Black Birders Week Aims to Break Down Barriers to Nature

The weeklong event celebrates the diversity of birdwatchers and nature lovers.

Black birders weekCourtesy @thewildlifehost/Instagram
Ashley Gary explores nature with friends for Black Birders Week.

Walking in the woods, spotting a bird through your binoculars is an activity everyone should be able to enjoy. Unfortunately, people of color sometimes feel unwelcome while pursuing their passion for nature.

Black Birders Week is a celebration of black people who love birding and the outdoors. The event was coordinated by the group @BlackAFinSTEM as a response to the recent incident in New York’s Central Park. A white woman reacted inappropriately toward black birder Christian Cooper when he asked her to put her dog on a leash. In that section of the park, dogs must be leashed at all times. She called police, falsely claiming that Cooper was threatening her. Sadly, this is far from an isolated incident.

The weeklong event aims to lift up black birders, form a community and fight discrimination. Co-organizer Ashley Gary, founder of TheWildlifeHost.com, says, “I’m so excited to be a part of this movement to turn this injustice into a spotlight for the black people who endure bias and harm as we just try to enjoy the natural world around us.” She posted a photo of herself exploring the Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland, with friends Diamonique Clark and Jessica Macer.

Black birders weekCourtesy @Mrosten/Instagram
Marcus Rosten holds a wood duck.

Raise Awareness

Naturalist and environmental educator Marcus Rosten celebrated being #BlackinNature by going for a paddle along Ellicott Creek in Western New York. He is the Aquatic Invasive Species Program Manager for Western New York Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management.

“Black Birders Week is important to me because it is great to raise the awareness that black birders exist. Growing up I did not know any environmentalists or outdoors people that looked like me. Even today, I have only met one other birder of color in Western New York,” he says. “This week is a reminder to non-black birders that we are out here sharing the same spaces. Unfortunately I have had occasions where I have been perceived a threat and have been threatened for just birding in the local hotspot that I explore weekly.”

Diversity of Voices

Chelsea Connor is a university student in Texas from the Commonwealth of Dominica. She has had a long standing love for birds, constantly poring through her cherished field guide copy for her island. Chelsea fondly recalls observing her grandmother’s small flock of bananaquits feed on sugar when she visited, and watching a mated pair of Sisserou (endemic parrots) at her island’s Botanical Gardens.

“Black Birders Week was created to promote visibility and increase the representation of Black people in the field. We are being seen and people are talking about it. Those dialogues are important in order to have more Black people enter, stay in and flourish in birding. It’s not enough to just say you’re bringing in people because diversity is needed, you have to make sure they’re still on equal footing once you get them in there,” Chelsea says. “Black Birders Week is amazing and the response is breathtaking. It’s showing me that there is a place for me in my field, for my voice, experiences and insight.”

How to Participate

Black Birders Week continues through June 5. Events have included the #PostABird photo challenge, a Q&A with black birders, a #birdingwhileblack discussion, and a tribute to #blackwomenwhobird.

To participate in Black Birders Week, follow the hashtag #blackbirdersweek on Instagram and Twitter. Share photos and videos and support acceptance for all bird lovers.