– By Nina Badwal –
A group on a bird walk (Photo: Andrés Jiménez Monge)
A recreational activity that was once seen fitting for retired white men is now attracting a diverse group of people. Bird watching – or birding which includes the visually impaired – has reached an all-time high as we deal with the stresses and frustrations of the seemingly never-ending pandemic. “It’s the fastest growing outdoor activity in North America,” according to Andrés Jiménez of Birds Canada.
“The moment we couldn’t go to malls, we couldn’t go to the movie theatres, we couldn’t go to bars with our friends or go dancing – the moment when we were a bit unplugged from society as we know it, we realized that a very colourful wood duck was always in the park around the corner just flocking and flying and swimming, waiting to be discovered by us,” says Jiménez.
An effort has been made by various groups to make nature more accessible to women and people of color. Toronto’s Brown Girl Outdoor World aims to “change the narrative through adventure.” Initiatives like Flock Together and the Feminist Bird Club started in London, England and New York, respectively – both groups now have chapters in Toronto.
Yellow-rumped warbler (Photo: Andrés Jiménez Monge)
The Feminist Bird Club is a collective dedicated to promoting diversity in birding. Suzanne Isaacs is the co-founder of the Toronto chapter. She says that historically, birding used to be a white male-dominated sport because those were the people who had the money to buy the proper equipment for the hobby. “And there’s also been an expectation of what gear you have: do you have the right lenses, do you have the right binoculars – so if you didn’t have the right gear you would feel intimidated as a woman to go on a group (walk), and then to speak up or to ask a question.”
Isaacs says those feelings are still an issue today. “We’ve had people in our groups come to us and say that they’ve felt pressured because they don’t always know the right birds and they don’t want to ask the wrong question.”
To make the activity more inclusive, the Feminist Bird Club is trying to encourage an equitable birding community by making people feel comfortable and not judged on their birding knowledge. “We put more of a focus on the experience and appreciation of birds and nature, more than an emphasis on there being the right way or having the right equipment.”
Top spots to see the birds
Some terrific spots to see our feathered friends in Toronto include: Tommy Thompson Park on Toronto’s waterfront, High Park, the Scarborough Bluffs, Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Etobicoke and Downsview Park in North York just to name a few.
Screech owl (Photo: Andrés Jiménez Monge)
For residents of St. James Town who would like to stay closer to their neighbourhood, places like Don Valley Park and Don River, Rosedale Ravine, Riverdale Park East, Moss Park, and Evergreen Brickworks are also great birding areas. But if a short walking distance is more ideal, the best place to watch birds is the St. James Cemetery, according to Jiménez. “St. James Cemetery is the place to be. One hundred and seven species of birds can be seen at the cemetery including screech owls, cooper’s hawks, warblers, blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers and many more.”
St. James Cemetery is the oldest operating cemetery in Toronto, so it may also have some of the oldest trees, and that’s where birds like to flock. “Look for any parks with old trees,” advises Jiménez. “They have insects, they have places to hide, and they have holes to peck. An old tree is like having a gigantic diner available.”
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