Posted by Lindsay Wilkes
In many places across the world, June is Pride Month – a celebration of LGBTQ people and culture. COS is proud to have co-sponsored a “Let’s Go Birding Together” (LGBT) bird walk with Audubon Great Lakes and the Feminist Bird Club of Chicago. The Let's Go Birding Together series was founded by Jason St. Sauver, Community Education director at Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center in Denton, Nebraska. Other Audubon sites across the country have joined Jason in creating inclusive birding events.
The creation of Let’s Go Birding Together as well as Feminist Bird Club are in response to a growing awareness that events in the great outdoors can be quite intimidating to people in marginalized groups. Bird diversity is common in remote locations -- but cultural diversity is not. Venturing out to a remote location in the wilderness can be quite stressful to a person of color or the LGBTQ population. If someone has to question whether they will be safe and welcomed, what are the odds they still attend? With the simple act of designating an organization or a specific outing as “inclusive”, birding organizers can dispel uncertainty around feeling welcome and fears of potential discrimination or outright hostility due to a person’s identity. Birding appeals to people across all spectrums and should have an equally diverse participation in it. It’s incumbent upon organizers to ensure this happens. Let’s Go Birding Together takes the important step in welcoming everyone of all stripes and making sure all attendees can just focus on the joy of birding itself.
Chicago’s Let’s Go Birding Together event was held at Humboldt Park on June 22, 2019. The walk was led by Samuel Burckhardt with the support of Stephanie Beilke of Audubon Great Lakes, Frances Kane of Feminist Bird Club and Lindsay Wilkes of Chicago Ornithological Society.
Sam began the walk with a brief history of the park and its namesake:
“Humboldt Park was part of the Chicago Plan, completed in 1871, with Garfield and Douglas Parks, designed by William LeBaron Jenney. It was named for Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), the German naturalist and geographer famed for his five-volume work “Cosmos: Draft of a Physical Description of the World”. Not only was Humboldt gay, but this amazing naturalist influenced our perception of nature to this day. He was against a Newtonian model of nature that only tried to describe individual phenomena. He said that nature could only be comprehended and understood with all the senses through science and art.
Jens Jensen, a Danish immigrant who worked his way up to become Superintendent of Humboldt Park in the mid-1890s, was fired in 1900, but then hired again five years later. He instituted major improvements including the addition of the lagoon, what is called “the prairie river” west of Sacramento. Jensen famously said: "I have always thought that if the city cannot come to the country, then the country must come to the city."
As all parks in urban areas, Humboldt Park is an important stop over for migrating birds, as well as a place for a host of resident species. To date, 213 species of birds have been reported to eBird for the park. This includes such common birds as Canada Geese and House Sparrows, to Northern Goshawk and Whooping Cranes flying over in a flock of Sandhill Cranes -- and on the same day in May of 2009 a Surf Scoter and a Snowy Egret. A pretty amazing spot for diversity!”
With almost 40 attending, our human count was larger than our species count (29), including many first-time birders! In making introductions, we encouraged everyone to share their preferred pronouns as well as their names. We spent about 2 hours looping through park. It was definitely breeding season – our checklist included a large number of Wood Duck ducklings, as well as nesting Barn Swallows, Baltimore Orioles and American Robins. See our complete list on eBird and below.
Although this may have been the first explicitly “inclusive” bird walk COS has sponsored, Chicago Ornithological Society aims to increase visibility of diversity initiatives. This year’s speaker series, for example, include three renowned female speakers and one African-American. We have increased the number of walks located on the Southside of Chicago in hopes of making our events more accessible to people in different racial groups. That said, we have a lot of room to improve in this arena and we welcome ideas and efforts from our community to achieve this. Let us know if you have an interest in supporting these initiatives and sharing your thoughts.
Photos thanks to Graciela Gonzalez and Lindsay Wilkes.
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Herring Gull (American)
Great Blue Heron
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)