Paul Riss’s new social venture takes flight

After nearly two isolating years of working from home and enduring various degrees of lockdowns and social distancing, Paul Riss wants to try something new with anyone in the industry who’s interested: He wants to take them birdwatching.

The offer, which he’s making to anyone in the industry, is a little bit about getting people getting together in an informal, social way again—maybe to learn a bit about each other (remember ‘networking’?). But it’s more than that. “It’s really about sharing something that has enhanced my life to a great degree,” he says.

Riss, an art director / creative director who’s been in the industry for more than 20 years and founded his own agency, Round, in late 2018, is well-known as a birder.

I first learned about Riss in late 2012, when we profiled him at Marketing Magazine. He’d just completed his “big year”—a birder challenge to identify as many bird species in one year—and was working on a documentary he was calling Punk Rock Big Year.

He’s memorable as a birder because, well, he doesn’t look like a birdwatcher (yes, we know it’s bad to stereotype, but come on). But he’s also known for his passion: He’s seen more than 1,000 species, has the Latin names of the 243 birds from his “big year” tattooed on his body, and was the subject of the 2020 CBC documentary Rare Bird Alert, which describes him as “somewhat of a legend on the Ontario birding scene.”

Riss took up the hobby when he was about 11, and he’s been at it ever since. He credits it with having a profoundly positive impact on his life and wellbeing, especially during the pandemic. (Riss also paints birds, right and below.)

It’s well-known that time in nature is good for your mental health, he says. “But birding is something that seems to supercharge it a little bit.” He doesn’t try to explain the science of it—he’s an art director not a scientist, after all. “But I know this… I’ve had a lifetime of ups and downs. Spending time in nature, and specifically around birds, has gotten me through basically anything I’ve had to weather.”

The idea of taking people on a birdwatching expedition came after an old colleague posted on LinkedIn about growing tired of pandemic isolation, and “craving pre-2020 human contact.” Riss realized that a walk, a coffee and some birdwatching was just the thing for her, and so he’s extending the invitation to anyone else, asking for nothing in return.

“I want to have the barrier be as low as possible. But if somebody feels like they want to do something, then I would say make a donation to nabs,” he says.

It could be individuals or a competing agency who wants to get their team together to clear their heads and enjoy a change of scenery for a day.

People can go to Hamilton, where he lives, but he’d be happy to arrange a trip pretty much anywhere he can drive. “If somebody said ‘Hey, I’m interested in going for a hike and seeing those species you talked about in Algonquin Park,’ it’s like pick a day,” he says. “I’ll clear my schedule, you clear yours and we’ll just go for a day.”

The fact he’ll go anywhere for this speaks to his love of birds and time spent with them in nature. It’s no hardship for him to make the trip. But in a way he hopes he can gift his passion to others, introducing them to something that just might brighten their lives during dark days.

“I just want to offer them something a little bit more than a face-to-face cup of coffee sitting in a cafe or something,” he says. “They could take away something that, maybe it won’t but maybe will, enhance their life.”

Anyone interested in going birding with Riss can contact him at


Top photo: Derek Shapton of Westside Studio

David Brown