Good day to you, my fine fellow birders. How is your August progressing? As you read this, I am riding my trusty Grizzly Bear through the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park, helping my colleague Seagull Steve find some new birds. Birding by bear is by far the best way to view the park, although it seems to terrify the hoofed animals. Various European tourists have taken to calling me “Beastmaster”. Birdmaster would be more appropriate, but I do not mind.
I am proud to say that over the years Seagull and I have managed to inadvertantly make people more aware and appreciative of the birds around them. The number of times I have heard beautiful women whisper in my ear “When I see a bird, I think of you” is now countless, and I assure you, it does not get old. Some of these people have gone further…they have become birdwatchers, birders and biologists. My reach and influence is far-reaching now, and I believe both birders and the birds themselves benefit. Although I rarely set out with the goal in mind to turn someone to the bird side, I believe I am in the unique position to offer some advice on how to do so. So today I wish to lecture upon how to convince people to come join our cause. Not everyone can spontaneously combust into the greatest birder of our generation, as I have. That said, not only I am astute observer of the avian, but of the human as well.
Right. Here we go!
1) Be weird. As famed birderer Seagull Steve has been forced to state over and over again, birdwatching is a strange pursuit. It’s an incredibly nerdy thing to do. Please do not embarrass yourself by pretending it is masculine, tough or badass…it is none of these things. It is, of course, incredible, extremely fun, mind-blowing, frustrating, challenging and yes even dangerous in some situations…but embrace your inner nerd. Thanks to current winds in both pop/hipster culture, it is OK to be a nerd!
2) Don’t be an ass. When birders take themselves and the “sport” too seriously, birding ceases to be fun, light-hearted and a bit geeky, and turns simply embarrassing. If you are one of those people who go on a trip and then throw a fit because you somehow didn’t see that Flesh-footed Shearwater that was sitting next to the boat for ten minutes, it reflects badly on all of us.
3) Know stuff. This one is easy. Birds do remarkable things every day, as a matter of their nature. The more you know about bird physiology, migration, hunting methods, longevity, etc. the more you can capture the interest of both nonbirders and birders alike.
4) For the sake of keeping it real…if you are the breed of birder that is in possession of a very poor set of social skills….maybe you should just send any prospective birders my way instead.
5) Have a sense of humor. No one, aside from your therapist, wants to spend time with a Debbie Downer.
6) Remember how to look through the eyes of a fresh, non-jaded birder. Every bird is potentially interesting, for its own reasons. Just because you can’t spare the time to watch a California Towhee anymore doesn’t mean your non birding buddy won’t decide that a towhee is the best thing since sliced bread.
7) You want the birds to really impress your non-birding friends. If you actually convince them to go birding with you, make sure you give them your awesome Leicas to use, while you utilize your shoddy spare Rangers that barely focus anymore. Give them plenty of scope time. Take them someplace where you can get close to birds, or see large numbers or variety. Taking them out in bad weather to study fall Empids is a bad idea. In fact, this will make people hate birds. And Empidonax flycatchers already get a bad rap, don’t you think?
8) Don’t be an idiot. Many people across all walks of life do not know how to do this. I recommend some basic things; when seducing people into the bird life, please avoid making profoundly ignorant, racist, religious/antireligious, and homophobic comments to people you don’t know very well. If I was a nonbirder (as if) and someone were to tell me “Man, drilling for oil is super good for the environment. Look! A Field Sparrow!”, I am going to assume bad things about this person and that birding is not legit.
9) Watch your language! One of the tools people use to identify themselves with certain subcultures, consciously and subconsiously, is language. As an example, let’s just use music. If I described a band as being gritty, d-beat, grimey, dirty, doomy, crusty or bubblegum…not only would you likely have no clue what I was talking about, but if I insisted on using these terms it might even make you want to avoid the subject completely (these are actually descriptions used frequently in certain obscure genres). The same goes for birds. Again, picture yourself as a nonbirder, at a hawkwatch for the first time. Imagine trying to decipher the following: “Look, a Broadie! To the left of the Sharpie and below where that Tail was kiting a minute ago. Holy cow, there’s not even a dihedryl on that thing, its really flat. Man when I saw that thing coming in it had total Accipiter gizz, but it was just so clean underdneath bla bla bla”. Congratulations, you just made someone a nonbirder for life. Do not use annoying abbreviations or toss around latin names willy-nilly. Birdwatching, when stripped down to the basics, is a simple activity…lets remember that for the beginner’s sake.
10) Show some enthusiasm! Don’t forget your shade-grown coffee before you go out.
I see from the poor guesses from last month’s quizzes (i.e., none), I see I will really need to whip you all into birding shape. The above birds should be a cinch!
From last month, Quiz #1 was from this bird:
A drake Gadwall. Photographed near Lostwood, North Dakota. As you can see…it is larger than a Least Sandpiper.
Quiz #2 was a mixed flock of Western Sandpipers and Dunlin. Reposting that picture in color will not help anyone identify them though…they are still just gray and white birds, heh.
Right. Go forth and take some people birding. Club them over the head with your Zeiss if necessary.