Interview with Chris Bath

“Build the love, build the fascination, build the enthusiasm, then build the education in an accessible way, and they will come.”

“Surely you’ve heard of Bathie’s Birds”, said a lady visiting our stand at one of our design markets, while turning to her friend and commenting away about the latest episode on Magpies, “A radio show about birds?!” I squealed. And just like that, we were hooked.

Renowned journalist, Chris Bath admits she is no expert in birds. However, led by her son’s passion and inspired by his love of birds, she has submerged herself into this cabinet of curiosities and has fused her fascination with her profession to achieve one goal: get people to fall in love with birds. Every Tuesday on ABC Radio, she unveils a new species and fascinating facts lead by experts to bring people closer to understanding just how connected we are to the feathered world.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo in Sydney
© Chris Bath

What inspired the creation of Bathie’s Bird Club?

I think Australian birds are amazing and so many of us don’t know enough about them, so if I have a radio show to spread the word, then I should use it, ergo Bathie’s Bird Club every Tuesday night on ABC Evenings. I have this theory that if I could get more Aussies to love our birds, then they might want to save them.

Chris birding with Jim
© Chris Bath

What is it that you love about Australian birds?

I am still learning about them. I’m an enthusiast rather than an expert. But I cannot believe how many different and beautiful birds we have here. I love discovering their quirky behaviour more than anything. Like Australian humans, there’s a huge range of big personalities in the Aussie bird world.

Rainbow Bee-eater
© Chris Bath

Why is it important for Australians to learn more about our birds?

I think many Aussies, including me until I had my son, appreciate our native furry friends more than our feathered ones. People come from all over the world to marvel at our birds, but it’s fair to say a lot of Australians take them for granted. Thanks to steady loss of habitat, our birds need just as much help as our furry Aussies, and I think the first step in getting people to realise that, is to help them learn more about our amazing birds – to look up as well as down. If you know about Aussie birds, you’ll want to save them for future generations to love too.

© Chris Bath

Last year, The Guardian and BirdLife Australia launched a community vote to choose Australia’s Bird of the Year. What was your 2017 Bird of the Year and why? Why was this poll so controversial?

Firstly, I think it is incredibly hard to choose just one bird. We have too many blockbuster birds in Australia to select just one, which may explain any furore over the winner. I think I ended up voting for the Wedge Tailed Eagle. We share our farm in the Lower Hunter with a pair – they are simply magnificent – and I don’t mind a raptor! Have to qualify that though by saying, there’s a special place in my heart for Bowerbirds. I am endlessly fascinated by their quirky approach to romance.

Tawny Frogmouth
© Chris Bath

Australian birds have shaped our landscape and are more crucial to the pollination and distribution of plants here than anywhere else on the planet. People sometimes fail to see how this is connected to their lives. Why is this all so important, biodiversity, conservation, saving endangered species – how is it connected to their lives?

I despair sometimes at the messaging with this. These are critical concepts I know, and there are well intentioned people trying to make people understand why they are so important for us all. But words like “biodiversity” and “conservation” can be an instant turn off for some people and I wonder if that’s why people don’t understand how it’s connected to them – they just glaze over. I think the answer is to get people to love our birds first. The more they love birds, the more they are aware of them, the more they find themselves looking for them, the more they will appreciate how important birds are in the bigger scheme of things. If people have no care for birds in the first place, why would they want to save them? Why would they give a rats about how birds are so important to their lives and the ecosystem? Why would they want to hear about it?

Blue-winged Kookaburra
© Chris Bath

Journalism plays an important role in how we view the world. How can the media and the community work together to regain a sense of connection with our environment? How do we build a collective voice? 

It’s all about love. Build the love, build the fascination, build the enthusiasm, then build the education in an accessible way, and they will come. If we build love and affection for birds among more Australians, people will want to save them, and the rest will follow. I’ve watched it happen in my own family, within my own circle of friends. It works.

Chris on the Macquarie River Bird Watching Trail
© Chris Bath

Finally, the most interesting bird fact you’ve discovered so far?

Birdwatching is cool. First fact I learned thanks to my son.

© Chris Bath

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