This story is inspired by J. Drew Lanham’s “9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher” on Orion Magazine. Alex Troutman assisted in the creation of the story.
Birds flock together for safety and community; Black female birders MUST do the same and for similar reasons. Not only does it greatly enhance the birding experience, being able to share notes and stories, but increased visibility and numbers never hurt when out and about, whether in the woods or in a residential area.
Form precedes function, or form follows function? Don’t let others tell you what’s “proper” attire. Do you think the other birds told our painted bunting to change? No, whatever makes YOU feel comfortable is correct attire. The birds don’t care and are ready for viewing whether you’re wearing your favorite bird shirt or pro Dri-FIT tracksuit.
Black vultures are cool, but they do nest on cliffs. Whether Chacos or hiking boots, your footwear of choice is everything. Make sure to choose a pair that is multifunctional, i.e. waterproof, rocky terrain, etc. You never know where the birds will take you so be prepared and remember to pick what’s comfortable for you.
Keep your smartphone handy. See a new bird you want to ID? Pull out your phone to take a quick picture. See a person who is making you uncomfortable, share your location, and call a friend.
There’s a reason why many birds live by bodies of water. If I could carry water like a sandgrouse Hydro Flask would be OUT. OF. BUSINESS. But unfortunately, we aren’t as cool as some birds. Grab your favorite water bottle and keep it close. You will likely be out watching for hours.
Fortunately, “white flight” doesn’t apply to the white-breasted nuthatch. Check your backyard. Walk around your own neighborhood. Birds can be anywhere, even where Black people live. You don’t have to travel far or only go to your town’s nature center. Find YOUR favorite spot, and go explore.
Birds of a Feather - Don’t think your only option for a birding group is old white men. There are plenty of women probably in the same boat as you so build your own flock! Invite your friends or family or get on Facebook and connect with some other birders in your area. Chances are they’re out there searching.
Beauty and Birding don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Ever seen a secretary bird (if not Google for a surprise)? THAT is the level of fabulosity we strive for, an icon. Being “outdoorsy” doesn’t mean you can’t be “cute”. Remember that you are the unicorn here, a woman, a Black woman, and a birder. Express yourself in all forms, whether it’s hair or makeup, or anything else you are unique and already stand out. Don’t feel you have to conform to the norm and look like everyone on TV, create your own lane.
Speaking of black vultures, they don’t have voice boxes. You do. When you’re on a bird walk and you answer a question but they look to the white male next to you, don’t be afraid to remind them:
“It was actually me who said that”
You BELONG in the group and your light WILL NOT be diminished.
If they could learn to listen to bird calls, they can figure out how to listen to you.
Additional tip? Don’t forget your sunscreen and hat/ visor. Just because you’re Black, doesn’t mean you don’t still need to protect your beautiful skin from the sun.