An Anthropologist’s Take on Birders: Part 1

birding_venetucci_20090916_lah_0667Anthropologists, being scientists, are good at taking complex topics and breaking them down into manageable pieces. Whereas my husband views birders as nice-but-slightly-eccentric people, our anthropologist daughter dissects us into pieces—clothing, rituals, language, and the like. I took notes and came up with this list. Although our daughter is not, herself, a birder, I think she knows us pretty well. What do you think?

t-shirt-boobiesThe first thing most “normal” people notice about a group of birders is what we’re wearing. A floppy hat is essential for keeping the sun out of our eyes and preventing sunburn. A few hat pins are acceptable decoration, especially if they’re from exceptional birding locations. Beige or green pants and shirt are popular, as are vests with lots of pockets. Tennis shoes are fine, but comfortable hiking boots are preferred. Practicality trumps fashion, but we do have a dress code: nothing flashy, blend in with your surroundings, be prepared to be outdoors. A t-shirt with a bird on it is good, and you get extra points if the design is funny.

gary-conover_kettlecreek_lah_0351Loosely collected under this topic are birding status symbols. Of course, no one would dream of bragging about their optics, but you can assume everyone is checking out everyone else’s scopes and binoculars. This is much more intense in the subculture of birding photographers,  but lens envy can strike at any time. What I find interesting is that there is frequently no direct correlation between the price of one’s equipment and one’s skill level… and everyone seems to know that, too.

Again, practicality wins the day. Fieldtrips leave early, and leaving from Starbucks helps us get our eyes open. Food tends to be healthful, often organic, sometimes vegetarian. Trail mix, nuts, fruit, simple sandwiches… it’s all designed to be eaten on the go. Who wants to stop for lunch when the birding’s productive? Of course, once the trip is over, our diet get a bit more interesting. If we started the day with caffeine, many end it with the camaraderie to be found around a good bottle of beer or wine.


It constantly amazes me how many birders drive Subarus. Part of this might be because I live in Colorado, and Subarus, with their all-wheel drive, are extremely popular here. But it’s more than that—we like to go places that most people avoid—back roads, the dump or sewage ponds—and we need vehicles that will get us there. We also like to carpool, so the ability to hold four people is appreciated.  Most birders I know drive some sort of SUV, at least for fieldtrips.

To be continued…

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