Don Torino's Life in the Meadowlands: Our Birding Family Takes A Hit

I am sure every one of us felt deeply offended and saddened by the incident in the Central Park Ramble last week. This was a wakeup call that spoke to our sense of humanity and a sad reminder that not much has changed and we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to even begin to try to make things as they should be.

And although it may seem trivial to many and difficult to understand for some I was not only personally, deeply offended as a human being but also as a birder. Yes, here was someone out trying to enjoy a passion that is a big part of who I am and just for simply asking a person to leash their dog (something many of us have done many times on the birding trails) was threatened, endangered, and humiliated because of the color of his skin. 

Immediately I wanted to personally say I was very sorry this happened but also let him know that of course he is a member not only of the family of man but also a member of our tightknit birding community. Our family where all of us know each other in one way or another, have the same pursuits and passion, and most of all possess a common love of the birds and nature that binds us together and makes us kindred spirits no matter who we are.

Now granted, birding has come a long way and yes it still has a good ways to go about bringing in more people of color before it is considered a vast melting pot of family members. For too long birding itself was considered a well-to-do white person’s pastime. Years back birding clubs were for an elite few that were already considered expert birders that traveled the world with only the finest equipment and did their best to keep birding groups as their own private society. 

Today birders are the kindest, most giving, sharing and welcoming group of people I am proud to know. But years ago, even as a middle-aged white man when I first went out with birding groups it took a while to fit in and feel welcome. I can only imagine how hard or impossible it may have been for others back in those bad old days. But a lot has changed over the years and as National Audubon Society President David Yarnold said, “This is Not Your Grandmother’s Audubon Anymore…”  And I am sure she would be very glad it isn’t but we still have a long way to go before everyone feels open to going outdoors with a pair of binoculars, something most of us just take for granted .

I firmly believe that birding is untimely the great equalizer. It does not matter how old you are, male or female, how much money you have or don’t have, what kind of car you drive or if you drive at all, where you happen to live, what you do for a living or yes, even the color of your skin. It’s all about the birds.  I have welcomed people on our field trips for many years with absolutely no idea where they come from or what they do for a living and there is no need to discuss such trivial issues when witnessing the wonders of migration and watching an eagle soar overhead.

 The future of our birds will depend on everyone being welcome to the birding family. We will not be able to fight climate change, preserve habitat and protect endangered species unless we all step up and help more people from all walks of life find in their hearts the love of the birds and nature the way we all have. We cannot keep it to ourselves. We need to help provide the opportunity and the chance for everyone to discover the outdoors. Our birds are depending on us all.

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