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Meet the Birder: Sam DeJarnett

December 20, 2022

Artist Profile: Greg Kozatec

JUNE 7, 2021

Meet the Birder: Sam DeJarnett

December 20, 2021

Meet the Birder: Sam DeJarnett

December 20, 2022

Sam DeJarnett is a birder of four years and the creator/host of the Always Be Birdin’ Podcast, a podcast that provides platforms for Black and non-Black people of color who are birders and conservationists. The podcast uses the lenses of Critical Race Theory to challenge the narratives of birding and conservation and pushes for innovative ways to dismantle the pillars of racism on which they’re built. Sam's philosophy around birding is simple: "We bird as joy. We bird as protest. We bird as a community. We bird for collective liberation. And no matter who you are or where you are, you can Always Be Birdin'.”

How did you get into birding?

I've heard so many wonderful variations of this question, it's one of my favorites! For me, I grew up loving animals and nature but the feathered friends were never really on my radar. When I was an undergrad, I landed an internship in wildlife rehabilitation and that was my introduction to birds. I distinctly remember a moment when I was working with a very large Great Horned Owl and she ended up being able to spread her wings really abruptly, and it truly took my breath away and was likely the moment that solidified for me how magical birds are. The actual activity of birding didn't come until years later while working for Portland Audubon in Oregon. The first time I went out with some co-workers, I was able to watch an adult Bald Eagle chasing a male Mallard across a body of water and this was the moment that made me love the activity of birding so much. The contrast of starting with seeing birds injured and unable to be in their natural environment, to seeing them thriving the way they are meant to, comes up often in how I teach conservation ideas on my outings.

In your Always Be Birdin’ podcast, you talk about changing the narrative of birding. Can you tell us more about this?

When I first started birding, I didn't see anyone who looked like me out there and as I participated in a handful of Portland Audubon outings I left feeling like I didn't belong, both as a new birder and as a Black person. Eventually, when I left the organization on pretty bad terms, it fueled me to investigate deeper why I suddenly didn't want to participate in an activity that I was deeply excited about and why I felt alone in something that felt like it should be bringing people together. I came to the conclusion, pretty quickly, that the same pillars of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia that hold up all institutions in America are deeply rooted in outdoor recreation, science, and conservation. This creates a historical and present-day narrative that excludes the representation and ancestral knowledge of Black, brown and Indigenous folk within the outdoors.

To put it simply, I don't like this narrative as it is false and creates many avenues in which birding is gate kept by white individuals, clubs, and organizations. The Always Be Birdin' podcast is the direct antithesis to this narrative. I seek to change what it means to be a birder and to go birding by providing a platform and amplification of Black and non-Black folks of color who love birds. This changes the narrative of who is actually outside and how we are participating in the outdoors and puts pressure on the status quo and how white supremacy is allowed to persist in these spaces. 

And now that you’re going onto your third year of the series, how do you feel?

I never expected to be heading into year three of the podcast. I hardly expected to put out more than one episode. When I started it, I didn't know anything about podcasts or how to do one. I learned everything on the fly from YouTube University and it was meant to be a place of expression for myself. As the years have passed, it's become a place for other Black and brown folks to express themselves; to feel understood and be witnessed. Many feelings can be true and valid at once, but the biggest feeling I am feeling going into year three is excitement. I'm ready to continue to apply pressure and work hard for my community. The Always Be Birdin' podcast exists for y'all and I will put back into the community what y'all have given to me. 

What's your birding community like? What do you love most about it?

My birding community is expansive. I am lucky to be connected to Black and brown birders across the country, which is a true started-from-the-bottom-now-we-here moment for me, since I didn't know anyone when I first started! My birding community is deeply in love with birds and the outdoors. I know for a fact that most, if not all of us, feel our best selves outside in a state of wonder as we watch the magic birds generate and we work hard to re-create that magic amongst our community. What I love most about my community of Black and brown birders is that we have taken a wonderful hobby and turned it into a social justice movement simply by existing in joy, outside, together.

What's next for you and birds?

The podcast has gifted me many opportunities and one of those has been to lead birding outings for my Black and brown community. I have fallen in love with this role and in December 2022, Always Be Birdin' LLC was launched. This is an ecotourism business which serves only the Black and brown community offering multiple different kinds of birding outing opportunities. As always, our focus is building and sustaining community amongst Black and brown folks in the outdoors while looking for birds and reveling in the magic they emit. Look forward to local, national and international birding outings in 2023 and beyond!

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