There's been a recurring theme lately in the birding world, and this post has been slowly and steadily building in me. It's about birders and how the world sees us, if we even care about their opinion, and where we are going as a group.
It's been a mission of mine, at least informally, to wipe out the classic stereotype of "birder" or "birdwatcher". Just look at the header of my blog. I've never ever been considered "uncool" or a "nerd". And frankly, I hate labels anyway. But to make things easier for all of us, we do tend to lump people together.
So for the sake of argument, let's just accept the fact that there are labels.
A non-birder, or anyone who has seen a movie or TV show depicting birders, knows the stereotype.
Nerdy, nooby, contemptible and socially awkward people who wear silly pants and/or hats, wear binoculars around their necks and spout the Latin names of birds. That sounds familiar, right?
What part of that description is accurate for EVERY birder you know?
"wears binoculars around their necks"
I won't get into the psycho-social aspect of labeling and stereotyping, but I've learned that even if a stereotype is a positive one, it can still be harmful in the fact that it lessens the individual it pertains to. It limits your ability to see the whole person.
The Big Year came out yesterday, and it kind of felt like birders came out, too. I enjoyed it immensely and didn't care that they got a few things wrong. It's a work of fiction. But I liked the story pulse behind each main character. Crazy about birds? They sure were. Prissy, Latin-spouting noobs? They sure weren't.
Lots of birders were in a froth about using it as a springboard to bring in more birders, and I think that's valid. But I stayed out of the discussions that quickly degenerated into nit picking about bird IDs. It's a MOVIE.
What about the ABA? An organization that is supposed to be for us, by us? Have they represented us well in the past? It seems not. I was ignorant of the ABA until Jeff Gordon took the helm, and most of what I have heard has been the same...."I feel that it isn't an organization for ME. I don't do hardcore listing or get into fights about wear on a gull's tertials." I hope that birders will see the ABA in a different light, to forget about the stereotype that seems to be following the organization. I'm a member of the ABA. Does that make me a hardcore lister or rude know-it-all?
There was a little kerfuffle on Facebook a few weeks ago...I was talking about a certain bird we all saw at Ottawa NWR, and someone wanted to see photos. I chose not to post them, because they did not capture what we SAW through our binoculars. It rapidly spiraled into a war of doctrine and flat-out rudeness, from someone I don't know personally. When I said that this kind of thread was what was wrong with birding, all Hell broke loose. There was even a threat made by this pompous birder to use the thread in an article. This seems to be a facet of the ABA that lots of people recognize. The snooty, uptight and belligerent tone that some "old school" birders affect just rubs me the wrong way. Isn't this supposed to be fun? Sure, there needs to be record committees and people who keep track of stuff. But what about the joy of it all?
(This next part has to do with race. Please spare me any gripes about my verbage or labels. I'm the most non-racist person in the world and I am using typical terms for people of colors and creeds different than me, so just don't go there.)
Another aspect of this theme is diversity. Okay, birders. Count on your hands ten birders you know. Now, put down a finger for each non-Caucasian birder you named. How many fingers went down?
I know lots of different people. All colors and nationalities. But I know zero non-white birders. No African Americans, no Latinos, no Asians...everyone is very much like me. I've seen black and Latino birders, so I know they exist. But they are so few and far between they are noticeable. I think most birders, or even just decent people in general, would be highly offended to think that their hobby is all-inclusive, snobby and white-elitist. But it's a fact that we tend to be white, middle to upper class folks. "Tend" to be....and that's the problem with stereotypes. None of us "tend" to be anything. We are what we are.
I'm attending the diversity conference in Philadelphia next week and I am excited to learn about what can be done about the disparity. To understand it more, to change it, to bring more people of all sorts to the wonderment of birding.
I leave you to think on this, but in closing, I am including photos of birders. First, think of the stereotype. Then look at the people. Then put the stereotype down and never pick it up again.