Grumpy Old Birder

This month, Bo high­lights why he’d like to see a more di­verse range of peo­ple when he’s out bird­ing

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Bo Be­olens wants to see a more di­verse range of peo­ple out bird­ing

Ihave lately been re­vis­ing all the US state pages of my fat­birder.com web­site. This means check­ing out ev­ery link there in­clud­ing all those Audubon so­ci­eties, some states hav­ing a great num­ber. These are the equiv­a­lent, I guess, of lo­cal branches of the RSPB, al­though some are com­pletely in­de­pen­dent of the na­tional so­ci­ety. In many ways, they are warm and friendly or­gan­i­sa­tions which in­vite all and sundry to meet­ings and out­ings to en­joy birds. Most of their web­sites will show groups of mem­bers out bird­ing. I must have looked over at least a cou­ple of hun­dred club web­sites so far and it struck me hard be­tween the eyes that, while there seems a pretty even gen­der dis­tri­bu­tion, this could not be said for eth­nic­ity. In all cases, al­most all mem­bers de­picted are white. I can count those who were not on the fin­gers of one hand… and that in­cludes a cou­ple of ob­vi­ously Asi­atic vis­it­ing bird­ers. North to south and east to west it is the same, very few mem­bers of colour. OK, just like this side of the pond, many bird­ers are older and bet­ter off than av­er­age, be­cause be­ing re­tired with a de­cent pen­sion al­lows one to in­dulge in travel and ex­pen­sive op­tics and it’s a sad fact that there, like here, eth­nic­ity of­ten af­fects how well off you are. But isn’t the beauty of our hobby that all you need is a pair of cheap binoc­u­lars and the where­withal to get to the places where the birds are? In my ex­pe­ri­ence, there are plenty of or­di­nary peo­ple in less well-paid jobs who en­joy bird­ing. Maybe bird­ing is a bit more ‘mid­dle class’ than fish­ing, but, like that hobby, there are so many lev­els and va­ri­eties to our pas­time that each of us can find a niche. Around the world, I have met plenty of peo­ple pas­sion­ate about birds and bird­ing com­ing from all walks of life across the whole cul­tural and eth­nic spec­trum. I know lords and ladies who bird, and guys who are un­waged or slog­ging away on the fac­tory floor. I even know blokes who do per­ma­nent ware­house night shifts be­cause it frees up their days to go bird­ing. How­ever, here at home, and ob­vi­ously in the US, I know few black or Asian bird­ers. I hope that the in­creas­ing num­ber of black me­dia role mod­els will help this change. Hav­ing en­gag­ing black, fe­male zo­ol­o­gists and na­ture pro­gramme pre­sen­ters on our TVS in­spir­ing young peo­ple is cer­tainly a plus, but it’s nowhere near enough. See mul­ti­cul­tural groups of school­child­ren des­per­ate to stop us turn­ing our wild places into plas­tic ceme­ter­ies and it’s clear that eth­nic­ity at that age has no bear­ing on con­ser­va­tion com­pas­sion. But take a look at young bird­ing groups or the bird­ers down at your lo­cal re­serve and as soon as young adult­hood ar­rives the black faces seem to dis­ap­pear from the scene. I don’t pre­tend to know all the rea­sons, but I have a few inklings based on my ex­pe­ri­ence with fel­low dis­abled bird­ers. For ev­ery help­ful en­cour­ag­ing fel­low birder, there are a cou­ple of star­ers, a lot of ig­nor­ers and an in­dif­fer­ent ma­jor­ity. Sadly, there are even a few in­tim­ida­tors – on a bird­ing fo­rum re­cently, I was told to stop whinge­ing about able-bod­ied bird­ers dis­re­gard­ing “dis­abled park­ing only”signs. Naively, I used to as­sume that we bird­ers must all be lovely peo­ple who wel­come our fel­low en­thu­si­asts with open arms only able to see the birder, not the colour of their face or the re­stric­tion to their mo­bil­ity. I know bet­ter, but hope that this self­ish and prej­u­diced at­ti­tude will pass, just as, in the last decade ar­ro­gant sex­ism among bird­ers has be­come un­ac­cept­able.

Bo Be­olens runs fat­birder.com and other web­sites. He has writ­ten a num­ber of books.

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