Western New York is blessed with many fine woman birders. There are bird artists Christy Domino, Karen Lewis, and Betsy Potter. Sue Barth leads the region’s breeding bird atlas project. Celeste Morien has been deeply involved in conservation matters and is working on a purple martin project at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Beverly Seyler and Bernie Kester are officers of the Buffalo Ornithological Society, Marcia Heckel serves on its council, and Karen Landau annually indexes the society’s journal, The Prothonotary. Kester and Holly Sweeney are world travelers in search of birds.
It was not always thus. Like hunting and fishing, birding was considered a men’s activity until late in the twentieth century. Indeed, there were serious barriers to women’s participation. For example, I belonged then to the Genesee Ornithological Society in Rochester, whose constitution specifically excluded women until finally, recognizing the quality of local birdwatcher Gertrude Davis, we rescinded that exclusion in the 1960s. As that first paragraph makes clear, we have come far, with women playing essential roles in birding.
And now we have two young women, Lauren Makeyenko and Molly Dreyer, to thank for establishing the Buffalo Chapter of the international Feminist Bird Club. Locally, it is simply referred to as the Feminist Bird Club or FBC.
The Buffalo FBC chapter was founded in response to Buffalo Audubon Society’s 2019 strategic plan that calls for more diversity in nature activities. The new club’s mission is “dedicated to promoting inclusivity in birding while providing a safe opportunity for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, BIPOC, and women to connect with the natural world.” In short: “It is for feminists of all gender identities and skill levels.”
Makayenko and Dreyer explain, “Our vision for the club is to create an organization that encourages members from diverse backgrounds to come together to commune with nature and each other through birdwatching. At its core, birdwatching is a simple way to make that connection; however, it is too often perceived as an expensive and time-consuming hobby with a steep learning curve. We believe that the joy of birdwatching comes as much from watching a single hawk perched in a city tree as it does from seeing a rare migratory warbler in an exotic location and we hope to share this simple and rewarding joy with others.”
Recent club outings have included birdwatching in Beaver Island State Park, Buckhorn Island State Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Red Jacket Riverfront Park, Delaware Park, and Black Rock Canal Park. Many of those locations are not often visited for birdwatching and thus offer new possibilities. The group also participated in a tree planting and park cleanup project with Buffalo Olmstead Parks Conservancy.
FBC leader Makeyenko brings a useful background to this role. She is currently director of education for the Buffalo Audubon Society. Before that, she was experience manager at Tifft Nature Preserve, co-instructed a Great Lakes Ecology course at the University at Buffalo for fifteen years, and worked as an educator at Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve. She is also board president of Buffalo Girlchoir.
Co-leader Dreyer’s interests span habitat restoration, community engagement, and social justice. She earned her master’s degree in environmental and water resources engineering from the University at Buffalo in 2020 where she led a living shoreline restoration project on campus and contributed to research in this area. She also volunteers her time as a wildlife rehabilitator and participated in the New York Master Naturalist training program.
This spring, a rare pair of Wilson’s phalaropes showed up at the small ponds along Ridge Lea Road in Amherst. Phalaropes are most unusual in that their gender appearance and roles are different from those of other species. Female phalaropes are more colorful than the males and the males take on nest building, incubating, and care of the young birds. We might consider their unexpected appearance here a salute to our Feminist Bird Club.