Together for Birds Seed Grants Create Opportunities for Collectively Envisioning the Future of Birding and Bird Conservation

A flock of Black Skimmers. Photo by Tania Thomson/Shutterstock. 

Birds have always been sources of wonder, inspiration, and awe. They dazzle in their diversity and represent freedom with their ability to fly far beyond where our eyes can see and our ears can hear. They are also sentinels, alerting us to trouble in ecosystems that could eventually find its way to us. In many ways, our lives are connected to those of birds. American Bird Conservancy's (ABC) Together for Birds Seed Grants enable ABC to help people with varied perspectives to explore those ties and to pursue ideas that advance belonging, creativity, compassion, inquiry, and mindful observation within bird conservation, environmental education, and birding. 

“To me, ABC's Together for Birds Seed Grants are just that: seeds, or new ways of perceiving, or new possibilities for conservation. I also see them as stitches, ways of repairing disconnection and disrespect of the natural world. And, finally, I see them as pinpricks of light, showing us ways to find joy despite grief or extinction or injustice,” said Naamal De Silva, EdD, Vice President for Together for Birds. “Sebastian, Kaleb, Binta, Emma, and Kier illuminate varied ways of understanding birds, conservation histories, our home places, and the threats we face. Their work will influence future Conservation and Justice Fellows, inspire gatherings, new partnerships, articles, and more. They will also inspire future seed grant recipients to think broadly and creatively in shaping their own projects.”

The recipients of Together for Birds Seed Grants for 2023 are listed below in alphabetical order:

Keir Chauhan: “Neurodiversity in Birding and Conservation” and “Lost Birds and Discovery Narratives”

Keir Chauhan

Keir is working on two projects. 

Keir helped ABC's Central Regional Director, Jim Giocomo, PhD, with considering options for the 2024 Conservation and Justice Fellowship project on neurodiversity. This project considers the broader implications and reasoning for work that embraces cognitive diversity and acknowledges the variations and fluctuations in people's capability and capacity. “Ultimately,” Keir said, “I wanted to stress the importance of an approach that celebrates the different ways people can connect to birds.”

Keir also worked with ABC's John Mittermeier, PhD, on developing the 2024 Conservation and Justice Fellowship project on Lost Birds. Keir set out to explore the ethics involved in conservation efforts that rely heavily on local knowledge, contrasting the extractive approaches of outside scientists “discovering” birds during research expeditions to more ethical and collaborative possibilities.  

“The Together for Birds Seed Grant was a wonderful opportunity to develop my ability to communicate conservation challenges,” Keir said. “The grant has heavily influenced my thinking about my future career and what is important when building broader coalitions for conservation. I am proud to have worked alongside some incredible ABC staff members who have highlighted the significance of celebrating and empowering innovative conservation work.”

Emma Childs: “Quilting the Future of Our Forests”

Emma Childs

Inspired by historic cooperative action across the South and the artistic and prophetic voices of groups like Gee's Bend Collective, Emma's project uses collaborative quilting as a container for creative conservation planning. The project will bring together small-scale landowners and ecologically minded individuals in North Carolina in the act of quilting, something Emma sees as representative of “so many wildlife management and habitat goals, trying to stitch together an array of landscapes and their varied uses and the needs placed upon them.” 

Participants will assist in creating the top quilt piecing and design, which uses specific measurements based on GIS imagery of the region, uniting sewn textile art and online cartographic art practices. The design has parallels to the work of shaping the kinds of ecosystems participants believe the Southeast needs. Emma's project — acknowledging development, urban sprawl, fragmentation, systemic racism, climate change, and the loss of forestland as significant threats to North Carolina's bird habitat — sees the well-being and flourishing of our avian and human communities as inextricably linked. The project opens the door to more community-engaged education about land use, avian conservation, and ecological forest management. 

“I could not be more delighted to work with American Bird Conservancy and the beautifully intertwined network of forest landowners in North Carolina to highlight all the good work that is already happening on the ground,” Emma said. “I hope the act of gathering folks together to talk, brainstorm, and sew expands our imagination for land management that crosses private property lines and envisions ‘home' as a concept that is stitched together with love for all species.”

Emma was a 2022 ABC Conservation and Justice Fellowship finalist.

Binta Dixon: “Walking the Road with Cardinals”

Binta Dixon

Binta is writing a reflective essay exploring the ideas of “home” and the associated feelings and memories birds can evoke. Binta's writing focuses on personal experiences in North Carolina, the food justice movement, and the lessons we can learn from the birds in the places we call home.

“The Together for Birds Seed Grant helped me see the importance of sharing everyday experiences with birds,” said Binta. “The process of reflecting to write this essay was also a process of remembering my deep connection to the birds I associate with home. I am excited to share the piece ‘Walking the Road with Cardinals' and to be a part of this project. My hope is that engaging with these projects inspires more people to consider the intimate link between birds, the way we and our environment move through transition, and our sense of community.”

Kaleb Friend: “Birds and Poetry” 

Kaleb Friend. Photo by Lauren Hanussak.

Kaleb is a volunteer Ambassador for ABC. In early 2023, he worked with a nonprofit called Day Eight to organize a poetry and birds event in Rock Creek Park, in Washington, D.C., where local poets shared original work inspired by bird outings. Many attendees also took a bird walk with ABC staff and volunteers and then took time to reflect, write, and share their own work. The shared poetry enabled us to deepen our attention to birds and place. 

Growing out of that experience, Kaleb's project pairs his original bird photography with poems from Dawn Songs: A Birdwatcher's Field Guide to the Poetics of Migration, an anthology of lyrical reflections on the connections between birds and humans, edited by Jamie K. Reaser and J. Drew Lanham. 

“The support from the Seed Grant and from American Bird Conservancy has inspired this collaborative endeavor,” said Kaleb. “ABC has the ability to connect people from different creative spaces with the common love of birds and extends their artistic wingspan.”

Sebastian Levar Spivey: “Ecological Grief”

Sebastian Levar Spivey

Sebastian Levar Spivey's essay, accompanied by three illustrations, explores the relatively new idea of ecological grief, also sometimes called solastalgia: the feelings of loss, dislocation, sorrow, fear, and overwhelm associated with species extinction and climate change. Sebastian focuses on the imperiled birds of Hawai'i, which has come to be known as the “extinction capital of the world.” Focusing on the Palila, ‘Alalā (Hawaiian Crow), and Po'ouli, the essay draws on interviews Sebastian conducted with ABC's Hawai'i Program Director, Chris Farmer, and 2022 Conservation and Justice Fellow, Noah Gomes. Sebastian contextualizes their experiences with research and personal reflections on ecological grief.

“My work, generally, deals with death, grief, and other forms of liminality,” said Sebastian. “The Together for Birds Seed Grant made it possible for me to focus on one aspect of this — ecological grief — and to think through it with folks who experience the depth of it in their daily work.”

Sebastian was a 2022 ABC Conservation and Justice Fellowship finalist.

Congratulations to the recipients of the Together for Birds Seed Grants! Learn more about our Conservation and Justice Fellowship program and watch our Future of Conservation webinar.