What is the Audubon Master Birder Program?
The Audubon Master Birder (AMB) program is an intensive year-long study of Colorado’s birds and their habitats. The mission of the AMB program is to develop field ornithologists with an understanding of bird identification, behavior, habitat, and conservation, and the desire to share their learning through leadership and ongoing commitment to Denver Audubon, the Colorado birding community, and beyond. The AMB program is offered every other year, with the next program scheduled to begin in July 2021.
Due to the dynamic nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the information on the AMB program contained here is subject to change. Denver Audubon may make changes to the program, such as modifying class size, hosting lectures remotely, adjusting field trip schedules and group sizes, and modifying course completion requirements. AMB participants must also comply with all federal, state, and local public health and safety rules and guidelines, such as the utilization of face coverings and social distancing measures. Applicants and students are encouraged to remain flexible and open to the accommodations that the pandemic may require.
How is the program structured?
The AMB program is composed of 3 parts:
- Classroom lectures
- Field work (including trips and testing)
- AMB notebook (consisting of homework and other assignments)
Students attend approximately 25 classroom lectures, usually held on Monday nights 1-3 times per month. The lectures are presented by leading Colorado birders with expertise in various ornithology topics. The classes typically last 2.5 to 3 hours.
Students also participate in field trips to enhance what they’ve learned in class and to introduce them to top birding spots along the Front Range, mountains, and other areas in Colorado. Field trips are usually all-day outings on Saturdays close to the Denver area, though some trips venture further afield. Six “field tests” are also conducted throughout the year at different locations.
The tentative schedule for the 2021-2022 program provides additional information on classroom lectures, field trips, and field tests.
Each student maintains an AMB notebook during the program year. The AMB notebook is used as a study guide, to document program requirements, and to verify program completion.
Mentors work individually with each student to ensure students are making progress and are on track for meeting graduation requirements. Mentors are graduates or affiliates of the AMB program.
Tuition for the 2021-2022 program has not been set; however, the tuition for the 2019-2020 AMB program was $750. Tuition is for the full year-long program and includes all lectures and field trips. Additional expenses can be expected for books and field trip travel costs.
The AMB program’s class size is limited to around 12 students to ensure each student has the opportunity for personal attention and development. Ideal Master Birder candidates are intermediate to advanced level birders who have the desire and enthusiasm to share their knowledge with others and who are willing to volunteer with Audubon for 2 years following the end of the program.
What the Program Covers
Field Ornithology is a skill honed over a lifetime. The AMB program develops a strong foundation that enables students to continue to improve their skills.
Colorado Birds & Key Habitats
The program curriculum includes the study of Colorado birds through their biology, field marks, migration patterns, behavior, and habitat.
Birding & Community Science
The AMB program also integrates technology with field studies. Students use eBird to report trip sightings, to research sighting history, and to report rare birds. During the program year, students learn how to get involved in community science and use birding as a service for conservation, research, and volunteerism.
The time needed to devote to the program is significant. In addition to attending lectures, field trips, and field tests, the program requires the completion of homework and readings, maintaining the AMB notebook, and participating in additional program requirements.
Classes are usually held on Monday evenings 1-3 times per month in the Audubon Nature Center, or the Audubon Offices near Chatfield State Park. Some classes may be conducted remotely by Zoom or another online platform. The course offers 25 classes. Students must attend 75% of the classes in order to graduate.
Field trips are taken throughout the year on Saturdays. Trips take students to birding areas along the Front Range, nearby mountains, and eastern plains. The course offers 23 trips during the program. Students record their observations on eBird and must participate in 75% of the field trips to graduate.
In order to graduate the AMB Program, all students must be able to:
- see, identify, and list 200 bird species in Colorado (can include species seen before joining class)
- identify 100 species by sight
- identify 40 species by sound
- identify 24 key plants
- identify 16 key habitats
Approximately 6 field tests are given by mentors throughout the year to test student’s progress and abilities in meeting these requirements.
Homework, Research & Presentations
AMB students are given reading and homework assignments throughout the year. Most assignments take about 3 to 4 hours.
Students must also complete profiles of 3 bird species, prepare a short research paper and presentation, and complete habitat charts for key bird habitats in Colorado.
CONSERVATION & FIELD ACTIVITIES
Students must participate in 5 field activities or projects, 2 of which must be completed with Denver Audubon. Some examples of field activities include attending birding field trips and programs offered by Denver Audubon or other local organizations; participating in or observing bird surveys; monitoring a bluebird trail; attending a birding festival or conference; observing at a bird banding station, rehabilitation center, or hawk watch; completing a Cornell Lab of Ornithology webinar series; or tutoring a beginning birder.
Students must also complete one conservation activity designed to expose them to a conservation organization, method of engagement, or bird conservation topic. Examples of conservation activities include writing a letter to a legislator; attending Denver Audubon’s “Getting Green Laws” forums, Conservation Committee meetings, or Conservation in Colorado lecture series; participating in a Lights Out monitoring program; or preparing a report on a conservation issue
Additional requirements of the AMB program are:
- Recording an eBird checklist at least twice monthly for the same location (a backyard, local park, or other area) throughout the duration of the program
- Organizing and leading a birding field trip for Denver Audubon
- Recording the breeding/nesting activities of two species
- Participating in a Christmas bird count and at least one fall or spring bird count
- Completing a rare bird sight form
- Birding three areas that were not visited during class field trips
AMB students must volunteer 10 hours for Denver Audubon during the program. Following completion of the program, graduates commit to volunteer 48 hours for each of the next 2 years for Denver Audubon. Some examples of volunteer activities include leading birding field trips and participating in Denver Audubon bird counts; planning and staffing special events and workshops; participating in Denver Audubon committees; assisting with the AMB program and Denver Audubon’s numerous school programs; maintaining native plant gardens at the Audubon Nature Center; conducting conservation research, planning, and outreach; and assisting with fundraising and administrative tasks. AMB graduates may also develop new volunteer activities that match their passions, skills, and expertise.
Key Dates & How to Apply
Step 1 – Request Information
Contact the Audubon Master Birder Program at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You will receive updates, important date and event notifications, and the formal application.
Step 2 – Attend Informational Meeting
Applicants are strongly encouraged to attend an informational meeting to learn more about the program. Virtual meetings for the 2021-2022 program will be held by Zoom on Wednesday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m and Saturday, April 3 at 2:00 p.m.
Step 3 – Submit Application
Applications will be available January 11, 2021 and are due April 16, 2021.
Step 4 – Interviews
Interviews will be held April 17 through May 8, 2021, likely by Zoom or other virtual means due to COVID-19 restrictions. The interview process is a two-step process:
Applicants first take a Colorado bird identification skills assessment to gauge their current knowledge. The assessment consists of a slideshow requiring applicants to identify Colorado birds by sight. Applicants need not achieve a minimum score to be selected for the program. Instead, the identification skills assessment is one of many factors the admissions committee considers. Assessments will be administered by Zoom on Sunday, April 18 at 2:00 p.m. and Wednesday, April 21 at 7:00 p.m. Applicants should attend only one session.
Applicants who are selected for an interview will then meet with an admissions committee to discuss interest, commitment, background, motivation, availability and personal goals for the program.
Step 5 – Selection and Notification
AMB Program applicants will be notified in late May 2021. The first class is tentatively scheduled for July 19, 2021.
Audubon Master Birders
2019/2020 Graduates: Dina Baker, Matthew Boyer, Ellie Brown, Karl Brummert, Leslie Coleman, Frank Coons, Curt Frankenfeld, Sarah Leavesley, Yelana Love, Phil McNichols, Graham Ray, Brian Tavernia, Natalie Vande Vuss.
2017/2018 Graduates: Barbara Fahey, Mary Geder, Don Hall, Pat Heller, Cynthia Kristensen, Christina Leslie, Tracy Rackauskas, Michelle Robbins, Bill Schreitz
2015/2016 Graduates: Sharon Cobb, Ruth Gabreski, Keith Hidalgo, Gloria Nikolai, Christy Payne, Denise Reznicek, Jamie Simo, Bea Weaver, Maikel Wise, Susan Wise, Pam Zimmer
2013/2014 Graduates: Karen Drozda, Martha Eubanks, Patti Galli, Chris Goulart, Georgia Hart, Judy Henderson, George Mayfield, Mary Fran O’Conner, Sue Summers, Wendy Wibbens
2011/2012 Graduates: Chuck Aid, Cheryl Chessick, Celia Greenman, Marsha Heron, Diane Hutton, Rhonda Kelly, Cynthia Madsen, Megan Miller, Michele Ostrander, Sharon Pfeifer, Janet Shin, Jeffery Stroup, Scott Yarberry
2009/2010 Graduates: Richard Anderson, Nicole Buyck, Laurie Duke, Kate Frost, Michael Kiessig, Lois Levinson, Jessi Oberbeck, Marilyn Rhodes, Bob Santangelo, Barbara Schissler, Cindy Valentine
2009 Graduates: Karen Bickett, Kathy Bollhoefer, Tom Bush, Mackenzie Goldthwait, Dave Hill, Mary Keithler, Alison Kondler, Kathanne Lynch, Deb Mallory, Katie Morrison, Tom Parchman, Harriet Stratton
2008 Graduates: Fran Blanchard, Mary Ann Bonnell, Bill Eden, Kris Koff, Barbara Masoner, Mary Ellen Sargent, Karen von Saltza