Your Monthly News & Updates
Barriers to Birding Series #4; 
The Good Old Days of Birding...?
by Dave Magpiong

The last few BEN Bulletins touched on some contemporary barriers to birding including economics, geography, and general lack of awareness. Unfortunately, barriers to bird study have existed in the United States since the dawn of the avocation.

Between 1827 and  1838, John James Audubon's landmark Birds of America was first published as a series of engraved plates. His state-of-the-art illustrations delivered the beauty birds into homes in the U.S., England, and other areas of Europe. The initial subscription was not for the common Joe, as it cost approximately $1,000 (over $20,000 in today's dollar) for the set of 435 birds.  While Birds of America helped more people get to know our birds, the hefty price tag limited this luxury to the affluent.

As feathers, and even whole birds, became fashionable on hats in the 1890's, several species were being pushed toward extinction. Fortunately, heroes like Harriet Hemenway and Minna B. Hall stepped up to protect the birds.  Given the era's male domination of American ornithology, they recruited the renowned William Brewster to helm the new Massachusetts Audubon Society. Other early birding clubs had policies that limited membership or leadership to men. Some of these restrictions remained into the 1980's, marginalizing women in birding for decades.

Perhaps the greatest democratization in American birding resulted from the publication of Roger Tory Peterson's A Field Guide to the Birds in 1934. Peterson's field mark system unlocked the mystery of birdwatching for casual observers, affording more people success with the burgeoning hobby. As significant as this release was for some Americans, others needed a different type of guide.  The Negro Motorist Green Book, first published in 1936, was essentially a field guide to safe travel for African-Americans during the height of Jim Crow. It listed businesses (hotels, restaurants, service stations, drug stores, etc.) that welcomed people of color.  Of course, the discrimination, harassment, and violence suffered under Jim Crow was not created or embraced by the birding organizations of the time. Yet, those horrors and dangers acted as a barrier to many aspects of life, including bird and nature study, for generations. (A related  note: The aforementioned Brewster had an assistant, Robert Gilbert, an African-American naturalist whose photographic and bird study talents were virtually lost to history. How many other naturalists of color have had their efforts forgotten?)

While there is no grand conspiracy in play, these are just a few examples of the historic barriers to birding that have been faced by various groups. Often times, an interest in birdwatching is inspired by a relative, friend, or other acquaintance who enjoys birds. Since such historically inequitable access to birding resources made it difficult for some to develop a love of birds, how could they have passed their enthusiasm on to others?!

Some people will contend that these particular barriers are in the past and should not be rehashed. Others will counter that many groups are still dealing with such issues. Regardless of your position, the birds need as many people engaged in conservation efforts as possible.

With almost 200 years of "catching up" to do, we should be mindful of developing outreach programs that truly "reach out" to any groups who have not historically had many seats at the birding table, greet them with open arms, and solicit (better yet, celebrate) their contributions to bird study and conservation. As Paul Baicich said at the 2012 Focus on Diversity Conference, "there is no such thing as an over-developed welcome mat".
How Hunters and Artists Helped Save America's Waterfowl
Be a Part of the Duck Stamp Success Story

Take a moment to reflect on the American waterfowl success story, and your role in future progress, by exploring this Cornell Bird Academy online resource article, written by Alexandra Class Freeman.
It's That Time Again: CBC4Kids

Bird educators across the US and Canada can participate in the Christmas Bird Count for Kids (CBC4Kids), an exciting birdwatching event for young birders and their families. Go online for a playbook to help build the effort. You can also follow CBC4Kids events on social media using the hashtag #CBC4Kids.
Education in Action
Bonus: Video InterviewPrepare to be Inspired

The members of the Senior San Antonio Youth Bird Count Team range in age from 13 to 16 years old and sighted an impressive 74 species in under 8 hours. Covered in mud, sliding down river banks, and attacked by mosquitoes, this team of young birders got out into the field to raise money for Texas Parks and Wildlife during this year's Great Texas Birding Classic, one bird sighting at a time. Listen in as they are interviewed with priceless advice on how to get kids birding. Congrats to Patsy and Tom Inglet for their continued leadership in birding education with groups across the state.
The Bird Education Network (BEN) was created following the February 2007 National Gathering, hosted by the Council for Environmental Education (CEE). BEN is a CEE initiative that seeks to connect and support a community of bird education professionals. 
Over 4,000 individuals representing 300 organizations receive communications and engage in professional dialogue through the BEN-administered Bird Education Listserv
To learn more about us, read the BEN publication, "Toward a National Bird Education Strategy".

The BEN Bulletin is provided free of charge. We appreciate any financial help possible to continue this effort. See your logo in the BEN Bulletin! Contact us for sponsorship opportunities.

Newsletter Maintained by:
Council for Environmental Education  | Flying WILD  |  BEN Committee