This past weekend, while waiting for the Lazuli Bunting to show up, I was entertained by numerous observers offering conjectures about the hidden habits and activities of the wary bird. One man who had seen it briefly two days earlier, elaborated at length about how it always hung out with White-crowned Sparrows, hid behind a certain bush, and always came in between 9 and 10 am. Another speculated that the bird roosted nearby, but then disappeared to spend the rest of the day living in luxury eating seeds from a backyard feeder somewhere. In a total absence of real information, people were stringing together all kinds of speculative ideas based on the tiny bits of information gleaned from the past sightings of others.
I spent a lot of Friday morning engaging in this myself, wondering where I would go if I were a lone bunting, and wandering the neighborhood in search of the bird, and an explanation for its behavior. Saturday morning, as I recounted all of the available information to a newcomer, another birder quipped, "you're never going to get inside the f%*#in bird's head--it's either here, or it isn't."
In chasing birds, it is interesting to see how speculation goes wild when people are trying to find a bird but it isn't making itself available. The last few years of Ivory-billed Woodpecker searching are full of this kind of speculation. Lacking any real solid evidence, many wild and fantastic stories have been put forward about Ivory-billed Woodpecker ecology and behavior. But when you really get down to it, the bird is either there or it isn't. So far, there isn't convincing evidence that it's still there.
But that's just a side note--an interesting example--of this general practice of creating wild speculative stories about the comings and goings of rare birds. We try to find meaning, even when we don't have real information to do so. And when we finally see a bird we've been seeking, we like to think that somehow we've mind-melded with it, that we've somehow put ourselves into its world in order to connect with it on its own terms. Maybe we have, or maybe we haven't. How far do we really ever get into the bird's head?
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