Author encourages birding for new audiences

News from the region
Kansas City
Published Date

KANSAS CITY Mo -- Getting outdoors and enjoying nature such as by birdwatching is healthy for children, and their heightened awareness of the environment around them is good for society, author and ornithologist John C. Robinson said Tuesday, March 1, in Kansas City.

"But it takes more than an introduction to nature via a single field trip to truly nurture an appreciation and enjoyment of the outdoors by young people," Robinson said. "Youth need role models, mentors and repeat experiences to become aware that they are free to enjoy nature for a lifetime. They need the spark that gets them going and also need to develop a sense of belonging in the outdoors."

Robinson read some passages from his book, “Birding for Everyone, Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers.” He spoke to 80 birders and educators at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center. The event was hosted by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

A career ornithologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, Robinson shared how people often commented to him that he was the only African-American bird enthusiast they had ever met. That prompted him to leave his federal career and begin working to broaden interest in nature among people of all ethnic backgrounds.

Early in his birding career, Robinson said, he often felt that he needed permission to be in the woods with binoculars watching birds, as if he was intruding where people of color rarely go. But on outings with other birders he realized he had a gift for hearing and remembering bird calls and spotting birds in trees. That gave him the confidence that he belonged among the bird watching enthusiasts and could contribute to the field.

"Young people, especially those from urban environments, need mentors from their community such as parents, educators and volunteers who take them outdoors to develop skills and a sense of belonging in nature," Robinson said.

“Repetition is important,” he said. "And a more focused effort by the conservation community is needed to make that happen for urban youth."