Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Birding Is A Big Tent

Birding is a big tent. Finding rare birds rates high on the Richter scale of excitement. The more rare the bird the more exciting, such as finding a first Western Hemisphere record (remember the Red-footed Falcon, Martha’s Vineyard, Aug., 2004, I do). Huge areas of birding involve searching for and recording rare birds. Are we hard-wired to seek rare birds? Yes, there is a “novelty center” of the brain (substantia nigra/ventral segmental area) that responds to completely new things. Those new things activate our midbrain area increasing our dopamine levels which make us want to go exploring in search of a reward. 

But there are other ways that people interact with birds. Sometimes it is devotion to a single species, such as a woman I knew who was all things bluebird. She taught and led conservation efforts, had her home decorated with bluebirds on tea towels, wallpaper, dinnerware and coffee mugs. She even had dinner with bluebirds, sitting at one end of her picnic table while the Eastern Bluebirds feasted on mealworms at the other end. 

Statistics tell us that there are 45 million birdwatchers in the U.S. and the majority of them relate to birds in their backyards and at their feeders. Other research says that just being able to see birds on a daily basis from your windows or neighborhood reduces depression, anxiety and stress, so no wonder the bird feeding hobby is booming during this pandemic. Some people do bird feeding in a big way with large numbers of feeders attracting a big diversity of birds. Then there are others like the man I once met in the bird aisle of a store. He had a large bag of cheap seed, full of seeds like milo that have been shown not to attract the widest variety of birds. I tried to politely engage him and educate him about getting more bird diversity with quality seed. He really didn’t want to hear it and maybe the seed he was buying was what he could afford. I don’t even think he knew or particularly cared what species he was attracting. And I though to myself, you know that’s OK. He is where he is and in his own way gets pleasure. 

So birding is a big tent. All are welcome. The point is that all in the tent have a connection to birds. That connection is a force, whether it is a glowing ember or roaring fire. That force is what can lead to people to value and conserve birds, saving the birds, the planet, and ultimately ourselves.