Audubon Honors Women Of Birding World

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From left: Judith Mirembe, Kimberly Kaufman, Leticia de Mello Bueno, Molly Adams. Photos, from left: Esther Ruth Mbabazi, Camilla Cerea/Audubon, Jayme Gershen, Eva Deitch

It would never have occurred to me to think about this, but I am fine with the surprise:

When Women Run the Bird World

For decades female birders have been the silent majority. Now they’re starting their own movements to transform a privileged culture.

On the surface, birding might seem like neutral ground—an activity that any curious, nature-loving person can enjoy, regardless of age or gender. Go on a hike with your local ornithological club and at least half the attendees will be women. Circle the marsh with your binoculars and you’ll probably see a woman doing the same.

But female birders don’t always feel comfortable in the field, even with the rising awareness around #MeToo. Many of us keep on despite frequent put-downs and hostility, enduring dismissive comments about our knowledge and in the worst cases, sexual harassment. I’ve had men touch my hips to correct my perfectly fine birding stance. A ranger at a national wildlife refuge winked and told me about his “big, loaded gun.” My friends have been propositioned in parks and stalked by drivers along country roads. Not even a 16-year-old can bird in peace without commenters attacking her abilities and life list.

Like most matters of importance, women have been integral to birding from the get-go. Female ornithologists drew attention to avifauna in the late 1800s, and suffragists helped the movement take off in the early 1900s. Today, 42 percent of U.S. birders identify as women. Personally, female birders have run my world ever since I picked up a field guide in college. My ornithology professor was a woman. My boss at Audubon is a woman, as are most of my colleagues throughout the office. My birding circle is mainly members of the Feminist Bird Club.

And yet men have the loudest voices and the most power in the industry. The closer you get to the top of the birding, conservation, and academic ranks, the more the gender balance tips. At Audubon, for instance, the executive staff is 75 percent male, and the organization has never had a female president in its 114 years. This pattern persists industry wide. Men hold the highest positions at the American Birding Association, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the American Bird Conservancy. They dominate bookshelves, festivals, competitions, and gear and travel ads. They build their reputations and livelihoods around the practice and reap the greatest profits…

And the feature immediately after continues the theme with the first of five substories:

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The Phoebes, a female-centric birding group formed by members of the Tropical Audubon Society. Photo: Jayme Gershen

Birding for Solidarity: The Phoebes

Eight women decided they had enough of the sport’s competitiveness, so they created a community to lift their sisters up.

If you’re in the presence of a male Eastern Phoebe, he’ll let you know. The small sooty-brown flycatcher cues his own arrival with a raspy, two-toned fee-bee that rings out from the woodlands. The female phoebe, meanwhile, keeps a low profile among the branches. Her nest, which she builds on her own, is an engineering marvel: a woven collage of mud, moss, grass, and fur.

But her subtle strength and fierce independence tend to go unappreciated—a feeling the Phoebes, a women’s birding group in South Florida, know all too well and are trying to amend, one mindful excursion at a time.

The founders of the Phoebes first met on a muggy October morning in 2017 during a fall-migration walk led by record-breaking birder Noah Strycker, the Tropical Audubon Society, and Leica Store Miami. The women hailed from a range of backgrounds—biology, education, culinary and visual arts—but they felt an instant connection through their shared love of nature and kindred perspectives. They spent much of the hike along the Biscayne Bay laughing, filling in the pauses between sightings with chatter and queries for Strycker, who responded deftly and supportively. By the end of the day, the women knew they’d experienced something different from the typical ID- and list-obsessed outing. They wanted to build on the collaborative spirit and decided to meet again.

Over dinner at wildlife photographer and writer Kirsten Hines’ house in Miami a few nights later, the ladies vented about their frustrations with “serious” birding: the competitiveness, the tendency to dismiss common species, the contempt toward newbies, the mansplaining. They decided to embrace their own style of birding—one that moved at its own pace, dwelled more on the animals and their environments, and above all, accepted any woman with an interest in Aves, no matter her skill or knowledge.

But what to call this sisterhood? The women settled on the Phoebes, in part because the drab songbird is often overshadowed by Florida’s tropical species. The name had feminist connotations as well: It paid homage to Phoebe Snetsinger, the driven, whip-smart birder who documented 8,300 avian species in her fifties and sixties, and Phoebe, a Titan from Greek mythology whose name signifies brightness.

“It was a powerful, feminine night,” says Leticia de Mello Bueno, one of the founding eight, who is now a communications manager at Audubon. “I felt queenly. There was the sense that something significant was happening through us.”

Read the whole story here.

One thought on “Audubon Honors Women Of Birding World

  1. Pingback: Audubon Honors Women Of Birding World — La Paz Group | huggers.ca

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