Black Birding in Western NC

The fifth year of celebrating Black Birders Week in the US takes place May 26 to June 1, 2024.

Young bird watchers at the Brooklyn Creek Bird Sanctuary
Young bird watchers at the Brooklyn Creek Bird Sanctuary during an event organized by Crystal Cauley. The binoculars were donated by Etta Robinson.
By Crystal Cauley –

Black Birding Week is an annual event that celebrates Black and Brown bodies in spaces that recognize Black birders, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts and helps them advocate for environmental conservation and protection of birds.

As a Henderson County native sitting in my own back yard, I read an online story by Bruce Holliday titled He Promised Me Blue Birds. The story detailed the love a husband, Fred Thompson, extends to his wife Andrea by taking on the upkeep and repair of  the wooden Bluebird boxes throughout the Bluebird Trail at The Park at Flat Rock. The 66-acre public oasis offers thousands of visitors the opportunity to exercise, meditate, and bird watch.

This project increased the Eastern Bluebird population and brought many visitors to the park to watch the bluebirds and their progress. After reading the article in Flat Rock Now about how these two love birds shared time together on such a lovely project, I approached Hendersonville’s Environmental Sustainability Board with a proposal to place birdhouses in Sullivan Park, located in the heart of Green Meadows Community.

The board enjoyed my presentation—I had my Cedar Wood Birdhouse in hand—detailing the benefits of bird watching, including mental health for people of all ages. Studies have shown that bird watching improves cardiovascular health, too. With so many African Americans suffering from high blood pressure and heart attacks, encouraging people of color to go outside more has become a part of this mission.

Carey and Lutrelle O'Cain, the owners of Wild Birds Unlimited
Carey and Lutrelle O’Cain, the owners of Wild Birds Unlimited.

Though I had a sense of mission for this bird sanctuary, I lacked education about birdhouses. Then one day God sent me to Wild Birds Unlimited in Hendersonville to ask questions. I met with Lutrelle O’Cain, who owns this business with her husband Carey, and they taught me not only about installing birdhouses, but putting up proper bird feeders, too.

The O’Cains agreed to partner with me in placing bird sanctuaries in several City of Hendersonville parks. I arranged a ribbon-cutting event for the Brooklyn Creek Bird Sanctuary that I named on September 9, 2023. Local artist Frank Black painted and installed, free of charge, a beautiful sign, and Etta Robinson helped with the purchase of binoculars to give to children to encourage bird watching. The success of this idea created the desire to place more birdhouses in parks—with the permission from the city, of course.

On Saturday, April 20, 2024, I was an exhibitor in Hendo Earth Fest along with Wild Birds Unlimited. Together we had an exhibit that included educational materials about bluebirds as well as models of bluebird houses with predator guards to educate the public. The request from many visitors was to place more birdhouses throughout Henderson County and many walking trails!

I encourage readers to follow the updates about our bird sanctuaries on Facebook: Brooklyn Creek Bird Sanctuary. The future holds great promise, as recently installed locations, certified with the National Wildlife Federation, show positive activity with bird nests, fledglings, and the presence of more birds—including bluejays!

I hope to convince the City of Hendersonville to place a few sitting benches at parks for peaceful bird watching during the day: I also plan to create programs for youth and seniors to enjoy the birds. If you have any comments, donations for binoculars and birdwatching gear for the community, or would like to partner with us, please contact me at [email protected].

Celebrating Black Birders Week

Monday, May 27 – Walk & Talk Meeting
Hosted by Black Birders of WNC at Four Seasons Rotary Park. We will talk about birding in the park at the covered shed area beginning at 5 p.m. and tour the bird sanctuary. Everyone is welcome!

Tuesday, May 28 – “Wind Beneath My Wings”
A special talk by Crystal Cauley about her journey of being an advocate for birding while Black—and how God has had his eye on the Sparrow. Join us for this wonderful opportunity to learn and grow at 6 p.m. at Agape World Outreach, 2024-F Asheville Highway, Hendersonville, NC 28791.

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