Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Review of bird book prompts discussion of "listers"

A recent review of Scott Weidensaul's "Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding" appeared with the headline "For the Birds?" and the deck "While bird-watching is more popular than ever, competitive 'listers' may not see how birds live, or that their habitat is disappearing." (The writer, Meera Subramanian, might or might not have written the head and deck; editors often do that without writers' input.)

The review included these graphs:
In "Of a Feather" Weidensaul writes, "I've harbored a growing unease and frustration at the disconnect between the burgeoning enthusiasm for birding and a pervasive apathy about the birds themselves, as organisms in their own right, whose protection and preservation should be among our highest priorities."

Weidensaul makes a strong case for conservation, flummoxed by the birders who don't see the connection between their avian beloved and the birds' need for a healthy habitat to survive. The ultimate example is the goal-oriented birder with a life list -- a master checklist of every bird he or she has ever seen -- who will spare no expense to see a rare bird, yet hardly take the time to appreciate it once found. The obsession takes over, with its origins in love and wonder lost along the way. They forget to look at the trees, the sky, the mess of shrubbery where they seek out their prey. They ignore the beauty of their specimen, alive and active in its natural environment, once the check mark is made.
The topics of the obsessed lister sparked a fair amount of comments (the thread is closed now). How often do you encounter such stereotypical listers? Are they rare or common?

4 Comments:

Blogger Mike said...

Although I've read of these alleged birders who don't care about birds, I have yet to meet one. Instead, my experience has been that the more ambitious listers develop a deeper passion for both ornithology and conservation. Makes sense really... people seem more likely to try to protect birds, even the ones halfway around the world, if they have a vested interest in their survival.

November 20, 2007 4:54 PM  
Blogger N8 said...

I think many of the comments from that thread are from non-birders seeing all serious birders as "listers" with all the negative connotations that implies. For that reason the views are somewhat skewed. I actually posted on the thread as "tupelon8" trying to explain a bit, but I'm afraid it fell on deaf ears to some extent.

I absolutely agree with Mike above, these mythical non-caring birders are sometimes usd as a strawman to beat on those who list in general. The vast vast majority of birders are interested in doing all they can for bird conservation, regardless of how many birds they have on their life list.

November 21, 2007 4:21 AM  
Blogger Leigh said...

I'm going to agree with both Mike and N8 on this, I keep lists on eBird which is a website that keeps a running tally of your life, county, and year lists. It also uses the information for scientific purposes, looking at among other things, distribution and frequency.

I think this shows that listing is not just about the tick marks, but about keeping information for personal memory, and for science. Most of the serious birders I know keep lists, and rather than take away from their interest in conservation, I think if anything, it fuels it.

November 22, 2007 9:24 AM  
Blogger John said...

I can't say that I have met any listers who did not care about conservation. I do recall some occasions when a conservation-oriented political issue would come up for discussion on a birding listserve and someone would complain angrily. Something to the effect of "I'm just here to find out bird locations, not be an environmentalist."

November 22, 2007 5:00 PM  

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