Monday, June 2, 2014

The Human Birdwatcher Project Presents: It's My Job To Keep Birding Elite, or Esquire's Birder Gets Bizarre

Many of you have read it already, but I think Esquire's recent post on birdwatching is worth some of BB&B's time. Entitled "Uh-oh. Birdwatching Is About To Become Cool. (And it's too bad)", it lets us know right away that we are going to disagree with a lot of the content of the post.

As any loyal BB&B reader knows, birding is not cool. I don't want to be redundant on this subject, but birding resides deeply in the realm of the weird and nerdy. Do cool people bird? Yes, I can get on board with that. Does the activity of birding have any potential to instill any degree of coolness into someone? Absolutley not. I'm fine with that and have accepted it long ago...I'm not concerned about birding being cool or becoming cool because it's just not in the cards. Just look at all the birders out have met them. You know what I'm talking about. We are a frightening lot. The evidence is overwhelming...arguing that birding is not weird is akin to denying climate change. Arguing that birding is becoming hip is about as persuasive as trying to convince someone that the earth is flat.

A fraction of you are lucky enough to have friends outside the world of birding and biology, and with this rare and critical frame of reference lies the potential to actually understand how bizarre birders are as a whole. A number of people have told me that I am the only "cool" birder they have ever accusation I categorically deny. Sure I have nonbirding friends, some weird tattoos, can party, and have an interest in something besides birding, but for those of you who have never met me....I'm super lame. Really, being me is an immersion in embarrassment...just ask my girlfriend. I watch birds all the time, write a uberdorky bird blog, relish obscure Star Wars quotes, am constantly wishing I was watching a new Game of Thrones episode, love profoundly unpopular music (not the unpopular-but-hip stuff), and have no immunity to those awkward moments that plague most birders relentlessly.

Every once in a while, I can't shake that unmistakable feeling...the feeling that somewhere, somehow, a Philadelphia Vireo is watching me. And when I am lucky enough to actually find the bastard, I rejoice. I live for moments like these. But nowhere in this sequence of events does coolness (or lack thereof) enter the equation, and that's how it should be. South Padre Island, TX.

The author of the post seems to think that these birdercentric movies that are coming out (The Big Year and A Birder's Guide to Everything) have a shot at actually going to make birding cool. I just can't make the connection. It's not like The Big Year was directed by Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, or Christopher Guest. Sure The Big Year has made birding more popular (which does not at all translate to being "trendy" or "cool"), but it's not like hundreds of thousands of people were recruited into our nerdy ranks.

Speaking of numbers, the author infers that 50 million people go birdwatching every year, which we all know is a myth. That's well above the annual attendance for all NFL and MLB games combined, which is absurd. If that 50 million number were true, about one in six Americans would go birdwatching regularly...can you imagine that? Everyone would know a birder. Can we all get past this ridiculous number that keeps appearing in the media? The true number of casual birdwatchers and birders is likely a tiny sliver of this figure.

These people are birders. They are birding. I'm not kidding...they paid good money to do this. This is what birding looks like. Matching khaki? Hella cool. Fetal position? Fucking ace. Public crotch-burrowing? Uber hip. Photo of cool birders cooly birding by Matt Brady.

Let us skip ahead to my favorite part of the article: "I have met some of these aggressive, fist-pumping birders — frat boys with binoculars — and my God they piss me off. Last year, while I was birding in Florida, walking down a beach where piping plovers nested, I ran into a quartet of them chugging beer as they birded. They were fantastically knowledgeable about the local ecology, I might add.

Are they the future? I'm more worried about the kind of birder found in A Birder's Guide to Everything, the emo type."

I don't even know where to start.....this is truly golden. It almost sounds like a joke, but I just don't think it is. I hear birders complain about hipsters often enough (which I think frequently speaks to a long-distance yet emotionally abusive relationship with the concept of "coolness"), but being paranoid about EMO birders???? Here I am worried about how rising sea levels will eventually decimate low-lying seabird colonies, and this dude is still thinking about emo. And if birding needs anything, it is MORE BEER, not less. I have been birding for almost 20 years, including through college, and I have never observed this rare and elusive frat boy birder. Are there raging birders? Yes. There is a difference. Anyone can fact, I highly recommend it. And lastly...the number of Piping Plovers that nest in Florida is 0 (zero).

In the end, this dude is entitled to his opinion, and he does hint at some notions that I can get behind. I too think birding is weird and quirky, and I hate birding places that are packed to the gills with other birders. Dealing with too many birders at once can be a drag...I don't even know how the twitchers across the pond put up with it. But I just can't relate to the idea that more of us are a bad thing, for so many reasons that I'm not even going to bother getting into that.

Friends, we hope you enjoyed this post, which has been brought to you by The Human Birdwatcher Project ("Birders Are People Too!"). Stay tuned for information on the next birder flick coming down the pipe, which we recently learned has been given the working title, "A Birder's Guide To Your Mom." Expect many new birders in the near future.


  1. He is as clumsy as he is stupid!

  2. The reference to Nofx is superb.

  3. That is the BEST "I'm-sleeping-on-a-pelagic-that-I-paid-almost-$200-for" that I have ever seen. It's got everything. I think a post just on the topic of this picture is highly B&B worthy.

  4. So much this!
    MORE BEER (even Bourbon) is desperately needed, before, during, and after.

    I've also never seen the frat boy birders (they're as mythical as the nesting Florida Piping Plovers, perhaps), but whose to say we can't get that party started here pretty soon.

  5. birding is just as cool as the coolest thing there is when you are completely immersed in it, sufi hypnosis ecstasy style. that is why i do not want to be around other birders, because when that happens i am not really birding, im grinning like an ass and trying my best not to say something off the wall that will freak the people in your picture out. i look like a complete idiot when i am really birding, just as the the coolest musician looks embarrassing when they are really in it. the difference is that there are obvious advantages for, say, a musician to look cool and mail it in, but not for a birder. every once in a while ive met a group of birders who transcend all of this but it happens rarely at least for me i wish i got to bird with more cool birders dang.

  6. We definitely need more Emo birders. Because their fave bird would be piping plovers. That photo deserves a caption contest. I hope those 2 people know each other, or else the next photo in the sequence could be even more interesting.

  7. This entire post is brilliant. On my last TX pelagic, we had a lady sleep standing up like a horse for about three hours. If only I'd taken a picture.

  8. spent a few nights bunked up in that cabin doing surveys.

  9. Don't forget the guerrilla birders, those who kick in plywood covered entrances to abandoned buildings to look for barn owls, or covertly drive onto public (and posted) property in search of rarities (and at times get stuck in mud and found by property owners). I think I'm cool by myself, but my golfing buddies remind me what a dweeb I am when I'm calling out singing birds when I'm supposed to be hitting my tee shot.

  10. Brilliant post! That article didn't sit well with me for basically all the reasons you mention.

  11. Brilliant! Birding will NEVER be cool. NEVER. Stand proud nerds!!