Birds are for Everybody
By Jared Teutsch, Executive Director
Birds are one of the most accessible vehicles to connect with the living world around us. We take delight in their incredible diversity of colors, both subtle and gaudy, and their wide array of vocalizations, both strident and melodic. Birds connect people and spaces in ways that few living things can, traveling without respect to human boundaries—even when land stops and gives way to thousands of miles of water, birds keep going.
Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to birds and outdoor spaces. In a study conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 93 percent of birders in the United States identified as white. But birds aren’t just found in predominantly white neighborhoods, they are everywhere. So where is the disconnect, we wondered?
A recent study conducted by Deja Perkins at North Carolina State University revealed that use of eBird, the most popular community science tool in avian conservation, is far lower and often non-existent in communities of color in cities across the U.S. We found that to be true here in Atlanta, too. Lower income neighborhoods in Atlanta report far fewer bird sightings than higher income neighborhoods.
While we are at our core a bird-centered organization, Georgia Audubon’s mission is to build places where birds and people thrive. Our mission is borne from an understanding that the health of birds and people are inextricably connected. In the same way that species diversity contributes to healthy, resilient ecosystems, diverse communities of people are strongest and most capable of creative problem solving, in avian conservation and beyond.
In response to these findings and in an effort to include a broader diversity of people in avian conservation, Georgia Audubon and the National Audubon Society co-developed the Bird Beyond tool. This interactive mapping tool helps us prioritize our engagement in areas that have low median income, which are often communities of color, that have previously been underrepresented in avian community science. Through authentic relationship building and following community leadership, Georgia Audubon has begun partnering with local organizations, leaders, and community groups to engage our resources in ways that are relevant for each community. We’re still in the beginning stages of this program, but our efforts are beginning to bear fruit — in places like Adams Park, Historic Washington Park, and Grove Park. As we learn from our experiences in Atlanta, we hope to scale Bird Beyond partnerships statewide to engage other low-income communities of color across the state.
Another focus area is to make birds and birding more accessible for people with disabilities. For many years, Georgia Audubon has been working with the Shepherd Spinal Center to foster enjoyment of birds and their conservation with patients at this facility. We’ve recently expanded our efforts and are offering regularly scheduled Adaptive Birding Trips and events across the metro area that are designed to uplift the experiences, perspectives, and expertise of birders with disabilities. Our Adaptive Birding Trips take place at trails across the Atlanta area that are accessible for people with mobility-related disabilities or access challenges, and are free and open to the public.
In partnership with Birdability, an organization dedicated to making birding accessible for people with disabilities and other health concerns, we also offer quarterly Virtual Accessible Field Trips that are co-led by birders with disabilities. These virtual programs are an opportunity for our constituents to learn about the experiences of birders with different disabilities, learn new techniques for birding if they experience a certain access challenge, and connect with resources to help them advocate for, and lead, accessible birding opportunities for everybody (and every body).
Georgia Audubon feels strongly that avian conservation efforts in the state of Georgia, from the mountains to the coast, should reflect the diversity of the human communities found within — to do so, our efforts must be rooted in equitable engagement and accessibility. Georgia Audubon is committed to making changes within and beyond our organization, in order to help build places where birds and people thrive…all people.