Just as we are all birders in our own different ways, we should all keep life lists in whatever ways are meaningful to us. I keep my life list very strictly, preferring to be confident and comfortable in each bird’s identification before I add it to my personal count. Others may opt for lists only of birds they have photographed, or identified by sound, or have seen in whatever other ways they wish. But it’s your list, so keep it your way and enjoy every bird you add to it.
There are some birds, however, that don’t necessarily belong on my life list, but that I happily and proudly count among the birds I’ve seen.
- I’ve seen the graceful glory of black swans, but I’ve never been within 4,000 miles of their native Australian range.
- I’ve marveled at the outrageous colors and stunning plumage of the mandarin duck, but have never been anywhere near Asia.
- I’ve laughed at the antics of the common myna, yet have never been to India, southeastern Asia, or anywhere else these birds call home.
- I’ve seen the distinctive markings and bold personality of the Japanese white-eye, yet I’ve never been near Japan.
- I’ve been astonished at the bold coloration of the red-crested cardinal, without ever visiting its home in South America.
These are just a few of the “uncountable” birds I proudly count, on my own terms and in my own way. Each one has been living on its own in a wild habitat, and while it may have the ability to visit feeders or take advantage of supplemental food sources, it was perfectly capable and able to forage independently. Each bird was able to flee, leave, migrate, move, or escape in any way it wanted, and was not held captive in any way at the time I saw it. Nor were any of the birds loose escapees that were being actively sought for recapture to be returned to their owners, keepers, or handlers.
Yet not one of them was a native, natural bird at the place I saw it. The black swans, which I have seen in northern Utah and in the midst of urban Las Vegas, were undoubtedly escapees from private collections, but they’d adapted well to their adopted habitats and were happily thriving with other waterfowl. The same is true of the mandarin duck, which I also saw in northern Utah. The common myna is an invasive species I’ve seen in its introduced home in Miami, Florida, where it can cause trouble for other birds but is also a thrill for a birder to see. The Japanese white-eye and red-crested cardinal were both birds I saw in Hawaii, and both are introduced to the islands where they now live easily in the rich, tropical habitats, though they occasionally do cause difficulties for native birds. Still, I was happy and excited to see them – and other species in similar non-native circumstances – all the same, and thrilled to add them to my life list.
How you keep your life list is entirely up to you; it is your personal record of birds you’ve seen and enjoyed. So long as you’re comfortable with how you count birds and which ones you add to your list or decide shouldn’t be on it quite yet, you can do it in any way you choose. Furthermore, if you opt not to keep a list at all, that’s perfectly fine as well. Be your own birder, and list in your own way!