According to the 2010 census, more than 35 percent of Americans fall into “non–white” categories of African–American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American. A 2006 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed that these groups made up less than 10 percent of the birdwatching community. A regional Focus on Diversity conference at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, PA, in October 2011, set out to change that. Nationally known birder and author Kenn Kaufman noted that “if going to have protection for places like this refuge, we need to have a lot more people interested in birds.”

Gary Stolz, manager of Heinz Refuge, added that “national wildlife refuges such as Heinz provide important opportunities for people to explore, enjoy and learn about the environment within reach of our nation.s growing urban population. We have lots of beautiful wildlife right here within the city limits.”

The Fledging Birders Institute partnered with the refuge, with support from the Friends of Heinz Refuge, to bring together nature center managers, educators and other community leaders to begin engaging new audiences in birdwatching. Conference participants were challenged to set realistic goals for reaching new, broader audiences with birding opportunities. They were encouraged to develop simple action plans to achieve these goals in the coming months.

“We need to create opportunities, repeated trips, mentors, colleagues and ongoing support,” said Paul Baicich, a member of the Refuge System Birding Team.

“Birds provide the ideal gateway to nature as they are beautiful and can be found virtually everywhere at anytime,” says Dave Magpiong, a middle school science teacher and founder of the Institute, which promotes birding for young people. Magpiong is looking for other regions and refuges interested in hosting similar conferences.

Videos of the Heinz Refuge conference and other resources are available at