Jeffrey Mann distinctly remembers a trip to Europe when he was 15 where he spent more time feeding the birds than anything else. He recalls a local man giving him raisins and berries at the top of a mountain in Austria so that large, black birds would perch on his arm. But it wasn’t until almost a decade later that Mann really developed his interest in birds.
He started his blog, Because Birds, on Tumblr in 2013 out of a casual interest for all things avian. He hadn’t cultivated much of an interest in birdwatching, he’d just always had an appreciation for the creatures. Since then, he’s accumulated nearly 180,000 followers and turned into an avid birder.
He originally started off scouring the web for nice photos of birds from websites like Flickr and posting them to the blog as a way to share his own interests. His Tumblr is now best known for its plethora of content that we at Audubon California would refer to as #stupidbirdhumor.
Around the middle of 2014, Mann had a realization: “People are thousands of times more responsive to humorous or entertaining posts than they are to a pretty picture.”
One of his first virally successful posts was a video he found of a man frantically trying to get an owl out of his house using a Swiffer sweeper as a perch. Despite being posted over two years ago, the post has 1.8 million notes and counting - users were reblogging even as I wrote this paragraph. (Note the video below contains some celebratory swearing.)
While his Tumblr gained traction, Mann found himself quickly falling in love with the world of birdwatching. After a friend encouraged him to develop his passion for birds, he got involved with the San Fernando Valley Audubon chapter and went on bird walks with them.
“As soon as I went on those bird walks, I kind of immediately got hooked because everyone there was really nice, and it introduced me to a hobby that had so much more to it than I ever thought from all my preconceptions about it,” says Mann. “For lack of a better word, I kind of just got addicted to it.”
At age 27, he says that he’s usually one of the youngest people on bird walks, but that he’s made really great friends in the birding community, just because everyone is so friendly. He also stays engaged because he feels like birding is more meaningful than just checking off boxes on a list of species.
“While it’s a fun hobby, it’s also really important for conservation and awareness of the impact that we have on wildlife and on the environment. So I feel like for that reason, people, myself included, really want to get people excited about birdwatching and want people to come out regularly,” he says. “I think that, for me, is part of the reason that I have stayed so hooked on it. Because, besides my own entertainment, ideally there’s a greater purpose to all of it too: conservation.”
As birdwatching turned into a full-fledged hobby for him, he decided to create an outlet for this, separate from his Tumblr, that focused more on birding than funny gifs and memes. He created becausebirds.com to talk more extensively about his hobby, giving tips for beginning birders and sharing his own experiences birding.
Mann does feel like there can be a bit of a dichotomy between his Tumblr and his website, though. He thinks that most of the followers aren’t birders, but either own birds or just think they’re cute and funny, while a lot of the people accessing his website are beginning birders looking for advice. His Tumblr isn’t all funny business - from time to time, he uses it to raise awareness of an issue. Most recently he wrote a post encouraging his followers to sign San Fernando Valley Audubon’s petition against a music festival slated to take place near a wildlife reserve. But he tries not to be too heavy-handed on birding and conservation, saying that he wants to be respectful of his audience.
“If I can use the blog – either the Tumblr or [becausebirds.com] – just to inspire people to get excited about birds or birdwatching or conservation, that would be the ultimate achievement. Everyone wants to make a difference, even if it’s in the most indirect way. And if I can do that just by sharing silly stuff online, I think it can make some serious change.”