This week, we talk with well-known birder Jason Ward in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. Carolina Wrens, Red-Tailed Hawks, Varied Thrushes, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers abound as Gina and Jason discuss the misconception about urban spaces and nature, the whitewashing of outdoor hobbies, and the lack of representation for people of color in the birding world.
It may seem obvious, but Jason reiterates that birds care little for our sense of cartographic regionalism. They are, however, influenced greatly by eco-regionalism. Depending on the needs of the species, some birds can live as easily in the North Georgia mountains as they can in parts of Canada. Urban development, although certainly devastating to some ecosystems, may provide new shelters for generalist/opportunistic birds like the “Sky Lamborghini,” the Peregrine Falcon, who is able to substitute skyscrapers for cliff faces. Other species build their nests in the nooks and crannies of modern architecture and find easily-replenished food sources in our daily city life.
Because the southeast has so much old growth forest, there is a great variety of species. Atlanta is commonly referred to as “the city within the forest,” and Jason says it is because of this that Atlanta allows for such diverse birding. Piedmont Park alone has over 200 species over the course of the year -- enough to make even novice birders excited. With so much bird life in and around the city, almost everyone has a bird story to tell, a moment in their daily lives where actual dinosaurs did something amazing.
Why make birds political? Well, because everything is political. In his article “The Woods are My Safe Haven-- But That’s Not True For Everyone” on Audubon, Jason writes, “we celebrate [nature’s] majesty and encourage others to go out and experience it. And yet, the targets of this encouragement seem to be calculated. Whether it’s on ads for outdoor gear and apparel or in mainstream media, you typically don’t see depictions of black people enjoying the outdoors.”
This lack of representation limits access to a space that should be available for everyone. We naturally gravitate towards images that look like us and allow those images to outline our own interests. A space that is defined by its openness, nature is guarded by depictions of who should enjoy its “majesty.” This issue becomes more complicated when we understand that nature is not exclusive to rural, secluded spaces -- that nature is, in fact, everywhere we go.
Through his work in the education department at the Atlanta Zoo, Jason visits schools around Atlanta to teach kids about animals and encourage them to pursue their scientific interests. As birding becomes more popular -- both in Atlanta and at large -- Jason is optimistic that the birding space will grow to be more inclusive, diverse, and accessible.
Visit Jason on Twitter, and play #TrickyBirdID with him every week!