Word's getting around that I put out a birdfeeder last week.
A pretty red-headed woodpecker has bobbed underneath the feeder all morning, licking up the dropped seeds. A crow noticed my bowl of peanuts, and he would like some privacy while he decides which ones he's going to eat. The crow has clicked impatiently at the woodpecker for hours and resorted to the occasional dive-bombing. The woodpecker is undeterred, sliding in between two planters to enjoy a pile of seeds where the crow can't reach. A champion!
This is the sort of little playlet that captivates bird-nerds worldwide, including the organizers of the Seattle chapter of the Feminist Bird Club. The FBC held its first outing of the year last weekend, and they're recruiting volunteers for their — get this — neigh-bird-hood program through Friday of this week.
“The mission is to provide experiences birding outside that are inclusive, affirming to people who may not have safe access to it, to bring together our passions for the environment and social justice,” says Marni Sorin, one of the founding members.
Yeah, but why a feminist bird club? What sets this group apart?
“Any activity can be exclusive and hyper-competitive and excessively about the winning of it,” says member Wendy Walker. “I don’t think that’s unique to birding, but it’s something that can happen ... What I’ve loved about being a participant with FBC in Seattle is the intentionality of not having that experience. … FBC was created to be explicitly welcoming and to have a social justice purpose.”
That mission manifests in ways both subtle and unmistakable: On each of the group’s casual outings, attendees introduce each other with pronouns; group policy is to move at a pace that accommodates everyone, so nobody’s left behind; and fundraisers benefit progressive causes.
Plus, as the weather warms, there’s plenty for the group to see.
“I get excited about every bird I see,” says Walker. “There are no bad birds. They’re the wildlife that’s most accessible in the city.”
On one recent stroll through a cemetery, she saw a tiny chipping sparrow declaring its presence from atop a leafless tree — not just background noise of a city, in those little chirps amongst the tombstones was a story of survival. “This bird is clearly intent on setting its territory,” she says. “It’s determined to start a family and make a life.”
The FBC is planning a series of neigh-bird-hood walks in May, connecting small groups together with a volunteer who knows where the best peeping can be done. If you’d like to participate — no experience necessary, and they have a few binoculars to lend if you don’t have your own — you have until this Friday to sign up.
As city-living bipeds, we’re accustomed to looking around at our eye level, or if we’re shy, at our shoes. Bird-watching is a little reminder to look up, that there’s an entire community taking place over our very heads. Untether yourself from the sidewalk and gaze up into the sky, Seattle. Leave your old life behind and feel yourself buoyed into the heavens.
Or look at a pigeon eating an old hamburger, whatever. Birds are just neat.