Another Wake Up Call For The Hobby

Regular readers will be well aware of my concerns about the decline in participation in our beloved hobby.

So I was not in the least bit surprised when I recently had a discussion with a very nice lady, Mrs Nicole Mitchell, at a show in the South East of the UK.

Nicole justifiably expressed her irritation, as a raw beginner, to what she saw as gaping holes in the structure and attitude of the show participants when she had attended our top shows in the UK.

Her gut feeling came down to:

Nobody has the foresight or common sense to deal with visitors to a show who know nothing about what we breeders actually do.

All the visitors can see are rows of birds which mean nothing to them or their families. And here we are trying to get new members for goodness sake!

I asked her to put her thoughts to me in writing and I would do my best to shock the hobby into action. Here are her observations.

From Mrs Nicole Mitchell

Dear Mr Binks,

Here are some points of the experiences of myself and my husband – as beginners in the exhibition side of budgerigars – who attend shows to become involved.

  1. Assumptions are made that ALL visitors at shows are knowledgeable and well informed – this is incorrect
  2. On attending several shows, we have found that there is NO information on what the “perfect” budgerigar of any given type should be like
  3. What is a Lutino, Spangle, Cobalt, or Feather Duster???
  4. Why aren’t there posters, drawings or models of what the judges are looking for?
  5. Why is there no mentoring/education for beginners by an appointed member who can explain even the basics of quality of this or that bird and explain what the experienced breeders are trying to achieve?
  6. Abbreviations are not explained
  7. If you don’t go looking for shows or know they actually exist in a town or village on a given date, you cannot expect interested visitors to come through the door and even when they do (by chance ?) nobody is appointed to look them out and help them. It is obvious there is either nil (or at best very little) marketing outside the hobby
  8. The UK Budgerigar Society could be more user friendly – even offering a “buddy” / mentor scheme for the inexperienced. What better way with computers to be able to ask “stupid” questions to your buddy than to e-mail him/her and ask away?
  9. Experienced fanciers may have difficulty understanding what us newbies don’t know – simply because they do know! ‘The experienced’ walk in to a bird sale or show and fully understand what is happening. They understand what the abbreviations are all about; they understand what the judges are looking for. Us newbies don’t!
  10. When you arrive at shows/bird sales, no-one asks if you need any help or what you are even there for. We have witnessed young families turning up at shows without being acknowledged, welcomed or indeed helped. They are left to their own devices to look around at cages of birds, not having a clue what they are looking at or for – and of course they leave within a few minutes.
  11. It has been noted that experienced fanciers stick with their friends and do not make any attempt to introduce themselves to newcomers or strangers in order to offer their help. We have been at shows for several hours without so much as someone saying hello and apart from being asked for your entrance fee, no one speaks.
  12. As for improving the appeal of the hobby, why isn’t there more publicity? Surely some of the high achievements made by top birds are worthy of a mention in the press or local news channel? As with anything in life, if you want quality you have to pay for it – this is news, and anything that can get parents or their young children interested has to be a good move towards increasing membership.
  13. Why not supply magazines free of charge to places where there is a captive audience – doctors, dentists, coffee shops?
  14. Publications, both hard copy and on the Internet write of help for beginners – but then don’t give full details. An example of this is soaking seed for it to sprout. We have seen ‘soak seed overnight’ (tried that, it just leaves damp seed); ‘Don’t leave sprouted seed in with birds for too long’ (how long is too long)? We need advising step by step, don’t assume we know anything – because we don’t.

Gerald Binks comments:

I recently wrote an article entitled “Hobby Participation: Halting The Decline?” on this site, which received the greatest number of replies to any single article.

Everyone who commented on the article fully backed all that I said, without exception, but how does one get action when so called “leaders” in the hobby worldwide simply do not promote the hobby outside of itself to the public at large.

There is a lack of drive from the top in all societies and clubs – given perhaps a few exceptions.

Mrs Mitchell makes justifiable observations. How many more like her is the hobby losing because it is failing to engage with those new to the hobby or visitors to our shows?

As a bare minimum, I suggest that every show needs:

  • A small stand to be present giving advice and information to visitors
  • Experienced fanciers should be appointed to take visitors around and explain “The Challenge” we all face – and the pleasure we receive from being involved in breeding and showing budgerigars.

Next time you champions are standing in the aisles at a show, turn round, and if you see folk you do not recognise, introduce yourself and ask if you can help?

You get that in a store from the most junior of staff – why not at a Budgerigar Show?

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About the Author: Gerald Binks began breeding budgerigars when he was 12 years old and is now arguably the most knowledgeable budgerigar fancier in the world. He has bred his fair share of Best in Show birds, judged in no less than 20 countries, founded the World Budgerigar Association, and has published two of the three classic books on the hobby. His stud in the UK attracts fanciers from near and far and is always high on the list for those wishing to purchase BA23 quality budgerigars.

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  1. If Nicole would like to register on the Exhibition Budgerigar Forum she will get the answer to many, if not all, of her questions – along with instant contact to some of the country’s leading breeders and exhibitors to help her and her husband.

    Just register at http://www.exhibitionbudgerigarforum.co.uk.

    I do agree we need to do more.

    Mick Freakley, UK

  2. Andy Hind says:

    A super article that will hopefully help the old stalwarts to change their ways and make the shows more simple and beginner friendly.

    The “put up or shut up” attitude towards newcomers is obviously not working anymore.

    Andy Hind, UK

  3. Mrs Mitchell makes some interesting points.

    We would be very glad to have her contribute to our Budgerigars forum and hear some more of her ideas to promote / improve the hobby.

    Marianne Marlow, UK

    Our forum can be found at: http://budgerigarsforum.proboards.com/

  4. Nicole is so right with all of her observations and we who are involved at club level need to listen and act.

    I am attending our Scottish Area society meeting on Sunday and know that the topic of “The Hobby in Decline” will be discussed.

    This additional information from Nicole only helps to reinforce the message that we all must address the situation now.

    I shall keep you informed of any positive developments.

    Regards,
    Robert Nawarauckas, UK

  5. Mike Chase says:

    I’ve just read Nicole Mitchell’s letter.

    I have to say that I agree 100% with her comments.

    I wrote to the BS about 9 years ago with similar fears for the hobby and it’s “Old Boy” network. Sadly, it appears to be in the same sorry state now as it was then.

    Do you think I had a positive reply from the BS? I’ll leave it to you to decide.

    I moved abroad 7 years ago and lost touch with the hobby, but I am back in the UK and looking forward to breeding again in the 2012.

    Being retired and the wrong side of 60 years old, I will have to budget for the set-up – I also live in an area foreign to me, and therefore need to find some established breeders in order to buy stock.

    I have to say that it’s difficult to find these local breeders, although I’ve had some sound guidance from GSB himself and Barry Shutt.

    However, I need to know how much I will be shelling out on the birds themselves, so will someone please give me that advice. I suspect that particular topic is a closed door and not to be openly discussed.

    Many of Nicole’s comments might help to remedy these problems.

    I don’t mean to appear negative, I write for positive reasons to help kick this hobby into this century – with all it can offer in communication methods.

    Mike Chase, UK

  6. Maybe the stalwarts of any club may want to take someone under their wing, but the main problem is there are those who influence the newcomer with total rubbish – and before you know it, that person is listening to a person who would not be in the same class as those who have done well in the hobby.

    So maybe the lady above may need to just listen to one mentor and not to many. I used one person as a mentor not half a dozen!

    I started in this hobby 18 years ago and I have done pretty well here in Australia and, you my budding novice, stop your complaining and get on with it! It’s about not waiting for help but helping yourself to the hobby.

    If you ask questions in a sensible way, help is always bountiful.

    How do you learn to help yourself? Become a steward, a show manager or just a committee person. There is always a shortage of them in any club.

    Even in my time as a novice I use to scrounge through what little information was available looking for more ideas and such.

    Nothing is offered on a plate. How many times do I have to say this?

    Gary Armstrong, Australia

  7. Good points / observations made by Nicole and with Gerald’s remark: “There is a lack of drive from the top in all societies and clubs..”

    I agree:

    1.We are not delivering or understanding the new fanciers.
    2.We have no time for planning future execution.

    We need to work at a grass root level and to build community and culture internationally.

    Why we are lacking in drive? Is it because we are unable to fill the holes? Aid does not mean ‘support’ but it’s time to take these words as a strategy or to implement.

    AID – Attraction, Interest and Desire. We are just paying attention to making the hobby attractive and interesting, but we are failing to create desire.

    I agree with Mick Freakley – and well said – “I do agree we need to do more..”

    How smartly Andy Hind said ” …to change their ways and make the shows more simple and beginner friendly”

    I really Like the Gray Armstrong statement “Nothing is offered on a plate. How many times do I have to say this?”

    It’s a way to speak up loudly against injustice and I personally always support the ‘budgerigar hobby’ as compared to club and society.

    Every sincere breeder shoul struggle to help and we will because – WE NEED YOU IN THE WORLD BEST COMMUNITY.

    Join the budgerigar forums at Facebook and elsewhere on the web and enjoy the hobby.

    Habib Ur Rehman, Pakistan

  8. Nicky Mitchell says:

    So……… it’s ‘put up or shut up’.

    The above comments (Gary Armstrong) highlights the challenges faced by the newcomer completely. The negative reaction to my concerns does nothing to drive enthusiasm for the hobby. No complaints are made by me, simply observations.

    The reason my comments were published by Mr Binks, was to highlight the impression of shows, the budgerigar society etc, from a beginner’s point of view – something an experienced breeder will not see or notice due to their ‘experience’. Stopping the decline of the hobby and encouraging new blood is the reason for this piece.

    Appealing to the general public and inspiring new members is what I thought it was all about.

    The point that Mr Binks is trying to make is mirrored in your response! ‘Scrounging around’, if the hobby was better marketed or visitors to shows better looked after, there should be no need to scrounge at all.

    Given that the above author is from Australia, how does he know what the shows in the UK are like?

    If non fanciers attend a show they are left to their own devices with minimal, if any, information on what the judges are looking for. You have to get these people interested in order for them to even consider entering the hobby.

    The decline is happening because there are expectations that potential newcomers will look for shows etc, many will not!

    Why do top companies, supermarkets, retailers etc, spend so much money on marketing? Because they don’t leave it to chance that the customer will find what they do or sell for themselves – or scrounge around!

    My comments are honest, genuine and well intended, it appears the point has been missed altogether by the above author. Would this be his response to a newcomer he met at a show who felt the same as me – ‘nothing is offered on a plate, get out and scrounge around.’

    God forbid I approached him at a show and asked for help!

    Nicole Mitchell, UK

  9. Hi Nicole,

    We all need to do what we can to help promote this hobby and some of your points are very valid indeed.

    We at EBF are working closely with members of the BS club show committee, in fact one member of that committee, Richard Miller, has started a thread asking for suggestions / ideas that might help us all to promote our hobby.

    You may not remember me, but I did speak to you at the club show – although I never seem to have too much time there to speak to anyone at length, so I apologise if I fell into the category you mentioned.

    I did invite you to join us on http://www.exhibitionbudgerigarforum.co.uk – did you take up my offer to register with us?

    If you did / do, please contact me personally and we can discuss in detail your experiences at the show in an attempt to make our newbies’ experiences more enjoyable than yours.

    I hope to see you there and we can speak soon.

    Regards,
    Mick Freakley, UK

  10. Douglas Curl says:

    I totally agree with the lady and would add…

    The publication you subscribe to, that we as members get bi-monthly, is not good enough.

    It is a promotion for people higher up the ladder and does NOT contain enough information for beginners.

    I am not subscribing this year just for the ability to get rings and very little else.

    Of ALL the champions and lower status people I have visited, there really was only one willing to help and give information to me.

    Yes we have to learn our “trade” but you are losing people in the hobby hand over fist and that is, and should be, a concern for the hobby in general.

    Douglas Curl, UK

  11. Barrie Shutt says:

    Keeping the Hobby Alive

    How do we attract new people into the hobby? How do we support their start up? How do we encourage beginners to stick at it and enjoy what they do? How do we encourage and enable them to move, if that is their ambition, from pet-owner to champion breeder?

    Promoting the hobby is not something that necessarily requires a degree in marketing techniques.

    Promotion begins with word-of-mouth communication – come on, you must remember it? Old fashioned talking about it!

    Either as an individual to your mates and neighbours, or in association with your local club, you can help spread the word, generate interest and share your enthusiasm by taking presentations to community forums who are always looking for guest speakers; examples might include schools and colleges, elderly care residences, women’s, church or hobby groups. (Don’t be offended if they ask you to provide your personal details as we all have a duty to protect the vulnerable in our society.)

    Talk to the local press. Let them know when your meetings are and invite them to your shows. They may ask for features to provide a background, which provide extra publicity.

    Have an open day. Run a free course at the local college – it could be just a one-off couple of hours, or something that can be developed to run over a few weeks.

    See if you can have a stand at any local events and arrange to staff it with your most approachable members.

    Arrange visits to clubs outside your area and invite them back to yours.

    Most importantly, make sure that any new faces are made to feel properly welcome.

    There are lots of ways of spreading the word. Ask your club colleagues for their ideas. Of course, if you do happen to have a degree in marketing, it couldn’t hurt!

    Read more here: The Shape of Things to Come

    Barrie Shutt, UK

  12. I have read this article and am surprised that the blame seems to be pointing at the Budgerigar Society.

    I think that is wrong, we are all to blame, everyone needs to do their bit.

    However, I think you are missing the point. It’s clubs that need to pull their fingers out at club meetings – the grass roots of the hobby. This is where you meet people who will have time to talk and assist you.

    We at Worcestershire Budgerigar Society do have a meet and greet member.

    This is where you will find most of the information that you need from members on a personal one to one basis.

    If you need to find out more get on the internet.

    I say join your local club – they should point you in the right direction.

    Paul Stannard, UK

  13. Bill Grass says:

    After reading the article I can see where the author is coming from.

    However, I also think that the beginner has to use a bit of initiative.

    I am coming back after 30 or so years, so I have put myself in touch with breeders via websites.

    The knowledge is out there and most, if not all, are very approachable at times that are convenient.

    Bill Grass, UK

  14. Noel Jnr says:

    Hi,

    I was just having a look through different sites and I saw this article and had to reply.

    My father, a long-time budgie fancier and breeder, keeps me interested with birds (e.g. differing colours and snippets of show specification that he has heard.)

    I know myself in other animals, say dogs, that there is a breed specification.

    I once went to a bird show just out of curiosity and it was full of talk and tweets etc. The colours were lovely but what were the judges looking for?

    Is there a breed standard for birds?

    Are the judges looking for the healthiest or the most vividly coloured?

    I look after the aviary when my dad is away, but say I wondered is it worth taking an interest in it myself? I could I suppose – but the problem of the lack of information, bird type, who bred it, health etc?

    The list could go on.

    I am probably talking out of turn, so apologies if so. But that was my initial impression.

    Noel – Glasgow, UK

  15. Whilst I agree that more needs to be done to advance and publicise the hobby, here in Australia there is a fear (amongst some of the administrators) that pushing the hobby too far into the public arena, will attract the attention of the “greenies” who disapprove of caged animals.

    However, that should not prevent clubs helping visitors to shows and club meetings that have made the effort to find the event.

    I agree with Nicky Mitchell.

    Santo Calabrese – Sydney, Australia

  16. Chiron Mc Clintock says:

    There are a great many reasons for the present decline.

    Very few younger people are now content to spend their leisure time in a bird room tending to their birds – i.e. 7 days a week and 352 days a year.

    Just a sign of the times really and how they are all over stimulated by modern technology and gadgets.

    Unless they are constantly stimulated by things that are full on from the off and instantly controllable by just pressing a button, they very soon get depressed. LOL

    They just don’t have the patience for anything that requires patience. They are all speeding.

    Chiron Mc Clintock, Portugal

  17. Bryan Pearce says:

    I agree with your observations completely.

    There is very little help to newcomers and, in some clubs that I have been to, the people that should be helping just don’t.

    It’s as if they are scared that if they do, you might start beating them on the show bench.

    Bryan Pearce, Australia

  18. Ray Fox says:

    I was very disappointed to receive this email from Robert Jones from Wales which supports Nicole Mitchell’s statement:

    Dear Ray,

    I am now no longer a member of the BS – I didn’t think it was worth the money.

    I do not show my birds.

    I was a member of the Welsh BS – I am also no longer a member of a local club. I traveled 30 miles each way to that one – just to sit and be ignored. They were all in their little cliques and only two members talked to me – one of which I knew! So what’s the point?

    I enjoy my birds, so I will stay home and save my money.

    Good luck in all you do.

    Regards
    R M Jones

    The above email reflects a similar letter Gerald recieved from Mrs Nicole Mitchell under “A wake up call for the hobby”.

    I think we all need to take responsibility for this kind of complaint from newcomers.

    Ray Fox, UK

  19. Roy Powell says:

    I think your original writer has some fair points, but I would also point out that at shows, experienced fanciers are usually occupied in the running of the show.

    The better way to get information, is to make yourself known to a show official and they would normally ask you to come to a meeting.

    At the Sussex BS we have a meet and greet member who will introduce you to various members – and, if you ask, provide a mentor.

    I do agree that the hobby needs a shake up, but it can’t all be done on the internet, it needs to be personal.

    We at Sussex BS are currently arranging ‘Pet & Aviary’ evenings, where potential fanciers learn what’s involved in keeping birds of all types.

    Roy Powell, UK

  20. […] In the new “Budgerigarworld.com” website you can read one of the best letters ever received from a newcomer to the hobby written by Mrs Nicole Mitchell. It is mandatory reading for all society leaders and show managers, as to what you should do to improve your shows. (Click here to read Mrs Mitchell’s letter) […]

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