The International Feminist Club Bringing Birding to Everyone

feminist birding club on an outing

The Spruce / Photo Illustration by Amelia Manley / Karla Noboa

There are about 45 million people in the United States who call themselves birders, spending time in the great outdoors either enjoying the avian friends in the area or trekking across the miles in pursuit of a rare bird. 

Many hobbies got boosts in participants as people in lockdown were looking for things to do that were safe and fun, and they were desperate to connect with nature. Birding fit the bill on all counts. In fact, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, on May 9, 2020, birders set a record for Global Big Day, an annual celebration of birds all around us. On that pandemic day, participants logged more than 2 million sightings of more than 6,479 species, shattering the previous single-day checklist total by 30%.

And yet for all its popularity, people of color make up a very low percentage of birders nationwide. Some surveys put the number of non-Hispanic white birdwatchers as high as almost 95%. Other groups that were interested in birdwatching were feeling not only excluded, but often unsafe when they were out in nature. When one woman from New York set out to change the dynamic and do good at the same time, the International Feminist Bird Club took flight. 

Opening Birdwatching to All

Molly Adams wanted to open the circle and bring the beautiful world of birdwatching to everyone: people who are indigenous, trans, Black, Hispanic, female, disabled, non-binary, gay, straight, neurodiverse and from all socioeconomic backgrounds. But Adams’ mission went even further. Just as important as the inclusiveness is the club’s focus on social justice. The club tackles injustices that affect not only the environment and conservation efforts but also situations that involve racism and misogyny. 

The year after its founding, the International Feminist Bird Club spread its wings and it hasn’t looked back since. Adams wanted to grow the activist branch of the group, so now-President Karla Noboa asked her if they could start a chapter in Boston. “She said yes, and it exploded,” Noboa says. “The birds are an avenue to engage people in social justice.”

The bird club now has more than 20 U.S. chapters, plus groups in The Netherlands, Canada and Scotland. Several separate groups in other nations act as affiliates to the global family tree. 

Noboa says the groups primarily go on bird walks, and have been encouraging more “birding sits.” “You just sit instead of walking around just because it’s more inclusive,” they say. “You don’t need to hike a mountain to be outdoorsy. You can go to a park or look out your window. Anything can make you someone who appreciates nature.”

Fundraising for Causes

Some of the chapters also do their own fundraising. Noboa said their group has done a trivia night at a brewery where the brewery donated a portion of their sales for a cause. Other groups have sponsored activities such as bingo nights, movie nights and lectures. 

A group-wide fundraiser that has proven to be quite popular is an annual patch. “Every year with the patch, we choose an organization to donate the proceeds to,” Noboa says. “We will sit down and think ‘What is a pressing issue right now in our society that people are raising funds for?’“

Proceeds from past patches have benefited initiatives such as Black Lives Matter, and this year, the International Feminist Bird Club’s female Belted Kingfisher patch will benefit Honor the Earth. This is a Native American-run organization that champions Native environmental issues and also supports the survival of sustainable Native communities via financial and political resources. 

Sometimes, a pressing issue bubbles up and the birders pivot their patch plan to direct funding to a cause that resonates with the group and has an immediate need. “That’s kind of where the feminist name comes in. It’s a way to show that we do have these values and we work toward a future that aligns with these values,” says Noboa.

Each year’s patch is a different design, and that has made them a bit of a hot commodity. “They have become a collectible,” Noboa says. 

Helping the world at large is a big part of what this bird club is about. But at the core, it is also about making the world available to the people in it. “The outdoors are for everyone,” Noboa says. “They can be a very scary space for a lot of different types of people, but it doesn’t have to be like that. If we can build a community for people who aren’t the outdoor majority, we can make it safer for everyone.”

Article Sources
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  1. Global Big Day bird-watching event sets world record. Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  2. Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis. United States Fish & Wildlife Service.