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NY Times article about bird watching (fwd)
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- Subject: NY Times article about bird watching (fwd)
- From: Joshua Stuart Rose <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Sun, 4 Feb 2001 17:43:07 -0500 (EST)
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Haven't been by the house yet this weekend to see if my little Rufous
guest is still around. Hopefully I'll get to it tomorrow. Meanwhile,
found a copy on-line of a New York Times article about birdwatching. Wow,
our little hobby must have made it to be featured in the NYT! I think the
excitement over the G-C Kinglet was probably another of the endless
examples of the media getting their birds crossed; I think GCKIs are
pretty normal for the DC area in winter, not "unexpected" as the article
says. But there I go, letting a tree get in the way of my view of the
Vagrants: a biologist in the Florida Keys videotaped a Zone-tailed Hawk
back in December! Apparently in an off-limits area, but who knows where
it might have flown to in the two months since? Hawk-watchers, watch
those vultures carefully when they start coming north... Also in Florida,
a Heerman's Gull in Sanibel; no guesses yet whether this is the same
individual seen further north on the gulf coast earlier this winter. A
little further afield, California has a vagrant from ITS west: a Greater
Sand-Plover! First record for this continent, if they can confirm that it
isn't a Mongolian Plover...
Joshua S. Rose
Department of Biology (Zoology, R.I.P.)
From today's New York Times
February 4, 2001
As Their Numbers Soar, Birders Seek Political Influence to Match
By FRANCIS X. CLINES
NEW ALEXANDRIA, Va., Feb. 3 < The golden-crowned kinglet alighted only
briefly in the riverfront scrub of the Potomac River's western shore. But
it arrived like a feathery punctuation mark for some fascinated bird
watchers who had ducked out of the capital city across the river to take
a midday break from their determined new task of building what amounts to
a political lobby for birds.
"That's the code we're now trying to crack," said one of the birders,
Gavin Shire, a conservation officer with the American Bird Conservancy, a
nonprofit organization. "How to translate the immense popularity of
birding into a political force to be reckoned with."
He referred to the quiet, teeming world of bird watchers and feeders, a
gentle public wary of being seen as foppish, that now includes about one-
fifth of the American population, more than 50 million people who
outnumber hunters and anglers combined, according to the Fish and
Bird watchers now spend more than $25 billion a year on feed, binoculars,
travel forays and high-tech innovations like winterized birdbaths and
television "nest cams" to track their plumed favorites from home or watch
penguins caper live on the Internet.
Many of the birders cannot believe the success of their own growing
"I got into birding as a kid to get away from people, and I have to laugh
now at the idea that it's become a booming industry," said Pete Dunne,
the vice president of the New Jersey Audubon Society. "But, you know,
there are damn few people who don't like birds."
The birders' world increasingly involves city and suburban denizens
intent on breaking beyond the asphalt routine to find something fresh and
contemplative about life. But, almost by definition, their pastoral
calling lacks political clout. And this is the problem now challenging
bird conservationists determined to find a way to build a populist lobby
against the increasing threats to bird habitats presented by human
This task may sound no less daunting than sighting a resplendent quetzal
to the average weekend birder. But various birding and wildlife groups
are forming an 83-member policy council through the conservancy
(www.abcbirds.org) dedicated to building political awareness and
translating it into budget and legal muscle to protect the myriad of
nongame birds fluttering under the gaze of this special-interest public.
"If we could reach all of that group it would be remarkable," said Mike
Parr, the conservancy's vice president for development, of the mass of
amateur birders. "But so far we don't have a brilliant strategy to engage
them all out there," he admitted in the midst of his midweek birding
along the the Potomac River.
The quiescence of birders is no surprise to such master birders as Mr.
Dunne. He directs the Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory at the
Jersey Shore, where hotels that used to close after Labor Day are now
booked deep into the fall for the seasonal bird migrations.
"People shy away from the label bird watcher," said Mr. Dunne, who spies
backyard feeders all over the landscape and gently questions their
owners. "The answer is always, `Oh, no, I'm not really a birder.' People
have gone out of their way to buy a device that will give them intimacy
with birds, but they're not bird watchers," he said.
The evidence of birding's popularity is mounting, with two major new
field guides vying for the lucrative market, scores of new festivals
helping local economies in some of the most exotic birding areas and an
increasing variety of pro-bird measures. These include the annual Keep
Your Cat Indoors Day on May 12 to sensitize the nation to the loss of
millions of backyard birds every year.
Hundreds of high-style bird food stores have opened, offering everything
from the Yankee Flipper (a battery-powered feeder whose perch begins
wildly spinning at the touch of an intrusive squirrel to cast him off)
to Under Cover Coffee (purist beans harvested without the usual denuding
of bird habitats). Most birders ignore kitsch trappings and make do
simply with a pair of binoculars and a field guide.
Birding has grown with Americans' leisure time and disposable income.
Paradoxically, new birders are emerging in the suburban rings of "sprawl"
that conservationists have denounced for destroying bird habitats.
Conservationists estimate that one in every six species is in decline in
North America and could wane by half in the next 30 years as humans use
up more land.
"It's this steady nibbling away at bits of habitat through big housing
developments that's really creating a problem and could come to a
crisis," said David A. Sibley, author of "The Sibley Guide to Birds"
Mr. Sibley doubts some of the booming numbers but not the passion of
modern birding. The premier watchers' group, the American Birding
Association (www.americanbirding.org), has only 22,000 members, but these
are among the most traveled and sophisticated devotees.
Mr. Sibley is in daily demand as a speaker now that his book, based on 30
years of experience as a photographer and birder, has become a best
seller, with 300,000 copies in print. It is being hailed as on a par
with the classic Audubon and Peterson field guides.
A second new guide, "Birds of North America" (Houghton Mifflin, 2000), is
also selling well. It offers computer-modified spotting photographs and
the guidance of Kenn Kaufman, a Whitmanesque birder who hikes America and
celebrates "the pleasure of simply watching a bird, without analyzing it
Such was the mood here in the Dyke Marsh preserve as Mr. Parr led his
colleagues on a birding trek against the backdrop of the national
"I've got a bald eagle here," Mr. Parr announced as he trained his
His companions exemplified birders' idiosyncrasies. These range from
"twitchers" who are in a hurry to merely checklist multiple sightings to
"extreme birders" who go native and take up residence with the birds.
Linda Farley, the conservancy's antipesticide specialist, loves the
sounds of birds. She calls them forth, particularly with her practiced
"pish-pish" cry - an alarm call that rallies birds to flock in large
"Hear that: tea-kettle tea-kettle?" Ms. Farley asked, easily mimicking
the Carolina wren. And she beamed in responding to a nearby white-
throated sparrow: "Oh Can-a-da!"
But few birders can rival the adventures of Mr. Shire, a nature
roustabout. He took up piloting an ultralight airplane so he could be
one of the shepherdlike guides who experimentally re-educate flocks of
trumpeter swans to rediscover their ancient East Coast flyways, from
which the swans had been displaced.
"It's phenomenal," Mr. Shire said of flying in the open skies as the
trusted leader at the head of a vee of swans and even switching the
engine off to "thermal" with them on the earth's heat vents.
The communal aspect of birding emerged as members of the group alerted
one another to an unexpected winter sighting of a golden-crowned kinglet.
As they chatted, they mourned the passing of Phoebe Snetsinger, a world-
class lister, a globe-trotting birder with an enviable record of exotic
sightings. She died in an auto accident in Madagascar.
"I'm betting Phoebe was on the trail of something special," Mr. Dunne
said of Ms. Snetsinger. Taking up the hobby when she was stricken with
cancer, Ms. Snetsinger added wondrous years to her life, said Mr. Dunne
in explaining a human being's need to watch birds.
"It's just a treasure hunt," he said.