Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Observations on Non-birders

All of us in the birding world have had our encounters with non-birders. Typically, when someone discovers that you're a birder, it may take some explanation for them to understand that we don't just stand in one spot and stare at birds. I frequently get the comment, "So you look at the bird... and then what?" Those comments are understandable. Let's admit it... from the outside, birding can seem pretty strange.

One observation that bothers me a bit is when I talk to someone about the number of species I've seen in a given day/year/life. For example, a co-worker approached me yesterday and was asking about the World Series of Birding. He had heard about it on the radio back in May. I explained to him what it was and I told him that our team had seen 126 species that day. He was amazed that there were 126 species of birds in the US, let alone NJ. I then explained that the total for the World Series that day was over 230 species. This blew him away. I've had similar conversations with many people. These conversations bother me because it highlights the fact that many people don't understand or appreciate the breadth and diversity of wildlife. They think there are a few types of birds, a few types of butterflies, and a few types of trees. I think this lack of understanding can impact their view of the environment as a whole. Perhaps the people who don't care that they disturb a Piping Plover don't understand that it's just not "another bird" or that by cutting down a White Cedar tree that they are impacting organisms that specialize on that species. What observations have you made about others' views of birding and the environment?


Corey said...

What bugs the heck out of me is when non-birders don't believe that I'm able to ID birds overhead by hearing them...especially easy ones like American Goldfinches and Chimney Swifts. No, really, I spend probably too much time doing this and I do know what I am talking about!
And I agree that lots o' folks have no idea just how much diversity is out there.

Will said...

To be honest, I have just as much trouble with a lot of birders as I do with non birders, non birders at least have an excuse when they do something silly, like trample Piping Plover nests. However I have read and seen birders do things just as bad, and they know better (or should)!

Anonymous said...

Usually when I run into non-birders all they are interested in is if I have seen any Eagles or to point out to me that they have just seen a Great Blue Heron down the road on the creek.I'm afraid most of them can't understand the passion we birders have, just like we birders can't understand why a migrating warbler or a first of year Wood Thrush causes so much excitement. My wife, who is not a birder, tries to show some interest, but is at times quite amused at the whole birding thing. Vern

Patrick Belardo said...

Will, I can definitely agree with that.

Jochen said...

What I find strange about non-birder's attitudes towards birders - at least in Germany - is this:
Hunting and fishing are considered nice hobbies whereas birding is considered a bit weird, and when you say you are a birder, you get the funny looks the village's idiot is usually getting. If however you said you are a hunter, people would look at you with respect.
Basically, all these hobbies are the same, you go outside and try to find animals. It's just that when birders find one, they don't kill it.
And that's what's making us strange people.

Quintus Joubert said...

Great topic. I take a lot of abuse from friends when they hear I am out birding. The one day I went out on an owl trip and that resulted in a lot of hoots from my friends (both literally and figuratively).

Having to put up with the banter does get old and I also have to explain what happens after you see a bird. ‘What’s the deal with staring at a bird for hours?’ is a regular question I get. Having said that I think it’s all relative. The other day I was driving through our town and I saw some civil war re-enactors. I caught myself shaking my head and laughing and then I thought about my hobby. Most hobbies are more than a little odd from an outsider’s perspective and you either get it or you don’t. The bird watching bug got me at a very young age when I saw my first Barn owl on a farm. That is a magic moment I will never forget. Explaining that magic to a non-birder is like trying to explain dressing up like a civil war fighter and lying in a field for a day. I will probably never get it and the non-birders will probably never get me and I’m ok with that. By the way, my wife is also marginally interested in birds and I envy guys or girls that have spouses that share their passion.

Larry said...

What you say is true-I guess it is up to us birders to make them more aware whenever possible.-Kind of gives our hobby more purpose-don't you think?

Patrick Belardo said...

Larry, I think you hit the nail on the head. Many hobbies are quirky to Quintus's point. By promoting birding and conservation to everyone, we can help people see the natural world in a different light. Even if people don't become "birders", I always find that people like to see a bird in a scope or even learn a little something.

John said...

I have had a similar reaction from nonbirders or beginning birders. I think that a lot of education discusses biodiversity in a general way but does not go into specifics about numbers of birds, insects, etc. So there is always surprise at learning the actual numbers. I'm not sure if knowing the numbers would help improve attitudes towards threatened species. But any time you can pique people's curiosity is a start towards conservation.

P. Ollig said...

True story:

I was working the front desk at our park when a foreign visitor walks in and makes a beeline for me. He asks me, "You know birds?" I nod and tell him that yes, I do know a little about birds.

He then looks me straight in the eye and says, "Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet! What bird is that?"

You can't imagine how hard it was for me to not bust out laughing as he keeps repeating "tweet tweet tweet" over and over again. He wasn't even trying to mimic the song...or it didn't sound like he was. After I thought for a second about what birds he might have heard on the trail, then did my best Canyon Wren whistle he got a huge grin on his face and nodded enthusiastically. I told him what it was and he left happy.

It often surprises me how non-birders can get incredibly excited over their "discovery" of an incredibly common bird. But it always puts a smile on my face when it happens.

cogresha said...

When I talk to non-birders about lists, big days, year, life, etc.. they always say, "how do you prove you saw all those birds?" I just say, "we don't get money for each species we see. If we lie we are just hurting ourselves. I want to SEE the bird, not just SAY I saw it!"

Susan T said...

Doesn't it make you more aware of the things you are missing, though? Birding for me is like another an entry to another dimension. I remember particularly parking in the Ironia lot for Black River WMA. There's an unmarked gravel parking lot, a small exit through the undergrowth to one side ... and then you are in a brilliant world of colors and sound and texture. It's Alice through the looking glass.

But, it makes me aware - the birds are present to me, the diversity, sound, movement. But the plants, they are still a green blob. I know some trees, some shrubs, some ferns. But I want them to be as "present" to me as the birds.

That book a few years ago, something like "Adam's task - naming nature" was the truth!