34 Movies and Series to Inspire During COVID-19
By Danielle Nierenberg and Katie Howell
While COVID-19 is exposing fundamental flaws in the global food and agriculture system, it is creating the opportunity to reimagine honoring farmers and food workers and producing healthy, nutritious food. The virus is forcing people to press pause on their daily lives, so Food Tank has compiled a list of 34 movies and series to watch from home that remind us of the power of food.
This list may serve as a guide to help you learn about large- and small-scale agriculture, the relationship between diet and health, and the social and cultural implications of the food system. But these movies and series also offer hope. They show how individual choices can foster connections between people, and they may even inspire you to advocate for a more equitable food system during and after the pandemic.
1. 10 Billion – What’s on Your Plate? (2015)
By 2050, the global population is expected to hit 10 billion. This documentary from German film director Valentin Thurn looks at how we could feed that world. The film explores food production and distribution, analyzing potential solutions to meet the enormous demand on the global agriculture system. The most-viewed film in German cinemas in 2015, "10 Billion — What's on Your Plate?" provides a broad look into the issues in current food production and offers a glimpse of hope through innovation.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube
2. Always Be My Maybe (2019)
"Always Be My Maybe" is a romantic comedy that follows a successful chef named Sasha as she reunites with her childhood best friend as an adult. During her stay in San Francisco to open a new restaurant, Sasha, played by Ali Wong, and her old friend rediscover their connection though eating, and she remembers the influence her friend's family had on her love of cooking. "Always Be My Maybe" shows Sasha's journey as she falls in love and reconnects to her Asian American culture.
Where to watch it: Netflix
3. A Tale of Two Kitchens (2019)
"A Tale of Two Kitchens" is about two restaurants — Cala in San Francisco and Contramar in Mexico City — owned and operated by acclaimed Mexican chef Gabriela Cámara. The film tells the stories of the restaurants' staff, alternating between personal accounts and shots of employees interacting with customers and preparing meals. "A Tale of Two Kitchens" offers an inspiring look into how people find personal and professional growth in the restaurant industry and how restaurants can become second homes for those that work in them.
Where to watch it: Netflix
4. Barbecue (2017)
Embarking on a journey across 12 countries, "Barbecue" tells a story of the culture behind grilling meat and how it brings people together. The film offers a portrait of those who stoke the flames, showing that barbecue is not just about the meat, but about the rituals, stories, and traditions that surround the process. "Barbecue" won the James Beard Award for Best Documentary in 2018.
Where to watch it: Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play
5. Before the Plate (2018)
Filmmaker Sagi Kahane-Rapport documents John Horne, Canadian chef and owner of the prestigious Toronto restaurant Canoe, as he follows each ingredient from one dish back to the farm they came from. "Before the Plate" offers a look into what it takes to grow and distribute food and the issues farmers face in today's food system.
Where to watch it: YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Video
6. Caffeinated (2015)
Working with coffee connoisseur Geoff Watts, this film explores the life cycle of a coffee seed, following the process from bean to mug. The film focuses on the social and cultural landscape around coffee and how it shapes the lives of thousands of individuals worldwide. "Caffeinated" filmmakers interview coffee farmers, roasters, and baristas to provide a comprehensive idea of all that goes into a cup of coffee.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Google Play
7. Cesar Chavez (2014)
"Cesar Chavez" is a biographical film that reconstructs the emergence of the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the 1960s. The film focuses on Chavez, co-founder of the UFW, whose commitment to secure a living wage for farm workers ignited social justice movements across America. The film inspired a "Follow Your Food" series by Participant Media and the Equitable Food Initiative as well as won an ALMA Award for Special Achievement in Film.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play
8. Chef Flynn (2018)
"Chef Flynn" tells the story of Flynn McGarry, who became famous after running a fully functional kitchen in his bedroom at age 10. The film chronicles McGarry as he outgrows his bedroom kitchen and sets out to join New York City's innovative culinary scene. With a focus on the relationship McGarry has with his mother, "Chef Flynn" shows how far McGarry was able to go with the support and dedication of his family.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Hulu, Google Play, YouTube
9. Chef’s Table (2015- )
From David Gelb, the filmmaker that created "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," comes "Chef's Table," a series that profiles professional chefs around the world. Each episode of "Chef's Table" spotlights a different chef as they share the personal stories that have inspired their culinary ventures. The series has won a variety of awards, including a James Beard Foundation Award and an International Documentary Association Award.
Where to watch it: Netflix
10. Cooked (2016- )
"Cooked" is a series based on Michael Pollan's book by the same name. In each episode, Pollan focuses on a different natural element — fire, water, air, and earth — and its relationship to cooking methods throughout history. "Cooked" brings together different aspects of cooking to show its ability to connect us all as human beings.
Where to watch it: Netflix
11. Dolores (2017)
"Dolores" documents the life of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the first farm workers union, United Farm Workers (UFW). Filmmaker Peter Bratt chronicles Huerta's life from her childhood in Stockton, California, to her work with UFW and becoming a leading figure in the feminist movement. Huerta has often not been credited for her equal role in establishing UFW; "Dolores" argues this is because Huerta is a woman, and the film strives to spotlight her heroic efforts in the fight for social justice.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Google Play, YouTube
12. Eating Animals (2017)
Based on the 2009 book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, filmmaker Christopher Quinn examines factory farming and its associated negative environmental and public health effects. "Eating Animals" spotlights farmers, activists, and innovators who are raising awareness about where our meat comes from and standing up to big companies to tell their stories.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play, Hulu
13. Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table (2017)
In the 1940's, New Orleans' food and drink business generated less than US$1 million a year; today it is a billion-dollar industry that attracts tourists from around the world to the city. Many credit the transformation to the Brennan family, guided by Ella Brennan. "Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table" tells the story of Ella Brennan and how she revolutionized creole cuisine and helped push it into American mainstream dining culture.
Where to watch it: Apple TV, Commanderspalace.com
14. El Susto! (2020)
"El Susto!" tells the story of a sugar tax in Mexico, implemented in an attempt to curb the prevalence of diabetes. The film documents the battle between public health activists and the corporate wealth of the "Big Soda" industry, offering a look into the reality of challenging powerful industries. The film premiers this May as part of the virtual Vermont International Film Festival.
Where to watch it: VIFF virtual cinema
15. Farmsteaders (2018)
"Farmsteaders" follows Nick Nolan and his family as they try to resurrect his grandfather's dairy farm in Ohio. Once a thriving agriculture economy, Nolan's rural community has given way to the pressures of agribusiness and corporate farming — left with unused fertile farmland, abandoned buildings, and skyrocketing health issues. "Farmsteaders" gives a voice to a new generation of family farmers, showing the hardships those who grow our food are having to endure.
Where to watch it: POV – link through movie website
16. Fed Up (2014)
Filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig and journalist Katie Couric investigate the role of the American food industry in rising obesity rates and diet-related diseases. "Fed Up" uncovers the sugar industry's influence on American dietary guidelines and argues that hidden sugar in processed foods is the root of the problem. With the tagline "Congress says pizza is a vegetable," the film shows how interactions between industry and government can directly affect the health of the nation.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Tubi, Google Play
17. Food Chains (2014)
Supermarkets' buying power and farm contracts often set the substandard wages and conditions farm workers face. To improve their livelihood, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers demanded a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked. But Publix, Florida's largest grocery chain, refused. "Food Chains" follows farm workers in Immokalee, Florida, as they prepare for and launch the resulting hunger strike at Publix headquarters. The documentary aims to expose the exploitation of farm laborers and the complicity of corporations in the creation of conditions the filmmakers liken to modern-day slavery.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Tubi, YouTube
18. For Grace (2015)
"For Grace" tells the story of renowned chef Curtis Duffy as he builds his dream restaurant, Grace, at a difficult time in his personal life. Filmmakers Kevin Pang and Mark Helenowski offer a look into each step in opening the luxury dining spot, Duffy's troubled past, and how he came to seek refuge in the kitchen. "For Grace" gives a bittersweet look into the restaurant industry and the sacrifice it requires.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Google Play, YouTube, Apple TV
19. From Scratch (2020)
"From Scratch" follows chef, actor, and producer David Moscow as he travels worldwide making meals from scratch. Each episode begins with a chef presenting a dish that Moscow then has to hunt, gather, forage, and grow each ingredient to recreate. "From Scratch" reveals the overwhelming amount of work that brings each part of a meal into the kitchen.
Where to watch it: FYI
20. In Our Hands (2017)
This one-hour documentary takes viewers on a journey across the fields and farms of Britain. "In Our Hands" discusses diversity of the land, the importance of generational knowledge, and the need for innovation to create a more sustainable food system. A project by Black Bark Films and the Landworkers Alliance, the film advocates for sustainable methods and the rights of small producers through a feminist lens.
Where to watch it: Vimeo
21. Just Eat It (2014)
"Just Eat It" explores the enormous amount of food waste that exists in the supply chain – from farms and retail to an individual's home. The filmmakers pledge to quit grocery shopping and survive only on discarded food for six months. Featuring interviews with food waste experts and food writers, "Just Eat It" exposes the systematic obsession with perfect produce and confusing expiry dates that has ultimately cost billions of dollars in wasted food each year. The film has received multiple awards from film festivals across North America.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Tubi, Google Play
22. Maacher Jhol (2017)
A Bengali film directed by Pratim D. Gupta, "Maacher Jhol" tells the story of a Paris-based chef returning to his home in Kolkata after 13 years. Challenged to cook a bowl of fish curry, a quintessential Bengali dish, the film shows the master-chef return to his roots and reconnect with his family.
Where to watch it: Netflix
23. Polyfaces: A World of Many Choices (2015)
"Polyfaces" documents the Salatins, a fourth-generation farming family, who moved from Australia to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in the United States to practice regenerative farming. The film follows the family for four years as they operate Polyface Farm without chemicals and provide food to 6,000 families within a three-hour radius. "Polyfaces" shows how working with nature, not against it, is a way to reconnect to the land and to the community.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video
24. Rotten (2018- )
Zero Point Zero and Netflix combined to produce "Rotten," a series that highlights the problems in the process of supplying food. With a human-centered narrative approach, each episode focuses on one food product, interviewing manufacturers, distributers, and others involved in the process. "Rotten" reveals the corruption, waste, and dangers involved with eating certain foods.
Where to watch it: Netflix
25. Salt Fat Acid Heat (2018)
"Salt Fat Acid Heat" follows chef and food writer Samin Nosrat as she travels the world to explore the core principles of cooking. Based on Nosrat's New York Times bestselling book of the same name, Nosrat uses each episode to travel to Italy, Japan, Mexico, and the United States, where she began her culinary career. "Salt Fat Acid Heat" helps the audience learn about each element of cooking and how to incorporate them into their own recipes.
Where to watch it: Netflix
26. SEED: The Untold Story (2016)
A winner of 18 film festival awards, "SEED: The Unknown Story" follows the story of farmers, scientists, lawyers, and indigenous seed keepers in their fight to defend seeds from the control of biotech companies. The film highlights the importance of the seed in the future of our food and presents a heartening story about the efforts to reintegrate an appreciation of seeds into our culture. "SEED" features Vandana Shiva, Dr. Jane Goodall, Andrew Kimbrell, Winona Laduke, and Raj Patel.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play
27. Soul of a Banquet (2014)
"Soul of a Banquet" shows the journey of Cecilia Chiang and how she introduced America to authentic Chinese food. Chiang opened The Mandarin, her internationally renowned restaurant in San Francisco, in 1961 and has since greatly influenced the culinary scene in the United States. Through interviews with Chiang as well as Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl, the film documents Chiang's life in Beijing, her move to the United States, and how she became a restaurateur.
Where to watch it: Hulu, Google Play, YouTube, Amazon Video
28. Sustainable (2016)
"Sustainable" investigates the economic and environmental instability of the current agriculture system and the actors in the food system who are working to change this. The film presents the leadership and knowledge of some prominent sustainable farmers around the United States, like Bill Niman, Klaas Martens and John Kempf, who are challenging the country to build a more ethical agriculture system. The film offers a story of hope, with a promise that our food system can be transformed into one that is sustainable for future generations.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube
29. That Sugar Film (2014)
"That Sugar Film" looks at the impact of high-sugar diets on an Aboriginal community in Australia and travels to the United States to interview the world's sugar experts. When director Damon Gameau decides to test the effects of sugar on his own health, he consumes foods commonly perceived as healthy, revealing the prevalence of sugar in each item. The film documents how sugar has become the most dominant food in the world, infiltrating both our diets and culture.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Documentary Mania
30. The Biggest Little Farm (2018)
"The Biggest Little Farm" follows John and Molly Chester for eight years as they transition from city living to a 200-acre farm. Directed by John Chester, the film shows the couple start Apricot Lane Farms and follows the farm's expansion to include multiple animals and fruit and vegetable varieties. Through their work, the Chesters find that the importance of biodiversity extends far beyond the farm.
Where to watch it: YouTube, Google Play
31. The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution (2018)
Director Maya Gallus profiles seven female chefs as they face obstacles in a profession dominated by men. "The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution" shows how the culture of restaurant kitchens has bred toxic working conditions and how women are working to change it. Through the women's stories, the film documents the greater challenges female chefs face as they attempt to rise to the top of the restaurant industry.
Where to watch it: Tubi, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Video
32. The Lunchbox (2013)
"The Lunchbox" tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a lonely housewife and a widower. The housewife, played by Nimrat Kaur, decides to prepare her husband creative, elaborate lunches, sending them along with a note through the famously complicated Mumbai lunch delivery system. The lunchbox ends up with the wrong man, played by the late Irrfan Khan. The housewife recognizes her mistake and sends Khan another note to apologize, starting a conversation between the two and sparking a relationship as they discuss life's joys and sorrows over the exchange of delicious meals.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play
33. Ugly Delicious (2018- )
"Ugly Delicious" combines travel, history, and cooking as award-winning chef David Chang takes the audience on a journal to culinary hot spots around the world. Each episode explores one dish or concept and tells the story of how it is made in different regions and how it has evolved over time. Chang brings guests, such as Jimmy Kimmel, Nick Kroll, and Peter Meehan, to join him as he celebrates different cultures through food.
Where to watch it: Netflix
34. Wasted! The Story of Food Waste (2017)
Executive-produced by the late Anthony Bourdain, filmmakers Anna Chai and Nari Kye aim to change the way people buy, cook, recycle, and eat food. "Wasted!" not only explores the effects of systematic food waste on the environment, but also offers potential solutions. The film follows some of the world's most influential chefs who create dishes from typically discarded items and features success stories from around the world. These efforts try to show the audience that any action, no matter how small, can contribute to the fight against food waste.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play, Vimeo
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By Sharon Buccino
This week, Secretary Haaland chose a visit to Bears Ears National Monument as her first trip as Interior Secretary. She is spending three days in Bluff, Utah, a small town just outside the monument, listening to representatives of the five tribes who first proposed its designation to President Obama in 2015. This is the same town where former Secretary Sally Jewell spent several hours at a public hearing in July 2016 before recommending the monument's designation to President Obama.
By Anthony Richardson, Chhaya Chaudhary, David Schoeman, and Mark John Costello
The tropical water at the equator is renowned for having the richest diversity of marine life on Earth, with vibrant coral reefs and large aggregations of tunas, sea turtles, manta rays and whale sharks. The number of marine species naturally tapers off as you head towards the poles.
The Bell Curve is Warping Dangerously<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNjAzODUwNi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NzE1OTU4N30.qQL3P1IvA7Cwj_UbsrAL6MVZvafXGZc7hlAFieLPvso/img.png?width=980" id="9bbfd" width="1580" height="872" data-rm-shortcode-id="16ca57badee20ad55037706875f813f4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
If you look at each line in this chart, you can see a slight dip in total species richness between 1955 and 1974. This deepens substantially in the following decades. Anthony Richardson, Author provided<p>This global pattern — where the number of species starts lower at the poles and peaks at the equator — results in a bell-shaped gradient of species richness. We looked at distribution records for nearly 50,000 marine species collected since 1955 and found a growing dip over time in this bell shape.</p>
This Has Happened Before<p>We shouldn't be surprised global biodiversity has responded so rapidly to global warming. This has happened before, and with dramatic consequences.</p><p><strong>252 million years ago…</strong></p><p>At the end of the Permian geological period about 252 million years ago, global temperatures warmed by 10℃ over 30,000-60,000 years as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from volcano eruptions in Siberia.</p><p><a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/117/30/17578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2020 study</a> of the fossils from that time shows the pronounced peak in biodiversity at the equator flattened and spread. During this mammoth rearranging of global biodiversity, 90% of all marine species were killed.</p><p><strong>125,000 years ago…</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/109/52/21378" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2012 study showed</a> that more recently, during the rapid warming around 125,000 years ago, there was a similar swift movement of reef corals away from the tropics, as documented in the fossil record. The result was a pattern similar to the one we describe, although there was no associated mass extinction.</p><p>Authors of the study suggested their results might foreshadow the effects of our current global warming, ominously warning there could be mass extinctions in the near future as species move into the subtropics, where they might struggle to compete and adapt.</p><p><strong>Today…</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/117/23/12891" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">During the last ice age</a>, which ended around 15,000 years ago, the richness of forams (a type of hard-shelled, single-celled plankton) peaked at the equator and has been dropping there ever since. This is significant as plankton is a keystone species in the foodweb.</p><p>Our study shows that decline has accelerated in recent decades due to human-driven climate change.</p>
The Profound Implications<p>Losing species in tropical ecosystems means ecological resilience to environmental changes is reduced, potentially compromising ecosystem persistence.</p><p>In subtropical ecosystems, species richness is increasing. This means there'll be species invaders, novel predator-prey interactions, and new competitive relationships. For example, <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-13/sydney-growing-own-coral-reef-with-help-from-tropical-fish/11466192" target="_blank">tropical fish</a> moving into Sydney Harbour compete with temperate species for food and habitat.</p><p>This could result in ecosystem collapse — as was seen at the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods — in which species go extinct and ecosystem services (such as food supplies) are permanently altered.</p><p>The changes we describe will also have profound implications for human livelihoods. For example, many tropical island nations depend on the revenue from tuna fishing fleets through the selling of licenses in their territorial waters. Highly mobile tuna species are likely to move rapidly toward the subtropics, potentially beyond sovereign waters of island nations.</p><p><span></span>Similarly, many reef species important for artisanal fishers — and highly mobile megafauna such as whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles that support tourism — are also likely to move toward the subtropics.</p><p>The movement of commercial and artisanal fish and marine megafauna could compromise the ability of tropical nations to meet the <a href="https://sdgs.un.org/goals" target="_blank">Sustainable Development Goals</a> concerning zero hunger and marine life.</p>
Is There Anything We Can Do?<p>One pathway is laid out in the Paris Climate Accords and involves aggressively reducing our emissions. Other opportunities are also emerging that could help safeguard biodiversity and hopefully minimise the worst impacts of it shifting away from the equator.</p><p>Currently 2.7% of the ocean is conserved in <a href="https://mpatlas.org/" target="_blank">fully or highly protected reserves</a>. This is well short of the 10% target by 2020 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.</p><p>But <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/global-ocean-alliance-30by30-initiative/about#global-ocean-alliance-members" target="_blank">a group of 41 nations</a> is pushing to set a new target of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030.</p><p>This "30 by 30" target could ban seafloor mining and remove fishing in reserves that can destroy habitats and release as much carbon dioxide as <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03371-z" target="_blank">global aviation</a>. These measures would remove pressures on biodiversity and promote ecological resilience.</p><p>Designing climate-smart reserves could further protect biodiversity from future changes. For example, reserves for marine life could be placed in refugia where the climate will be stable over the foreseeable future.</p><p>We now have evidence that climate change is impacting the best-known and strongest global pattern in ecology. We should not delay actions to try to mitigate this.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/anthony-richardson-100303" target="_blank">Anthony Richardson</a>: Professor, The University of Queensland. <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/chhaya-chaudhary-1223419" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chhaya Chaudhary</a>: University of Auckland, <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/david-schoeman-111544" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">David Schoeman</a>: Professor of Global-Change Ecology, University of the Sunshine Coast, <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mark-john-costello-1223418" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mark John Costello</a>: Professor, University of Auckland</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Anthony Richardson receives funding from the Australian Research Council.</em></p><p><em>Chhaya Chaudhary works for Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. During her PhD studies (2014- 2019), she received part- funding from the European Marine Observation Data Network (EMODnet) Biology project funded by the European Commission's Directorate—General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE), and received U21 Doctoral Mobility Scholarship from the University of Auckland in 2016.</em></p><p><em>David Schoeman receives funding from the Australian Research Council.</em></p><p><em>Mark John Costello does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-life-is-fleeing-the-equator-to-cooler-waters-history-tells-us-this-could-trigger-a-mass-extinction-event-158424" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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In celebration of Earth Day, a star-studded cast is giving fans a rare glimpse into the secret lives of some of the planet's most majestic animals: whales. In "Secrets of the Whales," a four-part documentary series by renowned National Geographic Photographer and Explorer Brian Skerry and Executive Producer James Cameron, viewers plunge deep into the lives and worlds of five different whale species.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b102b19b2719f50272ab718c44703dd0"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xOySOlB78dM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Herring are a primary food source for Norway's orcas. Luis Lamar / National Geographic for Disney+
Belugas are extremely social creatures with a varied vocal range. Peter Kragh / National Geographic for Disney+
A Southern Right whales is pictured in the accompanying book, "Secrets of the Whales." Brian Skerry / National Geographic
The coronavirus has isolated many of us in our homes this year. We've been forced to slow down a little, maybe looking out our windows, becoming more in tune with the rhythms of our yards. Perhaps we've begun to notice more, like the birds hopping around in the bushes out back, wondering (maybe for the first time) what they are.
A Coeligena helianthea hummingbird is photographed during a birdwatching trail at the Monserrate hill in Bogota on November 11, 2020. Colombia is the country with the largest bird diversity in the world, home to about 1,934 different bird species, a fifth of the total known. JUAN BARRETO / AFP / Getty Images
1. Choosing the Right Binoculars<p>Binoculars are a relatively indispensable tool for most birders – but, for those just starting out, it might not yet be worth the several-hundred-dollar investment. If you aren't able to scour the attics of friends or borrow a pair from a fellow bird watcher, some local birding and naturalist groups have <a href="https://vashonaudubon.org/all-about-vashon-birds/binoculars-check-out/" target="_blank">binocular loaning programs</a> for members, allowing you to plan ahead for a day (or week) of birding.</p><p>When you're ready to take the plunge, choosing a pair or binoculars should take some careful deliberation based on your needs and preferences; some <a href="https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/explore/optics/top-10-tips-buying-binoculars-bird-watching.php" target="_blank">major considerations</a> might include size, ease of use, <a href="https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/binoculars.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">magnification</a>, and price. While professional binoculars can easily run north of $1,000, there are plenty of perfectly suitable entry-level binoculars under $200. You might not get the perfect precision and clarity of more elite models, but a less expensive pair will allow you to strengthen your birding skills while deciding if you're interested in investing in a premium pair.</p><p>For a budget-friendly option, check out resale options on eBay, Facebook marketplace, or neighborhood yard sales: you might find a nicer pair whose retail price isn't within your budget.</p>
2. Know What Birds Are in Your Area<p>When I began to pay more attention to the birds just outside my apartment building, I started to learn what species have always been around me: European starlings, house sparrows, blue jays, black capped chickadees, and the occasional red-bellied woodpecker. They had always been there, but I hadn't ever taken the time to identify them. Once you learn to <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/get-know-these-20-common-birds_" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recognize common birds</a> in your area, you'll be able to identify the typical species right outside your window and in your community. Of course, permanent residential birds in your neighborhood will <a href="https://nestwatch.org/learn/focal-species/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vary by region</a>, as will those migrating through it.</p>
3. Get Out and Explore<p>Venturing elsewhere might allow you to spot some different species beyond those frequenting your backyard. Anywhere with water or greenery offers a place for birding; as an urbanite myself, I've found that even small- and mid-sized parks in New York City allow me to find more elusive birds (although Central Park takes the crown for an afternoon of urban birding).</p><p>If you are able to travel a bit further from home, <a href="https://www.fws.gov/refuges/" target="_blank">national wildlife refuges</a> and <a href="https://www.americasstateparks.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">state/national parks</a> are excellent places to explore bird habitats and perhaps log some less-common sightings. The American Birding Association also lists <a href="https://www.aba.org/aba-area-birding-trails/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">birding trails by state</a>, and Audubon and BirdLife International identify <a href="https://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Important Bird Areas (IBAs)</a> across the country – important bird habitats and iconic places that activists are fighting to protect – where birders can spot birds of significance.</p>
4. Finding a Bird: Stop, Look, Listen, Repeat<p>The National Audubon Society recommends the "<a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-find-bird" target="_blank">stop, look, listen, repeat</a>" mantra when seeking and identifying birds.</p><p>First and foremost, spotting birds requires attention. Stopping – getting out of the car, pausing on the sidewalk, trail, or in the backyard to look up – is the most important step.</p><p>When looking for birds, try to avoid gazing wildly around; rather, scan your surroundings, focusing on any odd shapes or shadows, trying to think about where a bird might perch (power lines, fence posts, branches), or keep an eye on the sky for flying eagles and hawks. In open areas like fields and beaches, you might have a more panoramic view, and can take in different sections of the landscape at a time. Look around with the naked eye before reaching for the binoculars to hone in.</p><p>While it can be hard to sift through the noise, listening for birds is perhaps an even more important element of bird watching than looking. Once you spend more time in the field, you'll be able to parse apart the racket and identify specific species, especially aided by Audubon's Bird Guide app or by learning from their <a href="https://www.audubon.org/section/birding-ear" target="_blank">Birding by Ear series</a>.</p><p>Repeat this pattern as you continue on your way, stopping to look and listen for birds as you go, rather than waiting for them to come to you. </p>
5. Identification<p>When you head out for a day of bird watching – especially when you're hoping to spot some new species – you'll want to be armed with the tools to identify what you see. <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-identify-birds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Major considerations when identifying birds</a> are their group (such as owls, hawks, or sparrow-like birds), size and shape, behavior, voice, field marks, season, and habitat.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.sibleyguides.com/about/the-sibley-guide-to-birds/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sibley Guide to Birds</a> and the <a href="https://www.hmhbooks.com/shop/books/peterson-field-guide-to-birds-of-north-america-second-edition/9781328771445" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Peterson Field Guide</a> are widely considered the best books for identifying birds in North America, although many <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/what-bird-guide-best-you" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">specialized guides</a> focus on specific species or regions as well.</p><p>Plenty of <a href="https://blog.nature.org/science/2013/05/27/boucher-bird-blog-apps-smart-birder/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bird identification apps</a> have popped up in recent years – including National Geographic Birds, Sibley eGuide to Birds, iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID, and Birdsnap – which are basically a <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/the-best-birding-apps-and-field-guides" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">field guide in your pocket</a>. I'm partial to the Audubon Bird Guide, which allows users to filter by common identifiers, including a bird's habitat, color, activity, tail shape, and general type, adding them all to a personal map to view your sightings.</p>
6. Recording Your Sightings<p><span>As you deepen your commitment to birding, you might join the community of birders that track and quantify their sightings, building their </span><a href="https://www.thespruce.com/what-birds-count-on-a-life-list-386704#:~:text=A%20life%20list%20is%20a,which%20birds%20you%20have%20seen." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">life list</a><span>.</span></p><p>While a standard notebook noting the date, species name, habitat, vocalizations, or any other data you wish to include will suffice, some birders opt for a more <a href="https://www.riteintherain.com/no-195-birders-journal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">structured birder's journal</a> with pre-determined fields to record your encounters, take notes, draw sketches, etc.</p><p>Many birders also choose to record their sightings online and in shared databases (which include many of the field guide apps), often pinpointing them on a map for others to view. Launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, <a href="https://ebird.org/home" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird is one of the largest databases and citizen science projects around birding</a>, where hundreds of thousands of birders enter their sightings, and users can explore birds in regions and hotspots around the world. Users can also record their sightings on the <a href="https://apps.apple.com/us/app/ebird/id988799279" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird app</a>.</p>
7. Attracting Birds to Your Own Yard<p>Feeding birds is a common phenomenon: more than 40% of Americans maintain a birdfeeder to attract birds and watch them feast.</p><p>Not all birdfeed is created equal, however. Many commercial varieties are mostly made with "fillers" (oats, red millet, etc.) that birds will largely leave untouched. After researching what birds to expect in your area – and which ones you want to attract – you can create your own birdfeed with <a href="https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/types-of-bird-seed-a-quick-guide/?pid=1142" target="_blank">seeds that will appeal to them</a>.</p><p>Beyond filling a birdfeeder, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/eco-friendly-lawn-2651194858.html" target="_self">transforming your yard into an eco-friendly oasis</a> is by far the best way to attract birds. Choosing to forgo mowing your lawn, planting native flowers and grasses, and ditching the pesticides will bring back the bugs that birds feed on, and provide a safe haven in which birds can happily live and eat.</p><p>While it's widely considered acceptable – and even beneficial – to feed birds with appropriate seeds, communal birdfeeders often <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/to-feed-or-not-feed" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">foster unlikely interactions between different species</a>, who can then transmit harmful diseases and parasites to one another. Maintaining several bird feeders with different types of seeds might keep different species from coming into contact, and feeders can be <a href="https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/how-to-clean-your-bird-feeder/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cleaned to prevent the spread of infection</a>.</p>
8. Inclusivity and Anti-Racism in the Birding Community<p>Like all outdoor activities and areas of scientific study, birding communities are subject to racist and discriminatory ideologies. Black birders have long experienced discrimination and underrepresentation in outdoor spaces. The work of organizations like the <a href="https://www.instagram.com/birdersfund/" target="_blank">Black & Latinx Birders Fund</a>, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/birdability/" target="_blank">Birdability</a>, and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/feministbirdclub/" target="_blank">Feminist Bird Club</a> highlight the contributions and importance of birders of color, birders with disabilities, and women and LGBTQ+ birders to the birding community, as do activists and naturalists like <a href="https://www.instagram.com/hood__naturalist/" target="_blank">Corina Newsome</a> and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/tykeejames/" target="_blank">Tykee James</a>. The work of <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/its-bird-new-comic-written-central-park-birder-christian-cooper" target="_blank">Christian Cooper</a>, <a href="https://camilledungy.com/publications/" target="_blank">Camille Dungy</a> (read her poem <a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/58363/frequently-asked-questions-10" target="_blank">Frequently Asked Questions: 10</a>), and <a href="https://orionmagazine.org/article/9-rules-for-the-black-birdwatcher/" target="_blank">J. Drew Lanham</a> – including his essay "<a href="https://lithub.com/birding-while-black/" target="_blank">Birding While Black</a>" – are a great place to start.</p><p>Getting involved in birding means educating ourselves on these issues and taking meaningful action; the work of <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/its-bird-new-comic-written-central-park-birder-christian-cooper" target="_blank">Christian Cooper</a> and <a href="https://orionmagazine.org/article/9-rules-for-the-black-birdwatcher/" target="_blank">J. Drew Lanham</a> – including his essay "<a href="https://lithub.com/birding-while-black/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Birding While Black</a>" – are a great place to start. Just as birders are activists for protecting habitats and natural areas, we must also be active and aware of inclusivity in these spaces.</p>
9. Get Involved<p>To learn from and enjoy the company of other birders, check out local birding groups in your area to join. Many Audubon chapters host trips, meetings, and bird walks for members. The American Birding Association even maintains a <a href="https://www.aba.org/festivals-events/" target="_blank">directory of birding festivals</a> across the country.</p><p>Volunteering for birds is also a great way to meet other birders and take action for birds in your community; local organizations might have opportunities for assisting with habitat restoration or helping at birding centers.</p><p>Like all wildlife, climate change and habitat destruction threaten the livelihood of birds, eliminating their breeding grounds and food sources. A <a href="https://www.audubon.org/climate/survivalbydegrees" target="_blank">2019 report released by the National Audubon Society</a> found that two-thirds of North American birds may face extinction if global temperatures rise 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Staying informed about and taking action for legislation designed to protect birds and our climate – such as the recent <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5552/text" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Migratory Bird Protection Act</a> – is important for ensuring a livable future for wildlife and humans alike.</p><p><em>Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC. </em><em>Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.</em></p>
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