by Rasheena Fountain
Birds are everywhere; they soar over rural landscapes and walk along concrete sidewalks in big cities. Because birds are so easily accessible, catching the “birding bug” can happen anywhere at any time. In the same way, birders’ experiences are as diverse as the hues of the birds themselves. For Black History Month and quickly approaching Women’s History Month, we are highlighting a few black women birders who are members of the Seattle Audubon community.
Birder: Etta Cosey
Years Birding: 15
Seattle Audubon Affiliation: Master Birder and Volunteer
Favorite Saying or Quote: “The Lord is my light and salvation; whom should I fear.” (A scripture that helps Etta overcome any anxiety).
Favorite Bird: Gulls
Favorite Book about Birds: A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson
Finding Birding in the South
Etta was on a trip to Fort Worth, Texas in the spring of 2004, and as she walked along a levee with her grandson, noticed birds swimming in the river, perched in trees, and on the ground.
“They seemed to be everywhere,” Etta recalled.
Though Etta says that no one in her family is a birder, it was her daughter who encouraged her to visit a Wild Birds Unlimited store to find out about the birds that she had just seen. And then it started. She bought her first birding book—Birds of Texas.
“I returned to Seattle hooked on birds,” Etta said.
That fall she attended the American Birding Association conference in Reno, Nevada where she won a prize for gaining the most life birds at the event (what birders refer to as seeing a new bird for the first time).
And in Seattle, Etta was welcomed into the birding community, going on field trips with Seattle Audubon, and being encouraged to join groups like the Washington Ornithological Society and Western Field Ornithology.
Appreciating Birds is Appreciating our Natural Lands
Etta is the lone birder in the family, a plight that is fully encouraged by her family through bird-centric gifts and support. While the Texas trip sparked a curiosity about the birds that filled her landscapes, she grew up in semi-rural Louisiana where farm animals, vegetable plots, and fruit trees surrounded her neighborhood.
While birding is for enjoyment, she understands the importance of protecting these lands where she now enjoys birding.
“I am so grateful for the foresight of the organizations and government entities that have preserved and protected these areas,” she said.
In addition to being a part of the Seattle Audubon community, she is a supporter of The Nature Conservancy, and supports the work of everyone fighting against the loss of habitats that support wildlife and native plants.
Birding is Accessible
Etta enjoys learning about gulls because of their accessibility.
“They are a good group of birds to study since they are easy to find. Usually, there are gulls of different ages and several species standing side-by-side, close enough to be seen without the need for binoculars,” Etta said.
She enjoys putting research to use while birding, using species summaries as references and trying to see what the experts see as she observes the gulls.
“Bottom line, I just like the process of learning,” Etta said.
Etta believes that birding is for everyone, especially as a family activity. She regrets not being able to instill this appreciation for birding in her own children but has begun to create this with her grandchildren.
“My grandsons know how much I enjoy the sport, and hopefully, they will take up the hobby, too,” Etta said.
The Freedom of Birding
When Etta first started birding, she did have some anxiety about being a black birder; she was often the only black person in groups. Through her relationship with God, she has overcome this feeling—now relieved that fear does not distract her from enjoying birding. She has traveled throughout the United States and abroad to bird in diverse lands.
“I feel free. I just finished the Advanced Raptor class. It didn’t matter that I was the only black person, and none of them seemed to care either,” Etta said.
She acknowledges that being a woman does affect where she chooses to bird. If she does bird in isolated areas, she brings pepper spray. She admits that this fear distracts her from birding, so she instead picks places where she can enjoy her hobby without worry.
“Birding is one of the most relaxing and liberating things I do,” Etta said.