Can you really make a writing career out of birds? Of course, you can. In fact, the bird watching industry generates close to $36 billion every year and hires more than 55,000 people as employees. Based on a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 51 million Americans call themselves active birders. Most bird-watchers pursue this activity mainly for recreational or social reasons. Enthusiasts spend thousands of dollars for the right equipment, travel, and educational information (books, magazines, videos) about birds.
I love watching birds from different habitats throughout my local coastal South Carolina area, and enjoy categorizing new birds in my iPad app. If you have a passion for bird watching, you can pitch article ideas to birding and nature-related magazines, and earn an income from selling your articles. Start with one of these hot topics to break into these magazines:
1. Bird Species
Our breath-taking Earth splendidly displays thousands of bird species all over the globe, and bird enthusiasts discover new bird species regularly. North America has over 800 species of birds, and other parts of the country have over 100 species. Bird watchers are incessantly interested to know more about the object of their passion. You can cover many objective and subjective things about bird species, such as their behavior, appearance, feeding, and location.
2. Bird Watching Equipment
Birders spend money on a variety of goods and services for trip-related and equipment-related purchases. Equipment expenditures consist of binoculars, cameras, camping equipment, and other costs. Birders spent an estimated $26 billion on equipment expenditures in 2010. Enthusiasts want to keep themselves abreast on the newest equipment and supplies that can help them enhance bird watching. These include binoculars, scopes, and cameras. You can write reviews on the existing products, discuss new technologies, and share where to find the best equipment and supplies.
3. Bird Watching Destinations
Around 40 percent of bird-watchers are willing to spend money on travel to pursue their hobby. Birders spent an estimated $12 billion on trip expenditures. Trip-related expenditures include food, lodging, transportation, and other incidental expenses. They are on the lookout of new sites, even if they’re in other countries, as well as reservoirs, zoos, conservation centers, and places frequently or remotely visited by other bird watchers. Backyard birding or watching birds around the home is the most common form of bird-watching. Eighty-eight percent (42 million) of birders are backyard birders, and forty-four percent take bird-watching trips away from home.
Many bird watchers have lovingly bonded with many bird species and they are willing to make their home conducive for them too. They would love to know how to attract birds in their yards, what types of plants are perfect for birds, what to feed certain birds, and how to maximize the yard for a garden.
5. Backyard Projects
Bird feeders and birdhouses are two very popular backyard projects for birders. These allow their furry friends to stay longer or visit frequently in their property, allowing birders to observe them in close range.
6. Bird Conservation
Some bird species are already endangered, no thanks to abusive hunting, deforestation, climate change, and other environmental hazards. There are over 9,900 known species of birds. 321 species are considered endangered, meaning they have only a 20% chance of surviving the next 20 years. There’s definitely a need to encourage birders to participate in conservation efforts. You can feature different conservation programs and organizations, the effects of pollution on birds, the condition of birds today, the different endangered species, and the heroes of bird conservation.
7. Bird Festivals
You’ll be surprised on how many festivals there are for birders. You can create an article for every one of them or the festival within your locality, talk about what’s going to happen, or get your readers excited on upcoming festivals. You can also write articles on how local birding festivals help beginning birders learn the basics of identifying birds and using equipment.
8. DIY Projects
Many birders love to do backyard projects all by themselves. You can come up with step-by-step tutorials with accompanying photos for basic to complex backyard projects.
9. Bird Watching Business
As mentioned, bird watching is a huge industry, and many landowners realize they can make money out of it. You can show them ways on how to set up a bird watching business, what agencies to approach, how to promote it, and how to practice bird conservation.
10. Photo Essay
Birds are popular subjects among photographers, mainly because of their stunning colors and camera presence. You can partner with a photographer and write a reflection or essay about the images or combine these two jobs.
Who’s Your Audience?
There are over 50 million Americans from 16 years old and above who are into bird watching — more than fish and game hunters. The average birder is 50 years old. A large percent of birders live in the south in an urban area. Unlike hunting and fishing where the majority are men, a larger percent of birders are women — about 54 percent. As you can see, you have a huge potential audience for your articles.
Where Should You Submit Your Work?
You can find many magazines, trade journals, websites, and blogs that pay freelance writers for articles. Here is a brief list of birding magazines that use freelance writers.
• Bird Watching magazine combines well-written articles with photography to appeal to casual birdwatchers to serious birders.
• Birds & Blooms magazine shares the backyards of other gardening and birding enthusiasts. Readers share their best tips and fun backyard experiences. Writer’s guidelines: http://bit.ly/tIt51t
• Bird Watcher’s Digest is a bimonthly magazine that publishes a wide array of material aimed at bird watchers and birders at all levels of interest and ability. Writer’s guidelines: http://bit.ly/vBEiRM
• BirdTalk magazine is directed to the general population of parrot, canary, finch and dove owners and written for the adult audience. Writer’s guidelines: http://bit.ly/vkRcGW
• WildBird magazine educates and entertains readers with useful details about North American birds and birding – in readers’ back yards and in the entire Western Hemisphere.
• Birding magazine is the bimonthly publication of the American Birding Association, a non-profit organization that seeks to inspire people to enjoy birding and to protect wild birds.
What Are Editors Looking For?
You should expect to travel to several places and document your experience. It’s important you understand the different terms associated with the industry, how to build great partnerships with organizations and communities for generating leads, and how to write articles that editors find accurate, interesting and engaging.
Most editors want well-written accounts covering backyard birds, bird gardening, how-to projects, and interesting bird behavior and experiences. Aim to write an article on a unique/unusual topic, or an authoritative advice-type article. Typical length of articles run between 700 and 2,500 words long.
How Do You Pitch Ideas?
First you have to contact the editor and provide him with your suggested topic and your writing plan. It may be necessary to submit writing samples related to bird watching as references. Most editors accept query letters via e-mail. When you submit an e-mail query, include:
What you want to write about
Write a sentence or two about the focus of your article.
How you plan to write it
Describe its significance or timeliness. Explain how you plan to organize your story — the opening paragraph, what approach you will take in writing it, and whom you will interview (if applicable). State how you might illustrate your story with photos, video or illustrations.
Why your article is interesting
Tell the editor why his magazine’s readers will want to read your article.
Describe your experience as a writer and/or why you are qualified to address your topic. Send clips and samples.
How Much Can You Earn?
Many bird-watching magazines will pay you after they have published your article, while other magazines might pay you after accepting your article. Payment ranges from $250 to $600 per feature article, while shorter articles pay from $100 to $350.