Real 'Tweets': Birdwatching Comes Alive Online

Look out for that Prothonotary Warbler!

Audubon brought birdwatching to the Internet with “Birding the Net,” an online and social media campaign that educates users about the variety and locations of birds throughout the U.S. Hopefully the initiative will also bring about a new generation of Audubon supporters.

The campaign came about through a simple phone conversation between Jeff Goodby, Co-Founder/Co-Chairman of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Audubon supporter, and Audubon President David Yarnold.

Goodby pitched the idea of having birds fly across websites, in an effort to bring the warmth of nature online.

The overall goal? “To continue to engage supporters and Audubon's audience. Audubon is rebranding the Society to something more fresh, relevant and perhaps – even cool,” said Ashley Retlev, Account Manager at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

The agency timed the campaign to launch the same time as a birdwatching movie was slated to hit theatres – “The Big Year,” which  stars Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson as three men who compete to see the most North American birds in one year.

Between Oct. 10 and Nov. 7, more than 100 websites, each donating media space, housed hidden birds on their homepages or mastheads. The end result was more than 70 million donated media impressions.

So a typical web user might visit AOL, Slate, PopSugar, YouTube, Discovery Channel, or even Stonyfield Yogurt’s online presence and encounter a Loggerhead Shrike, Peregrine Falcon, Whooping Crane or dozens of other birds flying onscreen.

Users could then click on a bird, which brings them to an Audubon Facebook page that explains the game and allows users to begin collecting and trading bird cards. Naturally, the bird cards are also educational and include bird videos, facts and audio of each bird’s chirp.

The object of the game, playable through a Facebook app, is to find and collect all 34 birds hidden online. The first 200 people are awarded prizes, the grand prize being a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Additional prizes, all donated to the campaign, include Canon cameras, Nikon binoculars, gift cards to Woolrich and mobile app downloads.

Since there are tons of websites, or countless hiding spots for birds, Audubon dropped hints on where to look. In addition, two birds, aka, “spokesbirds” had their own Twitter accounts that offered clues: @FloridaScrubJay, with nearly 1,200 followers and @RufHummingbird with 1,184 followers.

More than 8,000 people found more than 23,000 birds “Feedback for the game has been very enthusiastic,” said Retlev. “Teachers wrote to tell us that they’re introducing the game to their students. Players rallied together to help new birders learn the game, help one another find the next bird and answer questions.”

One player went so far as to create a blog that listed the sites where birds could be found. That’s some hard-core, virtual birdwatching. Now, shut down your computer, go outside, and look for real birds. And support your local Audubon Society.

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