Archive for October, 2021

I have gotten a lot out of birding. Being a birder has brought me joy. It has brought me knowledge. It has eased my frustrations. It has gained me friends. It has built my career. I have gotten a lot out of birding.

And I think others should be able to get all these things and more out of birding as well. If there is a desire to learn about birds, the natural world, science, or any such topic, I think that everyone should have all the same opportunities open to them so that they can pursue those opportunities to whatever extent they like. These opportunities should not be limited by a person’s skin color, religion, nation of origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, ability, age, health concerns, or any other component of a person.

I have been trying to learn more about, and pay attention to, issues of privilege and the restrictions and complications that many people face when trying to experience nature, particularly relating to birding. One my aims is to learn how to make birding as welcoming an activity and community as possible to as wide a range if people as possible. As I have been exploring these ideas, I have come across several organizations, events, and other resources that I have found to be really interesting, educational, and useful. I know that I would have liked to have had information about these organizations, events, and other resources gathered together into one place, so I am doing exactly that here.

Below is a list of links to resources on a variety of topics, and aimed at a variety of groups, that deal with and help to overcome obstacles to enjoying, participating in, and learning about birds, nature, and science. This list is by no means complete. In the comments below, please let me know about other organizations, events, and other similar resources that you think should be included, and we can build this list together.

I hope that this list helps members of these communities find like minded groups and individuals. I also hope that this list helps allies of the members of these communities to learn, find additional ways to support them, and make birding an ever more welcoming activity and inclusive community.

Diversity in Birding Resource List:

Amplify the Future – Seeks to “amplify opportunities for equity to the historically excluded in conservation, STEAM, and birding.” This organization oversees the Black & Latinx Birders Scholarship which provides funds to “Black birders or Brown birders that lives in the United States or Puerto Rico and identify as Black, African-American, and/or Latinx/e/a/o; and who are also an undergraduate student studying in STEM.”

Birdability – Is an organization that, “through education, outreach and advocacy, Birdability works to ensure the birding community and the outdoors are welcoming, inclusive, safe and accessible for everybody. We focus on people with mobility challenges, blindness or low vision, chronic illness, intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental illness, and those who are neurodivergent, deaf or hard of hearing or who have other health concerns. In addition to current birders, we strive to introduce birding to people with disabilities and other health concerns who are not yet birders so they too can experience the joys of birding.” This organization also puts on Birdability Week each year in early October.

Birding For All – This organization is “a national voluntary organization seeking to improve access for people with disabilities to reserves, facilities and services for birding.”

Black AF in STEM Collective – This organization “seeks to support, uplift, and amplify Black STEM professionals in natural resources and the environment through professional development, career connection, and community engagement.” This organization puts Black Birders Week together at the end of May each year.

Freedom Birders – This is a project organized by Amplify the Future (see above) that “seeks to change the culture of bird watching in the United States by developing a racial justice curriculum and bird education project resourced by the lessons and inspiration of the Civil Rights Movement, the Freedom Riders, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the 1619 Project, and Black Birders Week 2020.”

Hispanic Access Foundation – This organization “connects Latinos and others with partners and opportunities to improve lives and create an equitable society. One day, every Latino individual in America will enjoy good physical health and a healthy natural environment, a high-quality education, economic success and civic engagement in their community with the sum of improving the future of America.” It also organizes Latino Conservation Week in July each year.

Latino Outdoors – This organization seeks to “inspire, connect, and engage Latino communities in the outdoors and embrace cultura y familia as part of the outdoor narrative, ensuring our history, heritage, and leadership are valued and represented.”

Let’s Go Birding Together – This is a series of bird walks and other event held in June in honor of Pride Month organized by the National Audubon Society which states that “walks are for everyone who loves birds and the outdoors. We welcome those who identify as LGBTQ, allies, families, and anyone who wants to enjoy an outdoor experience that is inclusive.”

Justice Outside – This organization “advances racial justice and equity in the outdoor and environmental movement. We shift resources to, build power with, and center the voices and leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color because the health of current and future generations demands it.”

Outdoor Afro – This organization “has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. We are a national not for profit organization with leadership networks around the country. With more than 100 leaders in 56 cities around the country, we connect thousands of people to nature experiences, who are changing the face of conservation.”

Unlikely Hikers – Is an Instagram community, a nationwide hiking group and a podcast that seeks to create a “diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community featuring the underrepresented outdoorsperson.”

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I just finished a book called “Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider: how scientific names celebrate adventurers, heroes, and even a few scoundrels” by Stephen B. Heard.

Book cover of “Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider.” Photo credit: Amazon

The book is a good one with a lot of perspectives on the scientific naming the species and the stories those species names carry with them. The particular focus of the book is on species that have been named for people and what the stories of those people are, and how they came to have species named after them. There are some interesting reasons to name a species after a person. One is because that person is who collected the specimen that was later recognized as a new species. Another is as a way of honoring someone for an accomplishment. This can be a scientific accomplishment, but as the title of the book indicates, this can be any type of accomplishment (such as being a rock icon like Bowie).

The book highlights and discusses some of the positive outcomes that can occur when a species is named after a person. For one, the person giving the name can explain why they are giving a particular species a particular name and this can help to tell a story about someone. These stories help to immortalize both the person doing the naming, and the person who’s name is used in the description of the new species (it is considered very bad form for a scientist to name a species after them self, so there are just about always at least two people involved in naming a species).

But these perspectives are not enough to change my mind on this subject (I have written about issues with the naming if species a few times such as here and here). I think that naming species after people is too problematic. It opens too many avenues for bias and prejudice (conscious or unconscious) to come into play.

And the book actually adds a new way for the naming of species after people to become a problem, and that involves money. In one chapter of the book, Heard discusses how the naming of a species has been used to raise funds for various causes. How this has worked in the past is that a new species is described, that new species needs a name, and the researchers who are describing it auction off the name in order to raise money for a cause or organization.

Now, on the surface of it, I have no problem with this. What a great thing to happen, right? A person or company pays a significant chunk of money in order that a researcher names a species however the person or company wants, and then that money goes to supporting conservation and research. Terrific.

But who is going to have the money to spare to buy these species names? Wealthy people and companies. Since the majority if wealthy people are white (at least in the USA) and the majority of wealthy companies are lead by white people (at least in the USA), this practice will tend to increase the representation disparities that already exist in species names.

Paying for the privilege of naming a species just results in more white people controlling what we call things, and in being recognized in the names themselves.

While the pool of people that species are being named after is slowly growing to be more diverse with women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community starting to have their contributions to science recognized and having more species named after them, this is a very slow process indeed. And it is in the face of a centuries-long head start that white men have had. With this ongoing lack of representation in the names of species, having yet another way to shift the names of species toward white people does not seem like the right direction to me.

Surely we can find other ways to encourage people and companies to contribute to conservation and research. Surely we can name species without contributing to this example of institutional racism and lack of diversity.

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A couple of months ago, I created a video for my A Birding Naturalist YouTube channel titled Conservation Through Duck Stamps, where I talked about the Federal and California State duck stamps and the funding that the sale of duck stamps generate for the protection and restoration of wildlife and their habitats.

This is a subject that I think is important. Buying duck stamps is an established and successful way to get funding that will protect the natural environments of this country. Everyone who enjoys and appreciates wildlife (hunters and non-hunters alike) should seriously consider buying these stamps.

Given that, I am sure you can imagine how pleased I was when John Oliver released a segment on duck stamps on his show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver! It is a very informative and amusing piece (as are so many of the segments in that show), and it also discussed what an important source of money that duck stamp funds are. It also delved into how the art for these stamps is selected. The show went so far as to commission five different pieces of art that they entered into the duck stamp selection competition. Very funny move, and some very funny pieces. None of these five were selected by the judges. In fact, all five were eliminated in the very first selection round with none of the entries getting even a single vote. But that was not the point, anyway.

Image 1 - Last Week Tonight with John Oliver "Duck Hunt" by Eric Joyner
One of the pieces commissioned by Last Week Tonight by artist Eric Joyner titled “Duck Hunt.”

However, partly as a result of not having their art selected to appear on the next duck stamp, Last Week Tonight decided to do something else with the artwork that would still benefit wildlife. The show set up online auctions on ebay, and sold the five pieces of art. The proceeds from these auctions were contributed to the Federal Duck Stamp Fund.

Now these auctions have ended, and they were really successful! In total the auctions of the five pieces of art raised nearly $100,000 for the Federal Duck Stamp Fund!

Image 1 - Last Week Tonight with John Oliver "Duck with a Pearl Earring" by Omar Rayyan
One of the pieces commissioned by Last Week Tonight by artist Omar Rayyan titled “Duck with a Pearl Earring.”

I am thrilled that a topic like duck stamps got this boost of public exposure and attention! I definitely think it is something that more people should know about. And the donation of almost $100,000 is a wonderful outcome of this segment!

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