Making a List

LAH_0464I recently helped two long-time friends become birders. It was a thrill introducing two of my favorite people to a pastime I enjoy so much. We went birding and I offered ID tips. We discussed how to use binoculars, which field guides they might want to purchase, and some of the best places to look for birds. And inevitably, the topic of listing came up.

One friend really wasn’t all that interested in compiling a personal “life list,” but was eager to know what species were on her five acre property. The other friend has a small city lot, unlikely to attract much diversity, but was keen to keep track of the birds seen on our outings. That got me to thinking about all the different ways birders keep lists.

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Lumpers and Splitters

Scrub Jay_TurkeyCreek-FtCarson-CO_LAH_9808From the big questions (how many species of birds are there?) to specifics (should the Bullock’s Oriole and the Baltimore Oriole be merged into one species called the Northern Oriole?), birders have long endured a bit of confusion. It seems even the most eminent ornithologists disagree on these and similar conundrums.

In 1946, a paper published by Ernst Mayr asserted that there were  8,616 species of  bird worldwide. Today, the consensus is that there are closer to 10,000 although estimates vary widely. What happened?

In 1973, scientists decided that the two most common American orioles, the Bullock’s Oriole in the west and the Baltimore Oriole in the east, were really the same bird. Where their ranges overlapped, they mated and produced fertile young. Then, in 1995, the two species were separated again! Why?

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New Year, New Birds

downy-woodpecker_cherry-creek-sp-co_lah_2555If you are a serious birder, you probably keep a life list. As any collector understands, adding birds to that list brings a sense of elation, accomplishment and satisfaction. However, if you’ve been birding the same place for very many years, you probably have already seen most of the birds in your area.

How can experienced birders recapture that beginner’s sense of excitement? Along with their cumulative lifetime list, many birders keep year lists. What birds can we find this year? It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve already seen them, it’s fun to start over.

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