Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Finding community in ‘The BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin’

People of color are underrepresented in environmental organizations, one club creates community with BIPOC birders, allies
Dexter Patterson/The BIPOC Birding Club
BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin co-founder Jeff Galligan holds a bird on a club outing

While birding on Juneteenth in 2021, birders Jeff Galligan and Dexter Patterson began discussing about how many birding spaces don’t include people of color. Deciding they wanted to help change that, they founded The BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin.

The club connects BIPOC birdwatchers and allies of all experience levels by hosting birding events throughout the state. With people of color largely underrepresented in environmental organizations, Patterson said the club aims to create a safe space for the BIPOC community to experience and learn about the outdoors and birdwatching, also known as birding.

Patterson said he always liked birds, but didn’t always give them the attention he now feels they deserve. It wasn’t until he met Jeff Galligan, his advisor at Madison College, that he realized he could be a birder.


“I think when I met Jeff it was the first time where I felt like birds were for me,” Patterson said. “Because here’s this Black man, and he’s a birder, and I was like ‘oh, he likes birds, too. It’s ok to be a birder.’”

After speaking with Galligan about birds, Patterson came across a video which changed his whole perspective. In the video, an osprey flies toward the water, pushes its talons out and then hits the water. At first, Patterson thought the bird had drowned, but then it emerged from the water and took off with a big fish. Patterson said this is his “spark bird,” and after that video, Patterson decided to learn as much as he could about birds.

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Galligan works in higher education at Madison Area Technical College, but he’s been fascinated by birds since he was young. Though he has been birding his entire adult life, it became more serious and intentional in 2014.

“I think I got steered away from STEM-related professions when I was a young kid,” Galligan said. “Now I’m just kind of returning to that in my own way.”

In addition to birding, Galligan is passionate about connecting people of color with opportunities in the natural and environmental sciences, which lack representation.

Despite ethnic minorities comprising 38% of the U.S. population, a 2018 report found they make up at most 16% of staff and board members in environmental organizations. According to Galligan, these numbers are not a result of a lack of interest in the environment among communities of color, but rather a lack of opportunities and access.

If a person of color wants to get connected with more opportunities in environmental science, Galligan said it’s important to find a mentor. Organizations like the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin could help make that connection.

“Get connected with people who will look out for you and work with you,” Galligan said.

Galligan had wanted to form a birding club for some time, especially after years of traveling around Wisconsin on birding trips and not seeing many people of color on the trails. The summer of 2020, especially following the murder of George Floyd, made him want to find a way to bring people of color together in a place he didn’t usually see them in.

Patterson and Galligan shared this sentiment and decided to act on their aspirations.

“I was like, ‘let’s do it right,’” Patterson said. “And the main reason was we love birding and we just don’t see people like us … in the birding community. So we just wanted to be part of that change. We wanted to be the solution.”

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At their first event, Patterson said they didn’t know how many people would show up, but they were determined to have fun no matter the turnout.

Around 15 people showed up to the first event, and Patterson told the story of his “spark bird.” About 10 minutes into the walk, they saw an osprey dive into the water and carry away a huge carp. Since then, the osprey has been a meaningful symbol for the club and the club’s logo.

“That was the bird that brought us together,” Patterson said. “That’s wild.”

The club hosts events across the state and locally in Madison and Milwaukee, according to Galligan. No experience is necessary, and they always welcome new birders.

Often, the events include meeting in a park or outdoor area. Everyone spends a few hours walking and identifying birds, Galligan said. The club also hosts special events like bird banding, where people help put bands around bird’s feet to track and identify individual birds later on.

While many people come for the birds, they stay for the community. The BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin is for members of the BIPOC community and allies who support the mission, all of whom want to develop a diverse and inclusive birding community in the state. The birding outings also served as a break from the constant stress of COVID-19 and politics, Patterson said.

Since the club’s founding, Patterson said he has watched its members learn and grow together. Some go birding together outside of the club’s monthly events. With the club’s growing membership and presence on social media, Patterson is proud of the space they’ve built.

“Birds can bring people together,” Patterson said, “That joy, we call it bird joy. And our club, it really does bring people together.”

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