Will The Hobby Survive?
I wrote this piece for the NFSS (National Finch and Softbill Society) group, as if any entity exists in a leadership position of keeping and breeding finches, it is the NFSS. Perhaps because it was published right after the New Year of 2011 began and all of the members hadn’t returned home to check their email, but there were no responses to it. I hope it wasn’t a sign of apathy.
We must take a pro-active stance to keep the hobby/business healthy and growing. If we don’t, the people who raise and sell finches won’t have as many customers. And those who only collect finches for their own enjoyment will not find the access and variety of finches that make finch keeping so attractive and enjoyable.
Will The Hobby Survive?
A couple of years ago this month a member of the NFSS posted the question of whether or not the hobby would survive. The simple answer is still YES. But with the recession lasting far longer than most of us thought, its health has been less than good. I suspect the condition will remain about the same, just as many other hobbies and activities people partake in, fall on hard times. There was a glimmer of hope this past Christmas season as it is reported that shoppers were not as frugal as they were the past year or two. In fact, they were buying presents for themselves—either relieving pent up desires to treat themselves, or their own personal economies had gotten better.
We have noticed in the several finch groups we belong to that several people have liquidated their inventories and closed up this chapter on breeding, with perhaps as many reasons as there are species of finches. On the other hand, it seems there are just as many people joining groups, either new to finches, or picking up where they left off several years ago.
What is noticeable is that most of these newbies are middle-aged. Or retirees. And this seems to be the lament of some folks, as they shout, “But we need new young blood!” Well, maybe that’s not how it always works.
Last year I was interviewed by Karl Lieberman for an issue of Bird Talk magazine. Then I heard the magazine was doing away with the finch section. I don’t know if it ever really appeared. But, it did show up on Bird Channel, only the interview was cut in half with a promise to give us the second half next month. Next month came along and it was the first part all over again. The few I know of who have seen the interview said my opening remarks did change their thinking about keeping the hobby alive.
The people we are welcoming into the fold are exactly what we need: old people like me. We are retired or semi-retired, need something to do, have developed good observational and analytical skills. We may have a little extra money to spend on the hobby and for health or other reasons have become homebodies. But most important—we have PATIENCE!
Have you seen today’s kids anxiously waiting for a reply on a text message? Life and death, I tell you. In today’s sped up lifestyles, who has time for patience? How can you tell kids they have to wait 3 weeks to a month before they may see a baby bird fly out of the nest after that egg is laid?
But if Gramps or Grams excuse themselves from family gatherings to check up on the birds, maybe a few of the kids will follow to see what they are doing. It may not produce an instant desire to raise birds, but when they get older, they remember what they witnessed and have reached a point in their lives where chirpy little birds might add something to their own households.
When I see a new member introduce themselves on a group, I oftentimes write them a personal note of welcome and encourage them to spend a little time getting to know about our feathered friends, assuring them that there are other members of the group well-qualified to answer their questions. I warn them that this can become addictive and that I have a retirement project that is on steroids.
The window that older people can open on our living treasures may be 10, 15 or 20 years, certainly plenty of time for them to plant the seeds of interest in younger people. When the time is right, those seeds could sprout and blossom. They may not be kids anymore, but they will help the hobby survive. What better way is there than handing down the love of birds than by example from their grandparents?
Yes, there are other ways, of course. Scott Golden, a teacher by profession, but also a finch breeder of merit, has formed bird clubs in his classes. Some of those kids may stay breeding finches all of their lives. Others may stop breeding finches for another type of breeding as they get older, but they have a good chance of returning, once their hormones calm down.
There are finch and canary clubs that are active across the country. How many have a “Bring a relative or friend night” and aimed it at their children, nieces and nephews? Have several of the members bring a couple of different species of finches to the meeting to show what a variety of finches there are. Maybe none of those kids will ever return to the club, but seeds were planted.
Has anyone brought a neighbor or friend along to a bird show, in hopes of them witnessing you getting a ribbon?
At one job, I used to put up a picture of the Finch of the Day on one of the computers. Pretty soon, my workers were stopping by my office throughout the night to see what pretty bird I had.
At my current part-time job I’m known as the Birdman of Beaumont and have shown pictures of my birds to many.
We do not have a comprehensive education program in place in the finch community. I don’t know if we ever will. It would be great to have a beginner’s booklet vendors of birds at marts and meets could hand out. I got this idea from Chase Austin, who hands out printed copies of my Green Day Diet to every customer who buys a bird from him. The project could be funded by a group (hint, hint) or done privately.
We all can do one or two small things that may help the hobby gain interest. And let’s not leave it to just our old folks to pull it up by the suspenders.