Three people sit on concrete seating looking at someone who is speaking; one person uses a walking aid. In the foreground is a wide trail the group is on. In the background are white and red buildings, grass, trees and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Reimagining Birding: What I Learned from Leading my First Birding Event 

Last week, my fellow Birdability intern Wooju and I led our first-ever birding event at Crissy Field. Going into it, I felt nervous yet optimistic, ready to lead and learn. And learn I did.

Overall, our event was successful. Most importantly, it gave me many new ideas and takeaways I wanted to talk about today.

Three people sit on concrete seating looking at someone who is speaking; one person uses a walking aid. In the foreground is a wide trail the group is on. In the background are white and red buildings, grass, trees and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Photo from Pilot Bird Watching Event

One of my biggest takeaways was that leading a bird event can be something other than what I first envisioned when hearing the words bird walk or birding event. What do you picture when you hear those words? Are you, like me, picturing a long walk on a winding dirt forest path led by a knowledgeable guide? Or do you think of something else: something more creative, accessible, and community-based?

What I realized was that Wooju and I attempted to adapt our pre-existing vision of a birding event to make it accessible rather than reimagine our approach to a birding event. Why does birding have to be a walking event? Why does it have to be in a remote area? Why does it have to be a designated length of time? Well, truthfully, it doesn’t. 

In reimagining our approach to accessible bird watching, I learned that first, I have to expand my idea of bird watching outside the limited confines of programming that historically excludes marginalized communities, including disabled folks. As one of our wonderful attendees suggested, what if our main event wasn’t a bird walk but slow birding: an intentional form of bird watching aimed to slow down and appreciate the birds and environment that in a fast-paced technological world go unnoticed. And that’s what we plan to do.

As we approach our main Migratory Bird Day Event, we are crafting a unique program that prioritizes accessibility, agency, and community. Our event will feature a welcoming gathering space, information about the history, ecology and species at our site for the curious, binoculars for bird exploration, and observation-based activities. Importantly, we offer the freedom to come and go as you please, ensuring a comfortable and inclusive experience for all.

Honestly, this is the type of event I would love to attend and something I am excited to lead. Engaging outdoors doesn’t have to be physically demanding or require unique expertise. It can instead be about noticing the small things we may otherwise miss on a guided walk or casual stroll. It’s about facilitating a community space for people to build new connections, share interests and stories, and feel empowered to get what they want and need out of the space.

While I’m excited to reimagine our event, I know this is just the beginning of our journey.  As I continue to learn, adapt, and grow through this planning and leadership experience, I’m confident our event will evolve and grow too.

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