As the years go by and a birder sees more and more birds, certain things happen. A birder will start to feel a certain way about certain birds. For example, I'm quite fond of Baird's Sandpipers.
Baird's Sandpipers are one of the dullest North American birds. They have a severely limited color palette to work with. In migration, the only time I ever see them, they essentially behave the same as all the other peeps, though they tend to forage on slightly drier mud rather than out in the water. Is that fascinating? I think not. They are a bit bigger than other peeps and have long wings. Their calls are distinct, but not terribly interesting. They are pleasantly patterned but it's nothing a sandpiper can brag about. I suspect they are much more interesting to watch up on their breeding grounds on the tundra...but I've never been there and never seen them north of North Dakota.
And yet...I'm quite fond of Baird's Sandpipers. Perhaps it is just a function of their abundance, or lack of it. They are not a rare bird here, but they are respectfully uncommon. It's difficult to put a finger on.
Perhaps a commoner bird would be a better example of what I'm talking about...I like rare birds, so maybe I'm biased. How about...Mew Gulls.
Mew Gulls are dirt common here. One can see hundreds in a morning without putting in any effort at all. When someone tells me they haven't seen a Mew Gull before, I look at them funny, even if there are a multitude of excellent explanations for why they have not seen one. A life of birding without Mew Gulls is a strange notion to me. They are here in the bay area, in large numbers, for almost half the year. They are a familiar sight. Unlike other gull species, one does not see a flock of Mew Gulls and immediately think, "Oooh, there could be something good in there", which is my reaction whenever I see a bunch of Glaucous-winged/Herring/Western/Thayer's, etc. Yet, like them I do. They are small, they are unobtrusive, they occasionally make cute noises, and they don't hybridize with all their cousins. They aren't terribly unique, looking like a cross between a kittiwake and a Ring-billed Gull, but that doesn't bother me. Looking at them pleases me.
But with other common birds, I feel a bit differently. I need not list them all...I approve of them, surely, but after seeing so many...it can get old. The years go by, you see thousands of them..."familiarity breeds contempt", as the saying goes. You understand this. I doubt you are thrilled to see a Double-crested Cormorant these days, there is nothing wrong with that.
However, there is one bird that people consistently really, really get worked up about in California; I don't know why...they are not rare, they are not limited to a specific habitat. They are regular here in large numbers. See?
Look at that. They seem to be everywhere! A truly abundant bird. This bird, for about half the year, is reported to listservs more than any other single species, including a lot of significantly rare species. The amount of listserv traffic the Marin Dusky Warbler generated last month was a drop in the bucket compared to the praise this species inspires. Amazing for something so common right? So what could this species be? Surely it must be something beautiful, something charismatic, something that strikes a chord deep in the heart of every birdwatcher. Could it be a bird of prey? A facemelty oriole? A striking species of waterfowl? A hell of a warbler?
It's a Pine Siskin.
Why? Why is this bird so revered? Look at it! It makes a Savannah Sparrow look crippling in comparison. Minus a dash of yellow, it rocks the color scheme of a female House Finch, one of the most aesthetically-loathed birds out there. I get that people are excited about birds that show up in their yards, but why is such attention not lavished on California Towhees? Anna's Hummingbirds? Allen's Hummingbirds? Chestnut-backed Chickadees? These birds are just as worthy of praise, if not substantially more so. I have seen thousands of Anna's Hummingbirds and can still be fascinated by one...with siskins...I'm sorry, I just don't get the universal appeal. It's not as if they are a highly irruptive species here. Give me Bushtits for my team, you keep your siskins.
And so there we have it...the most overrated bird in California, in my opinion, is the Pine Siskin. It is not a bird that I have hate for, but I seem to have an empty heart for this species compared to so many other birders. Why this species dominates listservs in counties from Oregon to Mexico is not something I can fully explain.
What do you think is the most overrated bird in your state? Is it also Pine Siskin? I suspect it could be. Just don't tell me "Snowy Owl" or some other awesome bird that rightly deserves the pedestal it occupies. Let's get to the heart of this thing.