Recently, on the Bird Forum, someone asked this of birders:
What do you actually like about birds?
I can’t remember the particulars of my answer — I did answer, I think — but it boiled down to a simple enough sentiment: that birds are for everyone. I’ve had leisure to think about that, lately, whilst in the grip of a pernicious cold, so I thought I’d share my musings with the Internet. The Internet cares deeply about my appreciation for birds. There are probably even birds on the Internet, reading this and feeling either flattered or mildly offended, depending on how well I’ve expressed myself, and whether or not they’re well-represented in any photographic material I’ve chosen to include.
So. Birds are for everyone, and here’s why:
1) You don’t need anything special, to enjoy them. A nice camera, a powerful scope, a big book of birds — all these are handy, but if you haven’t got any, there’ll still be birds. You can sit on your doorstep and watch the trees; sooner or later, a bird’ll be along. You can wait by the water, and something’ll swim up, or dive down, or sail overhead. You can wait for the bus, even, and a bird might wait with you. Come to think of it, once, I was waiting for the bus — the number 8, along Broadway — and when it pulled up, there was a bird riding on top of it. A bird on a bus, surfing through traffic; wish I’d had a camera, back then.
There aren’t many places you can’t bird. Even in bed, fighting the cold, I watched great streams of crows descend, squawking, upon their roost. Finches visited, and song sparrows, and I sat up to watch them eat and fight and bite my plants. Something black and white and triangle-shaped, like a stealth bomber, flew by at high speed. I heard chickadees and bushtits, and somewhere, a hawk.
2) Birds fit nicely into the gaps in your life. They’re for busy people, too. You can spot a few along your morning commute, or leave a window open for birdsong. Of course, quality of said song might vary by location. That is to say, if you’re not in Britain, you’ll be getting more…well, a pack of annoying carollers on your doorstep, than King’s College Choir. (I’m sure everyone says the same of their own birds, the ones on the soundtracks to their childhoods, but I assure you, there’s no cheeping nor chattering more pleasant than that of the British hedgerow.)
(This is the point, I think, where I thank my lucky stars birds can’t read. They’d probably send me a bag of honkety Canada geese, for that last comment. How dare I malign the delightful tweets of Vancouver?
@vancouver_burd Yeah! How dare you?
3) Birding can be as neat and tidy as you please. Birds are for people who can’t be arsed with packing up a load of stuff, every time they want to indulge their interest. I mean, compare birding to other popular pursuits. Stamp collecting, you need stamps, and those wee sticky mount thingies, and a book to put them in, and a kettle for steaming, and probably loads of other crap, too. Badminton, you need a net, and a court, and some racquets, and — ha, ha! — a birdie. Bowling, you need an alley, and they make you wear nasty used shoes. Music, you need an instrument, and probably a spot of privacy; people don’t always take kindly to impromptu concerts, particularly when scales and exercises are involved. You can’t pause in the middle of lunch, and say to yourself, “You know, I think I’ll take the rest of this outside, get in a spot of dirt biking while I eat,” or “Oh, bugger; I’ve missed my train. Well, there’s another along in an hour; in the meantime, I’ll play the piano.” But you can bird while you eat, or wait for a lift. Even if you’ve got nothing with you — not a scope, not an iPhone birding app, not a bit of paper for note-taking — you can watch birds go about their lives, and derive some pleasure from it. And if you find yourself surrounded by strange birds, with no means of identification at hand, you can still get a kick out of their antics.
4) It doesn’t make much difference if you’re the best birder in the world, or the worst. Birds aren’t laughing at you (though, people might…oh, and some birds too, if they’re kookaburras). As long as you don’t let your birding activities encroach upon their, eh, birdly ones, you’re fine. Northern flickers don’t get their beaks out of joint if you think they’re golden flickers, even though you don’t get golden flickers in your area — what are you, daft? You can take your latest sighting home, mull it over, check it, recheck it, and if you never figure out what you saw, or make a complete pig’s ear of it, you’ve still had a good time. And you’ll probably get it anyway, months or years later, with a bit more experience under your belt.
5) Birds are even for bad people. You can still go birding when nobody likes you. (And if you choose to eat worms — you know, because nobody likes you, and everybody hates you, and you’re supposed to go in the garden and eat worms, in these cases — you’ve something in common with ’em! You can bring a big can of worms, and have a bird banquet. Eww. Sorry.)
At any rate, enjoy your birding, Internet — er, everyone; I’ve more to say on the subject, and more pictures of song sparrows, but those are for later. You’ll have to come back, if you want to hear more of my fascinating and never-thunk-before thoughts on birding.