Suzannah Yu counting Common Ravens for a long-term population study in Yellowstone National Park / Photo by University of Washington

The NextGen Advisory Council

Seattle Audubon established the NextGen Advisory Council in the fall of 2018, to elevate the perspectives and expertise of young professionals and student activists. Seattle Audubon has a rich history of conservation achievements, but our programs have not been sufficiently informed by, or in service of diverse audiences. Over the coming years and beyond, the NextGen Advisory Council will foster intentional collaboration with communities that have been excluded or sidelined by the mainstream environmental movements of the past.

by Suzannah Yu

NextGen Advisory Council Member

I joined the NextGen Advisory Council to volunteer with fellow bird enthusiasts to collectively work towards the more equitable and inclusive birding world that we envision. I believe NextGen’s greatest impact will be in empowering a younger and more diverse audience within Seattle Audubon to engage with birding and the protection of birds. Together, we have the power to co-create a more beautiful world where people and animals coexist.  

I am enthusiastic about NextGen’s potential to increase accessibility in birding. This can be addressed through access to equipment such as binoculars and spotting scopes, training on how to use equipment, and information on how and where to bird. Inclusivity can be achieved by incorporating diverse viewpoints and broadening representation in leadership, members and activities. Mentorship is also an effective way to engage younger adults and fledgling birders. Established birders who share a similar identity, such as age or background, can serve as role models or guides. These individuals can be called upon to welcome new birders to step into the wonderful world of birds and nature. Guides can share the best birding locations, where to find birds in the landscape, and how to tune into the bird soundscape. They can make birding accessible by explaining bird terminologies and cultivate a sense of connection with the birding community by providing a positive experience.     

We can create engagement in the wellbeing of birds by centering the importance of birds for both conservation and for people.

Birds serve a myriad of essential ecological roles. They also bring joy and peace to the mind, with gorgeous feathers and the power of flight that sparks wonder and inspiration. Through experiencing the world of birds by engaging in birding, we build empathy, forming a deep love and bond for birds. We protect what we care about, and as we learn and understand how climate change affects birds, it will motivate us to stay engaged through action.    

The numerous threats that face our natural world are highly interconnected. Climate change, pollution, and elements of our human-made environment all have detrimental effects on the welfare of birds and ourselves. Birds serve as a bellwether for what humans will face if we collectively refrain from taking meaningful action. Climate change can seem amorphous. It is an ominous, looming threat in our minds that can result in eco-anxiety and paralysis. Where does one even start? With the NextGen Council, we are focused on promoting engagement through the principals of justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure we can all share in the appreciation and protection of birds. 

Fifty years from now, I envision cities designed with the needs of both people and wildlife in mind.

Buildings created from bird-friendly, sustainable designs, where birds can fly free from window collisions. With nature’s incorporation into the design of cities, people will enjoy easy access and rich benefits of nature. I dream of transformation to a regenerative economy, green modes of transport, and city planning that encourages walking and biking to ensure clean air and water. 

We live in a society that often demands a fast-paced life, which means we frequently lose sight of the wonders that flutter right in front of our eyes. To fully engage in birding often requires patience, time that many feel they cannot afford. I have found birding to be an act of self-care. In experiencing moments of stillness, I practice mindfulness and sharpen my powers of observation. I find joy in watching the delightful antics of my feathered friends and ground myself in the ensuing sense of connection and belonging in nature. 

My favorite place to bird is the Union Bay Natural Area during sunset. It is a breath-taking experience to watch the numerous flocks of birds take flight and swirl across the sky, while listening to the beautiful symphony of their calls, all against the backdrop of a painterly swath of colors perfectly reflected in the water on a calm evening. 

Bird watching during sunset at Golden Gardens | Suzannah Yu

Queen Anne Snowy Owl | Suzannah Yu

Other articles in this issue of EarthCare Northwest