An Anthropologist’s Take on Birders: Part 3

birding_venetucci_20090916_lah_0667This is the third and last part on how my daughter the anthropologist looks at birders. Don’t miss Part 1 or Part 2!

Taboos
The Code of Birding Ethics is essential reading for every birder. Some topics covered include the excessive playing of recorded bird sounds (or playing these recordings at all, in many places), disturbing nesting birds, trespassing, and other ways of being considerate to the birds and to one another.

birders_burntmillrd_20090905_lah_0126I’ve already mentioned clothing, but in general, wearing white is frowned upon. It scares many birds, thus annoying many birders. The same thing applies to loud noises. Most birders talk in hushed voices, at least while on the trail.

We’ve all encountered the excited birder who fixates on a distant bird, hogging the one and only scope while others pray the bird will stay put until they can have a look-see too. Much better is the spotter who helps everyone else find the bird in their binoculars. If the bird is a lifer for anyone, they get first priority. That’s merely being nice, and birders are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Another no-no seems to be asking how many birds someone has on their life list. While some are happy to tell you, others react as if you’d just asked how much money they make, how large their ranch is, or how old they are!

Rituals
At first, I couldn’t think of a single ritual. Then I thought of my friend Debbie, and her “Lifer Dance.” With all the jumping and twisting and flapping she does, I wish I had a video! Many birders commemorate adding a new bird to their life list in some way. Milestones, such as reaching 300, 400, or 500 (or more) birds, deserve even more of a celebration. Sounds like a great excuse, right?

Superstitions
golden-eagle_e-epco_20100121_lah_7345-1_filteredWe birders would probably deny having any superstitions, but how about the concept of a “nemesis bird”? As a fledgling birder, I spent three years hunting down my first Golden Eagle (left). It was always, “It was here yesterday!” or “It just flew over that hill,” or “Didn’t you see it on that telephone pole?” Since finally spotting a juvenile bird flying over I-80 in Wyoming one year, I’ve seen plenty of Golden Eagles. I have no idea why it took so long to get the first one.

And how often do we hear that the bird we just hiked five miles to find—only to be skunked—has been hopping around the parking lot, even perching on our car, the entire time we were gone?

Then there’s all the controversy about the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, or “Ghost Bird.” Does it exist? Has anyone really seen it? Kinda reminds me of Bigfoot.

Idols
john_james_audubon_1826_wikipedia-1What tribe would be complete without its idols? Some famous birders are well known: James Audubon (left), Roger Tory Peterson, perhaps David Sibley or Kenn Kaufmann (both of whom have written popular field guides). Others are admired mainly by other birders. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Phoebe Snetsinger dedicated the rest of her life to seeing as many birds as she could. At the time of her death (years later, in a car accident in Madagascar), she had more birds on her life list than anyone else. Her record has since been surpassed by Tom Gullick, who has tallied over 8,800 birds (out of a possible 10,000 or so).  Every local group of birders has its own list of regional experts, too. True?

Well, this is the last post in the series. My descriptions here just scratch the surface. In what other ways would you describe the tribe known as birders? Do you agree our non-birding daughter has us figured out rather well? Maybe her next step will be to join me on a trip to a wildlife refuge. I’m sure I can convince her that she’ll learn more by living among us. Then, you never know what might happen.

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