Birding in the Great Outdoors

Perspectives from Black Birder Anwar Abdul-Qawi

Anwar Abdul-Qawi has his eyes on the sky. With binoculars in hand, he is not only looking to spot a feathered friend in flight, but as the Academy’s lead keeper and educator of animal programs, he is seeking new ways to inspire the public about the natural world.  

Whether it is on the museum floor or behind the scenes, in the classroom or in the field, you can be sure to find Abul-Qawi connecting with everyone he meets on the importance of conservation. And as a fellow panelist for the Academy’s upcoming event, Black Excellence in Birding, he will be sharing his own experiences — and the stage — with several well-known Black birdwatchers, all who have a mission to get everyone outdoors and involved in nature. 

We reached out to learn more. 

Tell us more about your birding journey. 

Anwar Abdul-Qawi: You could say my birding journey started backwards from most others. In 2019 on my way into work I would find and collect dead birds in the city and identify them with the Academy’s Ornithology department. As odd as that may sound, it opened my eyes to the vast amount of diversity found in the city. Every day I would go out and find sometimes up to six birds and bring them in. Unfortunately, once covid hit and everything was shut down I stepped away from bird collecting. I decided to bike and explore various parks in the city and would find many living bird species. So, in 2021 I invested in a camera to capture every moment and here we are! 

My favorite aspect of birding is the thrill of simply being out in nature. Growing up in the city you get so used to the noise and crowds of people. Finally being out, away from all of that, is a blessing. But my most interesting birding experience happened this weekend. I decided to go to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve always wanted to capture birds of prey in action. Luckily, an Osprey was out and I managed to capture it fishing!  

Why is being out in nature so important? 

AAQ: As someone who loves birds it’s very important that we focus on all animals, invertebrates, reptiles, mammals, etc. Conservation too because without these various ecosystems we lose so much wildlife. If we don’t take care of our forests, rivers and oceans, we will ultimately lose everything. Birding is very important because it gets people outside! A lot of the time people will tend to not care about wildlife simply because they don’t experience it for themselves. Getting out and birding helps with appreciating your local wildlife! 

How can we get outdoors, start birdwatching and learn more about the natural world around us? 

AAQ: When it comes to getting out in nature everyone is welcome! It all depends on what the person is interested in. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a hobbyist, there is something for everyone. You don’t need expensive gear to get out and have a good time. A simple pair of binoculars, a bird guide and your phone are all you need to get started. Doing research in your area ahead of time can be helpful and depending on your area various wildlife refuges and organizations usually host group birding activities to help get you started. The city is a great place to start as well, but parks are definitely better. It might feel weird at first just being out and looking up at the sky while others are staring at you but the more you do it the more comfortable it will feel! 

All images taken by Anwar Abdul-Qawi


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