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Saturday, March 02, 2024
Bird Watching
Courtesy of Dexter Patterson

‘Wisco Birder’ builds inclusive space for birders of color

UW-Madison faculty member Dexter Patterson shares how birding brings a new perspective to science.

Birds have always been a remarkable thing to University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty member Dexter Patterson. A communicator, educator and photographer by trade, birding provided him an outlet to get outside and learn. 

“The ‘it’ [of birding] for me was this continuous knowledge of learning,” Patterson told The Daily Cardinal. “This lifelong learning process of always getting something new.”

However, Patterson felt hesitant to enter the birding space. 

“I always loved birds. But growing up, I never felt like that was something I could share with people,” he said. “I never really saw people of color birding, and I never saw people like me that were considered birders.” 

Patterson began documenting his birding on Instagram, where he’s known as the “Wisco Birder,” utilizing his communications background to bring others with him on his birding adventures.

“It was one of those passions that just kind of stayed within me until I got to a point in my life where I was like, ‘You know what? I love these little things, and they make me happy, and maybe they might make somebody else happy.’ So I decided to put myself out there,” Patterson said.

In 2021, he started the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin with Jeff Galligan, a board of director member at the Madison Audubon. Together, Patterson and Galligan provide a space for all people to learn about birds and enjoy the outdoors together. 

“From the beginning, I wanted to focus on the people who have never been birders or beginning birders that may be intimidated by the scientific nature of birds in general,” Patterson said. 

The BIPOC Birding Club leads birding field trips and events in local parks and nature preserves in the Madison and Milwaukee areas. The club focuses on creating a safe space for people of color to explore the outdoors, but it is open to anyone curious and willing to learn.

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When on a birding walk, Patterson reminds his group to just pay attention. 

“You don't need to be a pro,” he said. “If you see a bird, you’re being helpful.”

Patterson enjoys how birding provides a new lens to view science — one of internal curiosity and personal connection. 

“They need to understand [that science] impacts my life,” Patterson said. “We need to shift to being a part of that solution and showing people this is how it impacts your life.”

He takes this approach with birding, aiming to create a story out of observations. His work generates learning opportunities and sparks conversations about climate change impacts. 

“Years ago, you rarely would see an American White Pelican in Wisconsin, and now they nest here … you're starting to see these migratory ranges change," Patterson said. “There's a story here that could be told. These birds are being impacted and so are their environments.”

“It is most definitely a conversation starter for something as important as climate change,” he added.

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