Belonging in Birding

By Bridget Butler, Bird Diva

My awareness of the community aspect of birding has always been so acute that when I began to feel like I was birding differently than others, I had to pause and figure out what that feeling was all about. My Slow Birding practice grew out of this feeling of wanting to belong, but I recognized that the way I enjoyed and connected with birds was not present in the larger birding community at the time.

It took a bit of courage and vulnerability to articulate those feelings and rebuild my birding practice. I shifted to sitting in place at a sit spot, noticing rather than identifying, and finding awe in the ordinary - this became what I called Slow Birding. As I began to share my approach to birding, I found others searching for this sort of permission to bird in this way, which led to a sense of belonging as well. A large part of my work as the Bird Diva focuses on community, on cultivating a community of bird observers who are courageous and vulnerable, curious and kind. 

Professor and author, BrenĂ© Brown, writes about belonging, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

I continue to contemplate what it means to feel welcomed in the birding community and how we can be better at creating spaces where everyone who enjoys noticing birds feels like they belong. In a way, we can think of this like feeding birds. When we choose to put out bird feeders, we’re setting up a place to gather. We’re providing a variety of foods that will appeal to a diversity of birds. We’re thoughtful about placing those feeders near some cover, and maybe we’ve even provided water. We want to be able to enjoy the birds that gather, so we sit quietly, move slowly, and adjust our behavior so the birds will feel both safe and welcome.

We can and should do the same for each other.

We’ve come a long way with thoughtful, intentional gatherings that welcome BIPOC, LGBTQIA++, and disabled folks to birding events and outings. I think we still have more work to do at this level, and we need to stretch into the acceptance of all approaches to birding - mindful birding, backyard birding, sit spot birding, slow birding, contemplative birding, and so on. Whatever modality that you embrace to connect with birds is valid! Going back to BrenĂ©’s quote, I think feeling like you belong in the birding community starts with dropping the struggle to fit into only one birding modality and finding our authentic birding selves!

Here are some questions I asked myself:

  • What do I value about birding?
  • What is my intent?
  • What is the result I want?
  • What brings me joy when I spend time noticing birds?

You may ask these questions about your birding in general. You may ask them each time you go birding or sit down to notice birds at your window. When we answer these questions for ourselves, and then in community with one another, we can begin to open up to myriad opportunities and ways to connect with birds, and each other, where everyone feels like they belong.

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