I don’t love birds. I am obsessed with birds. I have always been obsessed with birds. But I don’t love them. Loving demands reciprocation, or at least the promise of reciprocation. Birds simply do not reciprocate. We might enjoy them, watch them, and study them, but to “love” them--that is being too anthropomorphic.
--Devlin, John C. and Naismith, Grace, The World of Roger Tory Peterson. (New York, Times Books, 1977), p.152.
While we can perhaps just chalk this one up to Roger being an unsentimental man of his times, maybe there is something more at play here. While I don't agree that "loving demands reciprocation" I might more closely subscribe to a definition of love by the late psychologist M. Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Traveled:
Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.
Perhaps this is still a bit anthropomorphic. I'm not sure you have to be concerned about the "spiritual growth" of a bird to care for it enough to give of yourself in order to ensure that individual birds or bird populations are able to thrive. But I do think if you do put yourself out to help birds that way, that you can consider that a form of loving birds.
But here's the real question. For the millions of birders or birdwatchers, those of us who are "obsessed with birds" and who enjoy watching or studying them, do we really love birds, or are we just a bird users?
In environmental education, it is common to believe that if we can just get people to enjoy watching birds, they will love them and want to help them--we can turn people into bird lovers by getting them to be bird watchers.
But I'm not so sure. For many birders and birdwatchers, birds are just a means to an end--something to chase during our free time, something to dream about, something to enjoy with our friends. Just because millions of people enjoy birds enough to take time off to enjoy them, does not mean that they love birds--that they are willing to "extend oneself" for the purpose of helping those birds.
Sometimes I have the sneaking suspicion that birdwatchers and birders are really mere users of birds, rather than real bird lovers. How many birders will drive overnight to see a rare bird, but won't take the time to become involved in the political process that can determine if bird habitats and populations are protected or destroyed? While I'm not here to oppose anyone's hobby--be it stamp collecting, rock climbing, or birding--I am wondering about the moral implications of using birds for our own enjoyment without "extending ourselves" to make sure that those birds are able to persist and enjoy whatever measure of pleasure they merit within their own sphere of creation.
Perhaps if we want people to really love birds, to be willing to "extend" themselves to help them, we should focus our efforts on teaching people how to actually help birds--rather than how to just enjoy them. While everyone who helps birds probably enjoys them as well, the arrow doesn't always (or even often) go in the other direction.
But enough from me. What do you think? Are we bird lovers or mere bird users, and if so, is that a problem?