Tips for stereoblind birders

Tips for stereoblind birders

Do you see out of only one eye at a time? Have you been diagnosed with lazy eye, amblyopia, strabismus, or squint? Are you missing an eye? Are your eyes obviously misaligned?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, congratulations: You’re stereoblind!

Many stereoblind folks have no idea that they see the world very differently from other normal people, but this became incredibly obvious to me when I got into birding. Normally sighted folks (hereafter called normies) are constantly trying to point out birds to me, and it’s a very frustrating experience for everyone involved.

When I dug into the research, I discovered that being stereoblind is a much bigger deal than I realized. Growing up stereoblind can cause lifelong problems with object recognition, seeing fine details at a distance and walking on uneven ground. Clearly, we are born birders.

Just kidding. We are born artists though.

Here are some hacks I’ve discovered that I thought might be helpful to my fellow stereoblind birders.

  1. Take a cell phone picture of the scene you’re looking at, if someone is trying to point out a bird to you that you just can’t find. Then have that person draw an arrow pointing to where the bird is. It also helps to remember that normies’ point of view is in the middle of their foreheads, while ours is nearly an inch to the left or right.
  2. Binoculars or monocular? You can shed some weight by using a monocular, but I, personally, prefer bins because they are easier to stabilize. It’s also fun to leave one of my lens caps on and watch people struggle with whether to tell me or not.
  3. Talk you yourself. It’s so frustrating to see a bird with your naked eyes, and then lose it when you switch to your bins. I find it helps to say, out loud, where the bird is. For example, “The heron is on the longest cypress branch next to the clump of Spanish moss.”
  4. Don’t switch eyes. Both my eyes have good vision, and I often switch back and forth between them without realizing it. This creates problems when I move from free viewing to bins. I solved it by either closing or patching one of my eyes.
  5. Try using your weak eye. When my right eye gets tired, I just switch to my left. It’s sorta a superpower! I feel bad for all the poor normies who don’t have a backup eye.
  6. Change your depth of field. At one point, I was having so much trouble finding birds in my bins, I lost confidence in myself. Then I discovered that, a lot of the time, the missing bird will suddenly appear if you push your focus wheel a little to either direction.

Do you have any tips of your own to add?

2 responses to “Tips for stereoblind birders”

  1. I love this post and have started using the cellphone picture technique rather than trying to spend 8 minutes trying to describe to someone where a bird is (though the only upside to COVID is I have a better grasp of 6 feet as a unit of length). I definitely tripped on a gravel path today while birding. Where did that tiny pebble come from to throw me off my balance??

    I have some photos of birding with a monocular if you want me to email them to you! Just let me know where to send it. It would be cool for us non-normies to see we belong here, even though we trip a lot.

    • I love it! My email is sadied @ gmail
      I still don’t quite understand what people mean when they say something is “3 o’clock” etc. Is the imaginary clock on the ground, or stuck to a particular tree or what?

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