Photo by Theresa Brown
From left: Dexter Patterson, Rita Flores Wiskowski and Dr. Jeff Galligan
By Rita Flores Wiskowski
The BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin was founded in Madison in June 2021 by Dr. Jeff Galligan and Dexter Patterson. It’s a community for and of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) outdoor enthusiasts who are interested in birds and the beauty of natural Wisconsin and wish to connect with others who share the same passion.
The club’s events are open to BIPOC birders of all skill and interest levels and their allies. In fact, you’ll find that its field trips often are attended by those who have never birded before, those who are seasoned birders, and everyone in between. Children come with their parents and/or grandparents. People come alone and strike up conversations with others on the trails. Children run ahead and shout with delight. It’s all welcomed and expected at a BIPOC Birding Club event. Amid all the excitement, participants are always spotting and identifying birds. It’s this joyful feel that brings people back again and again.
With great success in garnering the attention of birders, would-be-birders and the media in its first few months, Jeff and Dexter had a vision of the club spreading to other parts of the state. So Jeff contacted me last fall to ask if I would be interested in spearheading a Milwaukee chapter. Already serving on the board of the Wisconsin Metro Audubon Society and tasked with exploring diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, I was immediately interested. The first Milwaukee birding event took place at Havenwoods State Park in November.
The tagline for the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin is “You Belong Here.” It’s a small tagline that says a lot. Belonging is a much bigger draw than merely fitting in. The club provides that sense of belonging, along with safety and security in numbers to explore birding spots.
Its events regularly attract 15 to 30 participants, even in the coldest months. But the tagline is not just about the club, it is about nature in general. There are reasons that people of color are not equally represented in natural spaces, birding societies, conservation efforts and STEM careers. Those reasons are varied and deep, with roots in systemic racism. The club is providing a gateway for BIPOC people to discover and reclaim their belonging in these spaces.
The short-term goal is to create “bird joy” -- a term coined by Dexter and used often by club participants. Bird joy encapsulates the mood of events, as well as the healing power of birding/nature. The long-term goals are envisioned in Jeff’s hopes that an event becomes “the catalyst for a young birder of color who gets that spark that leads to a career in ornithology or another STEM field.”
Jeff, Dexter and I are excited for the club’s future and the value it is bringing to so many. All events are free and open to the public. Binoculars are available to borrow. The club hosts one or two events each month and is looking forward to an incredible celebration of Black Birders Week at the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison on June 4.
To find out more, including contact information, follow the club on Facebook and visit the website: https://www.bipocbirdingclub.org/
The club is less than a year old and thus is looking for volunteers, donations, partnerships, exposure and ideas.
Rita Wiskowski also is manager of foundations and corporate relations at Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.