listening to birds as “relaxing,” “peaceful,” and “beautiful.” I then go into how our brains are similar to birds in hearing and processing languages and sound and how studies show that listening to birds helps increase one’s mood and focus.

Here's the birds I showcase during the porch talk. I've noticed that visitors love talking about the Indigo Bunting, Red Crossbill, and Wild Turkey the most 😀
Here's the view from the porch! It's a great place to relax and watch elk. I enjoy sitting on the porch and watching the Red-Winged Blackbirds fly around.

Then, I ask the audience what areas they’ve visited in the park or where they plan to go after they leave the visitor center. Once I get a general idea, I go into my next section. This section goes into the birds you can find elsewhere in the park. I showcase both common and rare birds. I ask the audience if they can identify any, then I identify the eight different birds I have pictures of and explain where you can find them. 

After I show some of the birds you’ll find in the park, I go into how birds benefit our environment. I ask the audience how they think birds help the environment and go off of their answers. When I ask the audience, I often hear about how birds help keep insect populations in check, how birds help disperse seeds, how they can be used to predict weather changes, and how safe an area is. I go into more detail on these and allow the audience to add input. 

Finally, I go into how the audience can observe birds while they’re visiting and while they’re at home. I show binoculars and how to use them, then I show field guides and allow audience members to look through them if they’d like. I finish off by showing the Merlin Bird ID app on my iPad. Visitors LOVE Merlin! They’re always amazed by its features when I show them how to use it. 

Once I finish my porch talk, I thank the audience for coming to listen and ask if anyone would like to use binoculars while they’re on the porch. I provide five pairs of binoculars from the park, and the visitors LOVE having a chance to use them!

Throughout the talk, I stress that birding is easy to get into, and you don’t have to spend much money to be in the hobby. I stress using Merlin and how it’s free, and I also talk about how you can watch birds in your own backyard with bird feeders and other things. 

I’ve only done this porch talk a couple of times, but it seems like people really enjoy it so far. I heard one kid beg their mom to download Merlin while they were leaving, which warmed my heart. It’s so fulfilling to see how my programs impact people. While I write them, I feel like they’re boring or not detailed enough. However, when I see the audience light up, laugh, and stay engaged without feeling overwhelmed, I remember that starting broad can help someone get into a hobby that may initially seem overwhelming.

Here's me showing off the binoculars provided by the park. Kids usually jump out of theirs seats when I ask if anyone wants to try them out lol.
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