“Birding is for everybody!” Right?
It’s easy to think that everybody feels welcome and included in the birding community and the outdoors just because we say things like that. But sometimes it’s not enough to assume folks know they’re welcome; we must be intentional about it, too. There are concrete actions we can take—as individual birders, members of birding groups, and organizations—to ensure that everybody feels that they belong in the birding community.
By being intentionally welcoming and inclusive, we’ll create environments that others will want to join and avoid inadvertently contributing to ones that feel exclusive. And that’s the first step to ensuring that birding truly is for everybody.
Tips for Individuals
Check your assumptions: Do people need binoculars to go birding? Do they need to see birds at all to enjoy them? Consider your unconscious understanding of “birding” or “birders” and check if your personal definitions are based on assumptions or stereotypes (which can often be exclusionary). Then, work to expand your internal definitions. (See It’s Time to Redefine ‘Birding’ for more on this.) And if someone without optics or with hearing loss asks what you’ve seen or heard on the trail, imagine what you might spark if your response is enthusiastic and encouraging!
Be kind online: The birding community exists in digital spaces, too, so it is important to be as mindful in internet forums as it is in real life. Blunt, hastily written comments can cause miscommunication, so take it upon yourself to set a positive and inclusive tone for everyone. For example, if someone shares a photo in a birding Facebook group and requests ID help, kindly, with encouragement, explain what the bird is or suggest ID tips. It can take courage to ask for help, and the replies someone receives in online birding forums may impact whether they want to engage with the community in the future.
Respect others: Some people enjoy being social outdoors, while others may have gone to nature to get away from social interaction. Accepting the different ways people interact with each other and with the outdoors without judgment is part of fostering inclusive environments. Learn to read people’s body language and tone for boundaries they might be trying to express. Be mindful of your own manners—for example, don’t stare at a person with a visible difference.
Educate yourself: Spend time learning how to be anti-racist, how to be a good ally, and some basic disability etiquette. Learn about intersectionality, too. But don’t expect other birders to educate you on these topics. (Google them instead.) Take concrete actions to make everyone welcome, such as sharing your pronouns when you introduce yourself in person or online (this can signal to trans and non-binary folks that it’s safe for them to share their pronouns, too). Online, you can include image descriptions in your social media posts, so that folks who use screen reader software can access the otherwise visual information you’re sharing. There are lots of resources online, and the more you learn, the less uncomfortable you’ll be when you meet someone new.
Tips for Leaders of Outings
Smile and say "hi!": This must be the easiest way of welcoming people! Verbally greet participants is important in case someone is blind or has low vision—they may not realize you smiled at them. Introduce yourself and wear a name tag with good contrast and large print so folks who forget can refer back to it later. It may seem straightforward, but trust us: Don’t skip this step!
Hold an orientation: Before you head off, help participants get situated by introducing yourself, the location (you can even include a land acknowledgement), the birds you’re hoping to see or hear, and behavior expectations. Consider your tone and approach if you share how long you or anyone else has been birding, as this can feel intimidating to beginners. Take an inclusive approach: For example, you might point out that no one knows everything about birds, so anyone is welcome to ask anyone else questions. (It’s amazing how friendly this feels amongst strangers!) Invite participants to share their names and pronouns with the group, too, and any access needs they have if they think it will be helpful for others to know.
Be sensitive: Being a thoughtful leader requires attention and tact. If someone in your group has a disability or other health concern, you don’t have to do everything possible to avoid mentioning their access need, but find ways to accommodate them without making a fuss. For example, if someone is using a wheelchair, l