Black birders and nature lovers have founded a new social media series on Twitter and Instagram to highlight and celebrate diversity in birding, share their experiences of birding, and to combat the stereotype that black people in the US don’t enjoy nature or do outdoor activities.
Black Birders Week was launched by the Black AF in STEM group (Black As F**k in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) following an incident in New York City’s Central Park where a white woman called the police when a black man asked her to put her dog on its leash in an area where dogs must be leashed to protect wildlife.
After this event, a number of black birders were discussing online their experiences of birding, sharing how they’d had the cops called on them, and been followed around by strangers, and the idea of a week-long celebration of black birders was suggested.
“We started #BlackBirdersWeek to bring awareness to the problems we face just existing in our skin and also doing that in yet another space occupied primarily by white people,” says Chelsea Connor, a herpetologist studying anoles (pictured above).
“I’ve always loved science and I had teachers in the Commonwealth of Dominica that looked like me. Here in America, racism and colourism are very pervasive. Black people enjoy being outdoors and doing field research and we deserve to have that same space and not have to look over our shoulders and make sure we don’t look too suspicious.”
The week-long initiative includes specific hashtags for certain days to focus on different aspects, including a #BirdingWhileBlack livestream discussion and a spotlight on #BlackWomenWhoBird.
Although the focus is on black birders, other black naturalists are also joining in, including marine biologists, entomologists and mammologists.
“I am a professional wildlife photographer focusing on herpetology and entomology, helping to dispel narratives that these groups of animals lack value,” says Joseph Saunders.
“Living at the intersection of being black and disabled, the presumption of lacking, or having lesser value is something I have always felt to have in common with these creatures. I have most recently begun photographing birds as well due to the incredible inspiration of those in the Black AF in STEM group.
“Seeing other people who look like you is so important in making people feel comfortable when recreating and working,” explains Rhiannon Kirton, who studies white-tailed deer. “Rural spaces both in the UK, where I grew up, and in North America can be very isolating for the black community. Many of us grew up feeling like the odd one out and we still are, often, the only non-white face in a room when working in Natural Science fields.”
The group hopes that, following the week, there is a continued visibility of Black naturalists, and that Black Birders Week will occur again in future years.
“This group has given me so much confidence to keep sharing my passion for nature as a black woman. I hope more groups like this are created and fostered,” says Nicole Jackson, an environmental educator and birder.
“It’s a community of support and I would love for us to continue sharing our love of nature, science, the environment and ultimately of each other. I want to inspire the next generation of black environmental educators, scientists and birders to be proud of where they come from.”
Main image: Chelsea Connor birdwatching. © Dawson Parker