The Urban Bird Collective was founded in 2018 to support birdwatchers of different skill levels in leading walks in their own neighborhoods. They work to create safe and welcoming spaces for all communities, including Black, Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQ individuals and more, to explore birding and the great outdoors.
Monica Bryand is the founder of the Urban Bird Collective. Her passion for birding comes second only to her vision for sharing these beautiful natural spaces with others. “I have been birding for almost 20 years and have always wanted more BIPOC and LGBTQ folks in the birding world, joining me on walks and building a more diverse, inclusive birding community,” Monica told us. “Sometimes we have to build new systems to ensure BIPOC folks feel safe. I love sharing my passion for birding with others.”
The Urban Bird Collective aims to “unmask the unknown,” says Monica. “It’s all about showing people where a safe path might be and letting them know what birds are there, and then giving people the opportunity to experience these spaces with others who look like them is really important.”
The Urban Bird Collective has led five walks in Minneapolis parks this fall thanks to support from a People for Parks Fund grant it received earlier this year. Each of these walks brings volunteers and staff from different organizations together to experience nature and birdwatching on walks led by, and for, BIPOC communities. Organizations such as Midwest Mixed, Friends of the Mississippi River, and Voices for Racial Justice joined the Urban Bird Collective for walks within the Roberts Bird Sanctuary and the Mississippi Gorge Regional Park, as well as nature reserves in both St. Paul and Richfield.
The tours remain intimate, with around 5-12 participants on each walk. While small, most groups include participants of all ages, from kids to their parents, and even grandparents. The multigenerational presence within these outings adds another enriching dynamic to the experience.
“Thank you for an amazing time!! It was a great way to spend the morning with y’all. I still can’t get over how pretty that yellow throat is, hope to get off work and join again so that I can refresh my soul.”Chris, at the Woodlake Nature Center
Monica emphasized that these walks are about more than just birdwatching. Because the Urban Bird Collective doesn’t hold tours specifically for “birders,” it’s also about an exploration of Minneapolis parks that people don’t know about or don’t frequent often. As Monica says, “It’s about discovering the hidden gems that are right here in our city, or right on the cusp of the city.”
“Birding today was another reminder of how we are able to heal collectively when we are connected to … our natural surroundings. We take time to pause, to listen to the birds and be in awe of our surroundings. It brings a sense of calm and happiness. “Laura, along the Mississippi Gorge Regional Park
As temperatures cool this fall, tours are less frequent, but Monica is looking forward to the annual Zitkadaŋ Waŋyakapi walk (translated to “They See Birds”), formerly known as “The Christmas Bird Count,” which this year will be in partnership with the Mdewakanton Sioux in Shakopee for a 15-mile radius bird count.
Tours will start up again next spring, and Monica says they’ll hopefully be getting out on the Mississippi River, which offers an additional type of birdwatching experience.
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