‘Bird Nerd’ on a mission to bring people of color into the outdoors

By Joel Waldinger | October 6, 2023


For Dexter Patterson birding is more than a hobby, it’s been an unexpected way to heal. 

“Before I found birding, I actually was struggling with mental health issues, depression, anxiety. I was like 45 pounds heavier than I am now,”  says Patterson.  “I’m exploring and I’m feeling good about myself. So that’s why I’m excited. I feel like birds saved me.” Then he wondered if birding could do this for him, maybe it could help someone else. 

Patterson and his former college advisor Jeff Galligan founded the BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) Birding Club of Wisconsin. The birding group is mainly a community of color but it welcomes anyone who supports their mission of creating a more inclusive, outdoor experience in Wisconsin. 

According to Patterson a common thought shared by the members is,  “I’ve always wanted to go out and explore the woods, but I’m afraid.” Sometimes these natural areas are in rural parts of the state.  “They might not be used to seeing people like you in their neighborhoods, let alone with binoculars or a big camera and things,” says Patterson.  The group provides safety in numbers and it tries to break down barriers of what a birder looks like. 

“As a human being that really touches my heart because I know we’re touching people and we’re moving the needle in our state and we’re making our community better,” says Patterson.

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project and considers a sunset over the “big island” on Manson Lake to be a perfect ending to a day of fishing and fun in the Northwoods. 

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