Friday, August 31, 2012
Birding: Focus On Diversity Conference, 10/13/12
As birders, when we lift our binoculars, we enter a technicolor world of American Goldfinches, Roseate Spoonbills, Blue Jays, and Painted Buntings. What colors do we see when the bins are hanging on our necks and we take a look at ourselves as a collective? The answer is almost always whiter shades of pale.
Birding in America is a predominantly white hobby. This is not a judgment of right or wrong. There is not accusation of social injustice in birding. Nor is it an implication that birders are racist or prejudiced in any way. It's just a statistical fact: the demographics of the birding community do not reflect the general population. Based on the 2010 census, over 35% of the American populace consists of people identified as Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and Native American. Yet those same groups represent significantly less than 10% of the birding community.
Since it's only a hobby, why does race make a difference in birding?
First of all, bird watching is a pastime that yields many benefits for its participants. Besides the obvious aesthetic pleasures of birding, it also provides us with increased physical activity, natural stress relief, social interaction, and a rigorous cognitive exercise that is particularly important for young children and seniors. Would it be great if ALL Americans can experience these benefits?
Yet, the low rate of participation among minorities in American birding poses a very real conservation threat to birds, the habitats upon which they depend, and, by extension, all other aspects of the environment. By having so many Americans completely unaware of even their common local birds, there is no reason for them to be compelled to take conservation action or even merely support the conservation efforts of others.
If these non-traditional birding audiences could become familiar with their local birds, they will be more inclined to take simple steps for bird conservation: from preventing window strikes, to choosing shade-grown coffee, to thoughtful landscaping. Their newfound appreciation of birds can pay dividends for the birds we all enjoy watching.
Eagle Optics understands the significance of getting new audiences involved with birding. This is why we have, once again, sponsored the Focus on Diversity: Changing the Face of American Birding Conference which is aimed at developing solutions to broaden the birding community. This year, the landmark gathering of birders will be held on October 13, 2012 at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, Minnesota. Registration materials and information about this important event are available at this link.
When more of us value and advocate for birds, we can truly change the face of American birding as we know it!