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by Madeleine Koski | December 19, 2022

The Urban Bird Collective was founded by Monica Bryand 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.

“Our ultimate goal is a sustained increase in Indigenous people and people of color’s participation in outdoor birding activities and to build authentic relationships with those that join us on walks and other activities,” says Monica. “We have heard time and again that people don’t feel safe being out in nature. Our number one goal is to make sure they feel comfortable being with us.”

Cold Creek near Minnehaha, courtesy of the Urban Bird Collective.

Kayaking on the Mississippi with the Mississippi Park Connection, courtesy of the Urban Bird Collective.

This year, the Urban Bird Collective received their second People for Parks Fund grant from the Minneapolis Parks Foundation to support the important work they do throughout the year. Earlier this fall, the Collective worked with BIPOC and LGBTQ individuals from various organizations including Friends of the Mississippi, the Longfellow Neighborhood Group, and Mississippi Park Connection, and led them on various bird outings throughout the Twin Cities. Some of the parks that they explored included Father Hennepin Bluff Park, Theodore Wirth Regional Park, Roberts Bird Sanctuary, North Mississippi Regional Park, Mississippi River Gorge, and Cedar Lake.

One new development this year is the location for the annual Winter Bird Count (renamed from the Christmas Bird Count), which is a national event that leads groups of eager birders through various 15-mile radius circles of parkland across the country. The location that the Collective will track this year is a new, previously uncounted section of land in Theodore Wirth Park and surrounding areas, which Monica is excited to include in the count. It includes land from Roberts Bird Sanctuary, Cedar Lake, and Westwood Hills. This walk is in partnership with the Loppet and in coordination with Roberts Bird Sanctuary and Cedar Lake Conservation Club. They expect to continue this count annually!

Minneapolis West Winter Bird Count, courtesy of the Urban Bird Collective.

As part of the People for Parks Fund grant this year, the Urban Bird Collective has included two events that center around Native American Communities. The first is a partnership with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community for the Zitkadan Wanyakapi (They See Birds) Audubon Winter Bird Count. Secondly, Native Elder Hope Flanagan, one of UBC’s amazing leaders, held an online event called Birds of Ojibwe Legends, which had over 140 participants, with a majority of those identifying as BIPOC. Hope is fluent in Ojibwe, and a skilled birder and plant expert.

Equity and cultural inclusion, community health and well-being, and connections to the natural world are at the core of the Urban Bird Collective’s work. They continue to eliminate financial barriers for both leaders and individuals participating in walks and have increased participation with BIPOC community organizations to experience nature in a safe and welcoming environment. In total, they will have reached or impacted at least 300 people over the last 12-month period.