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Friday, October 08, 2010

Freaks, Geeks, and Birders

For the record, this is me at age 13. In addition to the Bushnell 7x35 binocular, notice the brown pants, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge bird t-shirt, K-Mart shoes. I'm holding my plastic-framed turn-dark-in-the-sun eyeglasses. In a word, I'm a geek.

Chances are, if you are reading this, you are too. Or you were. Being a teenage birder, it was clear that I was a geek. Then I grew up. After decades of hanging out with other birders, I almost started to think I was normal. Then I had kids and started hanging out with other parents. No, birding was not somehow more cool than it used to be. Even though 1 in 5 people enjoy watching birds, being a real birder is not cool.

Just look at us!

Again, for the record, I'm including myself here. Aren't we just a little too White and Birdy? ABA board member John Robinson has written about the need to reach out to non-white audiences in Birding for Everyone. How we doin' on that? Even among white folks, are we covering the demographics? Last I looked, ABA members were mostly upper middle class (and higher), with household incomes over twice the national average. Relatively, we make a lot of money. But we're still on the geeky side.

So, what to do? Can we make birding less geeky? The Big Year movie coming out next summer should give us another look at how the rest of America sees birders and birding.

Just for fun, what if more birders looked more like this?

I'm not saying birding has to be cool. But a bigger tent might make it a little more fun!


Nate said...

Being a birder is probably not really cool, but I think an argument can be made that being able to put a name to things that other people can't is sort of a superpower that people are generally impressed by. At least in my experience this is true, but granted it usually ends up where I find I'm answering questions of kids rather than their parents.

So maybe I'm in too deep to really see out.

birdchaser said...

Nate, that would be mad birding skillz. Or at least it would have been 10 years ago. We're all probably in too deep to even talk about it correctly!

Patrick B. said...

Love the pics.

Anonymous said...

*sigh* No reflection on present company, but I would so go birding with Denzel or Antonio. Excuse me while I Photoshop my face over Catherine's. (I've also got a Brangelina pic from my "Good Birders Don't Wear White" presentation that you ought to see.)

But seriously, based on Owen Wilson's wardrobe in production stills from The Big Year, I don't think there'll be any way to salvage our image once the movie's out.

Bird Feeders said...

Haha, great article! Love the photographs. I have to say, it comes as a huge shock to hear that birding isn't cool, thats why I got into it in the first place! The binocular pendants are going to be huge in the rap scene this year, I can already hear the hit single "Birdin with my Baby".

Linda said...

HA. This is a riot. The PhillyBirdNerds have noticed the same thing.

Nate said...

Looking back over the photos, I have to say I'm surprised Antonio went with the SLCs, he totally seems like a Swarovision guy to me...

Luisa said...

As a lifelong birder, a middle-school teacher and a California latina -- Mexican-American -- I'd like to add a few thoughts.


And this.

Here in SoCal I've noticed quite a few latin@ birders — one of the L.A. Audubon field trip organizers is a Spanish-speaking Mexican-American. Maybe we're so geeky we just blend right in, or something. [It could be that birders are like musicians -- no one notices what you look like, only whether you can play.]

Kind of related: my suburban students include latinos, Asian kids, white kids, black kids and every half-this, one-quarter-that blend of ethnicities and interests under the sun.

All these students seem to have one thing in common: they don't get outdoors much. I remember the 'holy crap' feeling I got when the topic of protecting open space came up maybe ten years ago and my students looked puzzled for a moment and then asked, politely and sincerely, "What's wrong with more malls?"

If we can get kids -- and adults -- outdoors, we can inspire some of them to become birders, but IMHO we need to get them outdoors first. Then, maybe the ABA could sponsor a Young eBirder of the Month thing, with an iPod loaded with bird apps for each honoree. Young Backyard eBirder of the Month -- Young Urban eBirder -- teams! School vs school! Regionals! [yoga breaths]

While I'm sermonizing here, I may as well throw in a request: If you have an old pair of binoculars or can afford to buy a cheap new pair, please consider donating them to an outdoor ed program. The first time I took a group of students to the San Jacinto Wildlife Area [this was back when school districts had money for field trips] I wound up adjusting a pair of loaner binoculars for an 8 or 9 year old, and he looked through them and was absolutely transfixed. He turned to me and gasped, "Teacher! You can see far away!"

My parents and grandparents were all about the outdoors, and I can never remember a time during my childhood when a field guide and a pair of binoculars weren't available. I was very lucky. Most kids aren't that fortunate, no matter what socio-economic or ethnic group they belong to, and IMHO it's up to us [birders, conservationists] to help take up the slack, get people outside, and share what we know and care about.

[Oy -- sorry this is so long.]

Anonymous said...

Fantastic comment, Luisa!

birdchaser said...

Thanks Luisa, lets talk some more!

Pat ODonnell said...

Fun post. Birders here in Costa Rica are sometimes geeky but most of the younger birders are actually considered to be kind of cool (or at least not geeky) maybe because they work in ecotourism, an important sector of the economy.

Luisa said...

Thanks, Rob!

OMG, Sheri, you signed a copy of your book for me last month in San Berdoo! I was... [looks around, lowers voice] theonewiththehummingbirdearrings.

Come back, Denzel, come back...!

Anonymous said...

Luisa: ROFL!

I sure had fun on my visit. Kirk took me birding up in the mountains the morning after the meeting - not mega-birdy, but great company and gorgeous scenery.

Anonymous said...

My 9yr old son has just discovered birding and has joined his schools birding club. At first I was horrified. My wife and I have always been very active people.Climbing, kayaking, sports, playing music, etc. I don't want want my son to be perceived as a dork. His brother is mister cool. Star athlete, handsome, strong, funny. And my 9yr old, not cool at all. But I will always support his endeavors with love and enthusiasm. Even if I don't understand them. Point being, is there any glimmer of hope that birding, and birders are secretly the coolest people on the planet?

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