By Willow Fodor, ACNC Board Member

Several years ago, I took my two boys to a bird banding program at Audubon Community Nature Center (ACNC). We walked into the woods where a net was set up to catch birds. As we approached, we saw several birds struggling in the light mesh. The leaders invited us to help carefully extract the birds from the net. We placed the birds into fabric bags and brought them to a table where they were identified, tabulated, and banded by a group of ornithologists.

After each bird was evaluated and their information recorded, we watched as they gently let the birds fly away. I was thrilled to have my children participate in this exciting learning opportunity and expose them to the scientists who were studying the birds that we so often saw and heard at Audubon.

Since that experience, my family and I have been engaged with ACNC as members, program participants, and volunteers. I currently serve on ACNC’s board of directors as well as its Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) committee.

In 2020, ACNC formed a committee composed of staff, board members, and volunteers committed to better understanding how we, as an organization, can address issues related to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, both internally and within the community.

One of the issues that arose while digging into these complex issues had to do with our namesake, John James Audubon. It was not until recently that I gave much thought to the historical figure from whom the Audubon organization gets its name. I began to read more about Audubon and his legacy. I knew that he was a well-known birder and artist of his time (early to mid-1800s) but that was about it.

I discovered that while studying birds to create his well-known works of art, he often killed the very bird that he was painting. Without access to color photography, this was a common way for naturalists to study animals. What was more troubling was learning that, like so many of his time, his treatment of his fellow human beings was no less life-threatening than his treatment of the birds he studied.

In one of Audubon’s written accounts of a birding expedition, he described coming across a family who had recently escaped from slavery. His account describes the family as being gathered around a fire, seeking warmth and nourishment. When Audubon approached, they welcomed him into their circle. In response, Audubon took the family back to the man who claimed to own them. Unlike the birds at bird banding, which we released after their short captivity, this family was forced back into society’s system of oppression.

Humans are complex beings. Audubon, the man, was instrumental to our understanding of the natural world. But he treated some others with disrespect and, at times, as less than human. As an organization bearing his name, we want to work towards a better awareness of and a more complete telling of the stories we share.

Just as the norms of ornithology have changed over time to include a more gentle and humane treatment of birds, so have the societal attitudes towards marginalized individuals. When I bring my family to events at ACNC, I am confident that we will feel welcomed and comfortable. But what about people from other backgrounds and cultures? Do people with different experience and identities feel as welcome and as comfortable as me?

With ACNC’s commitment to continuing to expand our organizational culture to be more inclusive, comes from the knowledge that Black, Indigenous, Latino/Latina, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, and other marginalized communities deserve an equitable opportunity to engage with nature. After all, Audubon Community Nature Center’s mission is to “build and nurture connections between people and nature…”. We cannot fulfill that mission without committing to the principles of equity and inclusion.

We recognize that we can’t do it all and that there are many other groups working towards these same goals. One thing we can do is to highlight some of that good work when it overlaps with our mission. One such event is Black Birders Week, celebrated during the first week of June. The inaugural event was held nationally in June of 2020, in response to an incident in which a white woman called the police on a black man who was innocently birdwatching in Central Park. This garnered national attention, continuing the conversation surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. The goal of Black Birder’s Week, per co-founder Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, is to begin “normalizing the fact that Black people exist in the birding and natural sciences community.”

Why is a specific week needed? Historically, Black individuals have been excluded from various academic and professional spaces and more specifically, lack representation within the birding community. A week-long celebration, composed of events that bring to light Black contributors to the arena of birding and nature science in general, works towards a goal of broader representation, illustrating “the many unique ways Black people connect in the outdoors.”

It is our hope that recognizing Black Birders Week is a small step towards a future where all community members feel welcome and embraced for their love of and contributions to understanding the natural world. We know that as an organization we must continue to address justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion practices in our community and the larger world. Nature is for everyone. This is something that we truly believe.

For more information, explore the resources below and join in the conversation around these topics in your community.

Willow Fodor is an ACNC Board Member

For more information on John James Audubon and the history of American birding visit:

For more information on Black Birders Week visit:

For more information on ACNC’s JEDI commitments visit:

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk, as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. Masks are highly recommended. More information can be found online at or by calling (716) 569-2345.