The State We're In
Birds come in every color – so should birders!
By Jay Watson, Co-Executive Director
From tiny hummingbirds sipping nectar from blossoms to majestic bald eagles soaring high in the sky, birds are endlessly fascinating and can inspire a deep love of nature.
But not everyone has equal exposure to the outdoors – especially people of color living in urban areas – and many do not have easy access to the joy that comes with developing a connection to our incredible natural world.
Black Birders Week, a movement to get more people of color involved in bird watching, is aiming to change that. The 3rd annual Black Birders Week will be held from Sunday, May 29, through Saturday, June 4, and includes both live and virtual events.
Black Birders Week was founded in 2020 in response to a now-infamous incident in New York’s Central Park, in which a Black birder was exposed to racism.
The birder, Christian Cooper, encountered a white woman exercising her dog while he was trying to watch nesting birds. When he asked her to leash the dog, which was running loose, she called the police and complained that an African American man was threatening her.
A video of the incident went viral, sparking outrage from the community at large. Among the questions raised: How can people of color enjoy, or work in, the outdoors if they don’t feel safe or welcome?
The solution: Getting more people of color outdoors to support and learn from each other – that is, becoming nature “insiders” welcome in every natural space. That led directly to the creation of the first Black Birders Week.
“It came together in just three days,” recalled Tykee James, one of the co-organizers. “I was so proud to be part of the original group that rose to the occasion.” Tykee is coordinator of governmental affairs for the National Audubon Society in Washington, D.C. and is president of the DC Audubon Society.
The theme of Black Birders Week 2022 is “Soaring to Greater Heights,” a reference to the growing sense of community in the movement.
“It goes beyond trauma, and involves joy, pride, resistance, strength and style,” said Tykee, who is not an organizer of this year’s event.
The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, a part of Drexel University, will kick off Black Birders Week with a live event on Saturday, May 28. Four well-known Black birders – Tykee, Corina Newsome, Jason Hall, and the Academy’s Anwar Abdul-Qawi – will offer bird walks, birding tips, and opportunities to socialize.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation and partners are planning a bird walk at Cadwalader Park in Trenton at 8 a.m. Sunday, May 29. This “Birds of Cadwalader Park and Introduction to the Joy of Birding” will be led by Jordan Parham, an expert birder in New Jersey. Binoculars are available for attendees to borrow; the program will provide instruction on basic binocular use and identifying birds by sight and sound. For more information on this event, contact me directly at email@example.com.
Black AF in STEM, the online forum of scientists and researchers that first hatched the idea for Black Birders Week, has organized a week of social media events, with a different theme and hashtag each day:
- Sunday, May 29: #BlackInNature – This is a networking event where participants can introduce themselves and meet other Black birders, outdoor lovers, and naturalists.
- Monday, May 30: #InTheNest – Birders will discuss how they got started, their earliest birding memories, who took them under their wing, and how they’re mentoring others.
- Tuesday, May 31: #LearningToTakeFlight – Participants will explore their birding identity by discussing their first steps into birding on their own, and when they felt comfortable enough to call themselves birders.
- Wednesday, June 1: #DayOfRoost – Birds in the wild carefully choose a safe place to roost each night. Wednesday’s theme is about mental health, prioritizing self-care, and choosing when to rest.
- Thursday, June 2: #FlyingTheCoop – Thursday’s theme is about following your passion and overcoming challenges in birding.
- Friday, June 3: #AsTheCrowFlies – This phrase refers to the most direct route. The day’s discussion involves the relationships different cultures have with birds and how that shapes each person’s birding journey.
- Saturday, June 4: #LifeLongJourney – Birding is a lifelong journey, with activities people can participate in at any age. The day will focus on intergenerational learning and how birding can connect families.
As a Black birder with a lifelong passion for nature, I’m thrilled with this new movement to encourage more diversity in birding. Access to nature and the wonders of our natural world are for everyone, everywhere, and we strive to engage people with these experiences to ignite the next generation of nature lovers and natural resource leaders.
To help attract more people of color to the outdoors and stimulate an interest in protecting the natural world, New Jersey Conservation Foundation is developing a “Conservationists of Color Playbook.” The playbook emphasizes the Five E’s: exposure, experience, engagement, employment and enjoyment. One of its chapters offers an introduction to birding.
When you think about it, birding is the perfect activity for fostering the conservationists of tomorrow. It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in America because it can be done anywhere – in urban parks, forest interiors, open meadows, ocean and bay beaches, or even by watching feeders in your own backyard.
Birds come in every size and color, and can be found in every type of habitat. Why shouldn’t birders and conservationists as well?
To learn more about Black Birding Week activities, go to https://ansp.org/programs-and-events/festivals/black-birders-week/ and https://www.blackafinstem.com/.
For more about inclusivity, you may be interested in organizations like the In Color Birding Club (www.incolorbirding.org/), Black Outside Inc. (www.blackoutside.org/), Amplify the Future (https://amplifythefuture.org/), Latino Outdoors (https://latinooutdoors.org/), and BirdAbility (www.birdability.org/).
And for more information on protecting New Jersey’s land and natural resources – including great birding spots – visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Authors
John S. Watson, Jr.
Michele S. Byers
Executive Director, 1999-2021
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