The Alongside Wildlife Foundation Outreach Award recognizes effective and innovative science communicators that go above and beyond to engage and educate non-scientists about wildlife and conservation. We created this award because everyone agrees this kind of outreach is important, but there are few mechanisms to recognize and reward the people actually doing the work. We are honored to present the very first award to Jason Ward, a self-described bird nerd, educator, and writer for Audubon; he caught our eye because of his tireless work on Twitter helping people identify birds. I hope this interview with Jason helps you learn more about him as well as the important work he is doing on behalf of both people and wildlife. And make sure to watch his new web series premiering this Sunday on March 17th (details below)!
How do your science communication efforts and initiatives relate to your career?
There’s a lot in common with my science communication efforts and my career. Career-wise, I’m the current Community Relations & Outreach Coordinator for National Audubon. My job allows me to directly engage people of color and inspire them to pursue a career in conservation. I’m able to be the face of representation for a younger generation who may have not considered these doors open to them before.
That falls directly in line with my science communication goals. I aim to change the face of birding and blaze trails for colorful, young crowd of future conservationists.
If you communicate one thing to non-scientists, what would it be?
If I could communicate one thing to non-scientists, it would be to get outside more. Even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes. Being amongst nature is incredibly therapeutic. And it doesn’t matter what activity you choose to incorporate into your outdoor time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re birding, herping, jogging, or just going for a walk. Immerse yourself into nature, put your phone on “do-not-disturb” mode and enjoy.
If you could communicate one thing to people thinking about getting started in science communication and outreach, what would it be?
I would tell them to stay consistent. People will eventually take notice if you’re consistent. There may be times where you wonder how efficient you are. If your message is truly getting across to audiences. But stick with it, and have fun doing it. If it isn’t fun for you, no one benefits from it.
Why do you feel it is important to spend your time and energy talking to non-scientists about birds? Who is your audience and what is your goal?
I sincerely believe birds are the best animals in the world. I’m definitely the guy at the party who throws a random bird fact into the conversation. I cannot help it, it is who I am lol.
My audience is anyone who will listen. Especially if they come to me and ask me a question about a neighborhood sighting, or something they saw on the internet. I consider those inquiries to be opportunities to kindle an interest in birds. I want to change minds, clear misconceptions, and infect others with my passion for birds.
What is a unique challenge you have faced while you engage with non-scientists about wildlife and conservation?
There are two challenges I’ve come across. On one hand, I didn’t expect so many people to have a fear of birds! People won’t go near them! It blows my mind lol.
On a more serious note, I’ve found it difficult to explain to folks how their behaviors can adversely affect birds. For example, feeding ducks and geese can have major domino effects on the overall health of a small pond of lake. Not to mention the effects it can have on the ducks and geese themselves.
Is there something about talking with non-scientists about wildlife and conservation that you find particularly gratifying?
I love the looks on people’s faces when they’ve just had their mind blown upon learning something cool about an animal. Sparking intrigue is something I thoroughly enjoy doing. Whether it’s talking to people about Clouded Leopards at Zoo Atlanta, or running my mouth about Peregrine Falcons on my bird walks. I love when I’m able to teach people something new.
Who is a science communicator you admire and why?
It’s so hard to pick just one! They all do amazing work. I want to take this time to shine a light on the women of color in the #scicomm community that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with over the years: Asia Murphy, Yara Haridy, Earyn McGee, Corina Newsome, Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, “Crazy Aunt Lindsey”, Dr. Danielle N. Lee, Rose DF, and many more. I’m absolutely forgetting people and I apologize for that. You all are awesome.
Also, fun fact, I’m not sure if you know, but the idea for #TrickyBirdID came about due to your #NotACopperhead & #SnakeID hashtags that you tweet out occasionally.
What is a conservation issue that you’re particularly passionate about?
Keep your cats indoors please, thanks.
That’s all that needs to be said, it’s such a simple issue. Yet, it continues to be a divisive topic. I think the divisiveness stems from the fact that there’s a ton of emotion attached to it. People love their cats dearly, which I understand. But I’ll continue to push for responsible pet ownership as long as I’m alive. And keeping cats indoors is a major part of responsible pet ownership. There’s no way around it.
Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?
I’m so excited to share my new web series with everyone. It’s called “Birds of North America”, and it premieres Sunday, March 17th on YouTube and on Topic Magazine. There will be a new episode each Sunday.
Over the past year, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some pretty cool locations to go birding. We were able to capture some amazing bird moments, and talk to some amazing people. It’s been a literal dream come true for me and I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I’ve enjoyed making it.
Also, if you live in the Atlanta area, join me on my monthly bird walks at Piedmont Park. They’re held on the first Saturday every month. More information can be found by visiting Atlanta Audubon and finding the field trips tab.
I’m honored to receive this award. It means a lot for a kid growing up in the projects in the South Bronx to be able to share my passion with the world. I won’t stop.