American Birding Podcast



THE TOP 10: Birding Taboos

We’ve all got’em. Flashpoints. No-no’s. A little illicit indulgence here and there. Such subjects are usually best left undiscussed… but not today. Here we shall have it out and get’em all on the table, in plain sight, for all to see. What follows is a list of the Top 10 Birding Taboos. On some subjects I offer some opinion, and hopefully some insight, but for others enough has been said already!

And see the info about ABA Events below.

10.       Hawai’i and amending the ABA Area

This has been much discussed as folks have strong opinions for and against adding the 50th state to the ABA Area.

BTCU Hawaii_20090315_0333x

If Hawaii becomes part of the ABA Area, the Bristle-thighed Curlew could become a much easier bird to see; provided you are able to make it to Hawai’i. (Photo by G. Armistead)

9.         Laser Pointers

Many birding guides have found laser pointers a godsend. They are great for showing people birds in areas where spotting or relocate birds is difficult (especially in forest). Other folks find them disruptive. In many instances laser pointers greatly aid in showing birds to fellow birders,  but they do have some drawbacks. Surely by now everyone is aware, or can intuit, that shining a laser beam into the eye of any animal is a very, very bad idea that could result in permanent damage to the eye.

Given that, laser pointers should be used with caution, and it only requires a little conscious effort to use one safely. Some birds (like hummingbirds) are frightened by lasers and so using one will only hasten a bird’s disappearance. Occasionally birding guides are careless with them and over-use them so that the birders in their charge become unpracticed at receiving directions the old fashioned way and then are slower to find birds in situations where a laser pointer won’t work. Personally, I rate them on the plus side; in some situations, used properly, they really improve the quality of a group birding experience.


8.         Records Committees

Avidly followed by some, records committees are loathed by others.


7.         Listing and listers

Somewhere along the way listing picked up a negative connotation in certain circles. Being a slave to the list is unhealthy, as you don’t want to reach a point where you fail to enjoy the birds in front of you, but listing actually generates a lot of good and healthy activity among birders.
Keeping a day list, a month list, a county list, or even doing a big year will lead to a bunch of interesting experiences while forcing you to think about bird distribution and behavior. It’s this peeling back of the layers that is surely part of why eBird is the success that it is. In fact, some of the most expert among us are serious listers who enjoy it for the knowledge it has brought them.


6.         Dirty Birds

We’ve all got a couple. These are the “BVD” (better view desired) birds, “heard-only”, or “questionable origin”-type of birds. Entries we have counted on a list but that aren’t supported by the best views, or any views, or that conceivably have just escaped from a cage inside somebody’s home or waddled off a freighter.


5.         Stringers

Every state/province has got at least one and we all know who they are. They’re the birders who always find rarities while they are by themselves and always fail to photograph them. For these birders most of their birds are dirty. In some cases these folks come up with one incredible find  after another, but they almost always fail to document their sightings with recordings, video, photos, etc., and so we are left to wonder what they really saw. Often there is little wonder, and we can be certain that the reports are nothing other than figments of hope that mutated into a “sighting”. In other cases we are simply left to wonder….what did they actually see? Was it really a ….?


4.         IBWOs


Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in 1937 (Photo by James Tanner)

Y’all knew this was coming. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker has become perhaps the biggest taboo in birding. The “irrefutable evidence” that came out of Arkansas, then Florida, then a host of other spots, looks a lot more like hearsay in hindsight. Hope gone awry. In the process reputations  were soiled and relationships between many folks who work in ornithology and conservation were strained or even ruined. The whole thing was a mess and a shame.


3.         Hunting

My good friend Marshall Iliff once told me that he figured birding is sort of a hybrid between hunting and stamp-collecting and I think that’s not far off. There is actually a fair amount of overlap between birders and hunters, but I know some hunters who are birders and keep their hunting hobbies quiet around other birders. Undeniably, hunting is a (the?) driving force in conservation.


2.         Playback

GLA taping Sand Partridge_n2

While guiding in the UAE, George tries to draw out a Sand Partridge using a recording of its call. (Photo by Rich Kuehn)

Playing recorded bird songs to attract birds is another hot-button issue. Initially, it seems like disturbance, and so it typically incites a reactionary response. A more nuanced accounting reveals that in many instances using playback is a pretty responsible course, considering the alternatives (e.g. having large groups of birders loitering in a bird’s territory for prolonged periods). The real answer lies in  exercising common sense and caution and being self-aware.

1.         Outdoor cats

The jury is in on this one. Keep your cats indoors. Simple as that.

Why not explore birding taboos together, in person.

Come be a part of these upcoming 2013 ABA Events:

The Cradle of American Ornithology
Philadelphia, PA                     Mar. 27th-31st
Instructors: Ted Floyd & George

Rarity-hunting in Alaska’s Pribilofs
St. Paul Island, AK                Sept. 25th-Oct. 2nd
Guides: Doug Gochfeld & Scott Schuette

Ross’s Gull Expedition to Barrow, Alaska
Barrow, AK                            Oct. 4th-8th
Guides: John Puschock & George Armistead