Face it: You’re a birder


Hello new birders. Welcome! We are happy to have you. It’s been about four months since the pandemic took hold–when you got trapped in your home or apartment and out of sheer boredom, you began to notice that the world is filled with tiny feathered dinosaurs. Suddenly, you began to see them everywhere. You bought some binoculars and bought a guidebook, and began to learn their names.

And yet, when people ask you if you’re a birder, you blush and say, “nah.”

Here’s the deal: If someone asks if you’re a birder, you may as well admit it. If you think, “But I still mix up hairy and downy woodpeckers,” then you are a birder. If you’re saying to yourself, “But I can only name, like, three types of warblers,” then you, my friend, are definitely a birder.

Face it: You’re a birder. The good news is that it’s not entirely your fault. We, the media, are in the pocket of Big Bird. We called birding, “a joyful hobby,” and said that it’s “good for the soul.” We even winkingly said, “resistance is futile.” You might have thought that last one was a joke, but it’s not. Birding is an addiction, and it’s about to take over your life. 

I’m not here to warn you, it’s too late for that. I’m here to let you know what will happen next.

1. You’re going to need a better cell phone. Also, stop calling it a phone. It’s for birding apps. eBird, iBird, BirdsEye, BirdNet — I am not making any of these up and they are all essential. Get your priorities straight and delete some family photos.

2. Speaking of family, you need to get your spouse onboard. Mixed marriages require a nearly inhuman amount of compromise on the parts of both birder and muggle spouses. At best, you’ll end up with separate vacations. At worst, you’ll be caught cheating via eBird. Did you really have to report the out-of-range flycatcher that blew your alibi? You did, of course you did. 

3. Single birders, be aware that your next “meet cute” story will involve a tricky bird id. You’ll never speak of your shameful secret, but you’ll squeeze your beau’s hand every time you hear the melodic trill of a hermit thrush.

3. You’re about to spend way too much on optics. Don’t forget the scope! And the camera lenses. Maybe take out another mortgage? Just spitballin’ here.

4. You’re going to make some dumb mistakes. Mine? I once saw a woodpecker and said, “Oh, is that a woody?” Don’t be a Franzen. Forgive yourself and move on. 

5. It’s now impossible for you to have a conversation outside. Is that a robin? There’s something in its mouth! A stick, I think. I’m sorry, were you saying something? 

6. FYI, fall migration is coming. All those birds you saw in the spring? They’ve been bumping uglies (cloacas), and there are twice as many now. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad: Their plumage is all sorts of confusing. Better start studying today.

7. Stay away from the seagull people. Except to troll them. See what I just did there? But seriously, they’re cuckoo. 


4 responses to “Face it: You’re a birder”

  1. I recently realized I am stereoblind (how did I not realize sooner) and then on top of that I have started a flirtation with birding. Is it even worth it to get a set of binoculars if I don’t even use both my eyes properly? I am thinking of investing in monoculars for that reason. Stumbled on your blog and am hoping to get your input as a scientist, birder, and fellow stereoblind person!

    • Sonia,
      I’m so sorry it took me so long to get back to you, because you are grappling with issues near and dear to my heart! I considered a monocular too, but I found that binoculars were easier to keep stable when you’re looking at something far away. I do a weird thing where I leave the lens cap on the left side and sort of press it against my closed eyelid. (People love to tell me that my lenscap is still on, and I’m like, thanks, I know.) It’s just a little bit easier for me to find birds that way, but I’m not sure why. If you have trouble going from looking at a bird without binoculars to finding one in your bins, practice on street signs or anything else that’s bigger than a bird. Also, remember that changing the focus can make a bird suddenly visible.

      I took so long to get back to you, you’ve probably figured this all out by now! But I’d love to hear an update on how you’re doing with your birding. Another trick I recently discovered: If a friend is trying to point out a bird to you, and you just can’t figure out where they are talking about, take a quick cell phone picture of the scene in front of you, and have them draw an arrow to where the bird is. (Obviously this only works for your more stationary birds.)

      • Hello Sadie, so great to hear from you! I ended up getting an 8×42 monocular, and it’s been going really well. The flirtation with birding has progressed to a full on relationship, haha. My partner and I went on a birding boat trip and we were like “I guess we are birders for real now.”

        I did go for a telescope extender that was an optional accessory for the monocular that I can attach for the more stationary and far away birds. That’s when it’s gets a little harder to keep steady, but overall I have been super pleased with it! It’s also kind of funny when my stereovisual friends try to look through it and get a little queasy cause they’re not used to it. Ah the benefits of stereoblindness.

        • That’s really cool! Are you on ebird? If not, I totally recommend it. It’s so fun to go back and see when you saw your first scissor-tailed flycatcher, etc. 🙂 I often leave my left lens cap on, and it drives other birders crazy.
          I am writing a book about stereovision (among other things) and I’ve found research that seems to imply that we make terrible birders. For some people, growing up stereoblind results in a lifetime of difficulty walking on uneven ground, making out fine details in far-away objects, and object recognition. And if your weak eye is your left eye, it also predisposes you to prosopagnosia (faceblindness). But who cares, right? It’s so fun!
          I think I’m going to write a blog post about stereoblind birding. If you want to send me a picture of you and your monocular, I’ll make it the featured image.

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