Jason Ward is an Atlanta-based birder and host of the web series “Birds of North America,” in which he shares his love for birds by traveling around the continent. He joined Lois Reitzes on “City Lights” to talk about being a birder of color as well as what Atlantans can expect for the fall/winter birding seasons.
In May, a video filmed by Black birder Christian Cooper, in which he is falsely accused of threatening a white woman while birding in New York’s Central Park, went viral. The woman is now being prosecuted by the Manhattan district attorney for falsely reporting an incident in the third degree.
When Ward first saw the video he was surprised to hear a trembling and nervous Cooper, who he knows personally as a strong and confident person.
“It really shed light on how dangerous he perceived this situation to be,” said Ward.
The confrontation itself did not surprise Ward, however. He says he knows that a Black man informing a white woman she needs do ‘x,’ leash her dog in Cooper’s case, could result in hostilities.
“I can’t afford to allow it to change my outlook on birding,” Ward said. “There’s been decades and decades and decades of nature shows on TV and wildlife enthusiasts in the public eye who have been white and there isn’t a face of representation for kids of color to look up to and aspire to be like as they grow older.”
As host of “Birds of North America,” Ward has had the opportunity to be that face for the next generation.
Aside from anger and condemnation toward the events Christian Cooper caught on camera, another reaction Ward has heard from people of color is: “This is why I don’t go to the parks and this is why I don’t partake in certain activities.”
Ward says what happened shouldn’t discourage people of color from partaking in outdoor activities. He simply suggests they bring a friend and remain aware of their surroundings.
For those in Atlanta looking to get outside and enjoy birds, fall migration is here, and it’s one of Ward’s favorite times of year.
“Things will really start to ramp up toward the end of September and the beginning of October,” said Ward.
And while the season is longer than spring migration, it also comes with challenges that Ward enjoys, such as colorful birds having molted, which makes them harder to identify.
The birds are not singing as much either, adding to the difficulty of identification.
For winter birding, Ward says, Atlanta’s mild winters reward residents with ducks all over the metro area. Summer ducks like mallards and wood ducks will soon give way to a plethora of other kinds.
“There are so many species of duck that stop over,” said Ward.
Ward also looks out for the sharp-shinned hawks that pass through Atlanta during winter.
Like always, he encourages everyone to get out and explore the birds nearby, no special equipment required.
“Even if you don’t have binoculars, just close your eyes and allow yourself to hear the bird sounds,” Ward said. “Take a couple deep breaths and things will start to get a little bit better. Birds are therapeutic.”