Ask non-birders who a birder is, and you’re likely to get a strong stereotype, everything from specific ages (usually older) to lifestyles (possibly vegetarian or vegan) to assumptions about other animals (hates cats). Ask what a birder does, and those answers also fall into a certain range, from feeding birds to walking trails to wearing clothes with lots of pockets. The answers to both questions get even more interesting when you start asking birders themselves.
Ask birders who a birder is, and I’m pleased that the answers get more diverse and inclusive. Birders are any age and gender, come from all socioeconomic classes and careers, live in all types of areas, and embrace all types of lifestyles and other hobbies. But if you ask birders what birders do, the answers actually get narrower and more precise, with expectations that you’re only a “real” birder if you…
- Maintain bird feeders and houses in a specific way
- Choose only bird-friendly products at stores, including clothing
- Attend birding festivals, or better yet, volunteer or lead tours
- Participate in bird counts or other citizen science projects
- Always travel to see more birds, no matter what the destination
- Join conservation organizations or birding groups
- Subscribe to birding magazines, newsletters, or websites
- Despise any and all invasive bird species
- Snub introduced, exotic, or feral birds that may be living wild
- Record your bird sightings with websites or databases
- Donate generously to bird rehabilitation and rescue facilities
- Have higher than a certain number of species on your life list
- Go birding with a certain frequency or at every opportunity
According to those traits, I’ve never been the right type of birder. They’re all fine characteristics, to be true, and if that is how you enjoy your birding, that’s wonderful. But, it’s also just fine if you don’t do any of the above.
Be Your Own Birder is exactly that – be a birder in your own way, exactly how you happen to enjoy birds and birding. We’ve explored the Universal Truths of Birding, and however you do them, those are the only three things that make you a birder… You enjoy birds, you deliberately seek out birds, and you learn more about birds. How you enjoy them, how you seek them out, and how you learn more about them are all subject to what you want to do and how you want to do it.
We’re entering the “but you must” season of birding. You “must” participate in the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, the Great Backyard Bird Count, the Big Garden Birdwatch, and other projects, not to mention year-end donations, charitable matches, gift-giving, and more, all of which “must” be bird-oriented if you’re a real birder.
I disagree. We all have different lives and different circumstances in our lives from day to day. Maybe you can’t join in organized counts because of work or family obligations, or you’re just too tired with all the other craziness of the season. Maybe your budget can’t support donations, or you disagree with other aspects of different charities and prefer not to make financial contributions. Maybe you aren’t comfortable in icy cold weather no matter how much you love birds, so you prefer to stay warm and dry inside instead of birding at this time of year. Maybe you are nervous driving in snow, or you can’t stretch the short hours of the day, or you prefer watching a holiday movie instead of heading out into the field. And you know what?
It’s okay if you don’t. It’s okay if you don’t do those “expected” birder things, or if you don’t join the mindless flock of musts at this time of year, or if you don’t get around to as much of your own kind of birding as you wish you could, just because it’s a busy time of year. You’re still a birder. And so are the people who do all those things. We’re all birders, and we’re all good.