Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is birding a team sport?

Are birdwatchers truly different than other hobbyists, always sharing details of birds' locations? Do all birders help strangers while participating in this avian scavenger hunt? How often have you encountered reticent birders?

In Morning Sentinel, George Smith writes:

Birders themselves are a very special breed. We would sidle up to a couple of obvious birding experience (judging by clothes and equipment), and ask a simple question: "What do you see?"

A quick answer, tossed our way in a excited whisper, often led to an invitation to see the bird through their much-better binoculars and the opening of a bird book for a lengthy discussion about the bird's attributes, its plumage, where it wintered, the amazing journey it was now on and how to distinguish it from similar birds. Many of these birds are migrating north now and the Texas coast is their first rest stop after a long flight over the Gulf of Mexico.

I thought about how different birders are from anglers. An angler wouldn't share a hot fishing tip or spot with his or her mother. Birders will tell you everything, eagerly. Birding, apparently, is a team sport.
Altamira Oriole courtesy of John and Karen Hollingsworth/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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Blogger Connie Kogler said...

Yes, most definitely. I love sharing the view when people ask, help them to find the bird and grin when they gasp as they see it.

There's only a few times birders have been reluctant to share a special bird in my experience. Most of them can hardly wait to share.

April 29, 2009 5:05 PM  
Blogger Gavan said...

The currency in birding is bird sightings. The more currency you accrue, the more, among other things, you are thought of as a expert birder. I want to suggest that sharing sightings is more than just a benevolent move on our part. Rather, it is a part of the larger social organization of birding: the unwritten but generally understood rules we learn to follow as enter the world of bird-watching.

Expert birders are thought of pretty highly in this ole' world of birding. The Sibleys and Kaufmans of the world get reproduced at national, regional, provincial (state) and local levels. Birders know who the other expert birders are in their local area.

So, it's not surprising that we share sightings: its how we figure out just who is a good birder, who gets known as a local expert. Not convinced? When I read my local bird sightings listserv, the birder who made the original sighting is always cited (if not always, I would say this is a recognized convention, at least).

So, birding is a team sport in so much as we're conditioned to share sightings. By doing so, we're engaging in this little act not unlike the a ladder system at a tennis club. Certainly most of us are in awe and interested in birds and birds lives. But I think, with each piece of information we get, we're also judging and ranking those around us. And in that sense, thinking of birding as a sport isn't far off.

April 29, 2009 6:06 PM  
Blogger Grant McCreary said...

Gavan, you make a very good point. That is definitely a factor when reporting sightings (and possibly the main factor).

I think the point about birders being generous to others is still valid, though. It still amazes me how giving and helpful other birders are out in the field.

Like Connie, I've found that sharing with others and helping them get on birds is an important part of the birding experience.

April 29, 2009 7:00 PM  
Blogger Kolibri Expeditions said...

Yes, birders share in general...but I think North American birders are particulary friendly in the field. There is always someone ready to help a stranger.
At many of the hot spots in Europe, especially Northern Europe and in particulary Scandinavia, birders are more reserved. It is not so easy to get directions to where the good birds are. But this may have to do with Scandinavian character in general.
I am not sure about the Brits, but it is my impression that they may not be as helpful as the Americans (including Canadians) in the field at the very busy birding sites towards newbies. (I am sure I will have to eat that frase...very soon)
But birding information is generally very altruistically shared through the hotlines and message boards.
The Brits commenced writing detailed trip reports where to find specific species - stake outs - on birding holidays abroad.
In this sense it is far from selfish fishermen keeping their best places a secret - but team sport is the wrong term. It is more a community. In a way, quite similar to altruism in business, which is popular today - through the marketing through social media. Those that give altruistically, will get a bigger social network, which in the end, will result in more goodwill, as well as business. This is how the birding community works, and what Gavin touches in his thoughts.
Some tour operators in the tropics may hold their birding locality information secret as a protective business meassure, while others gladly share. (I belong to the latter category). The philosophy of sharing info even if you do this for a living is that the person asking for a specific question where I can find this or that, will probably not go on a paid tour anyway. By giving the information, you´d create goodwill (or Karma if you wish) that will reward you in the end.
Sorry for the long post!
Gunnar Engblom

April 29, 2009 10:56 PM  
Blogger Alan Tilmouth said...

Just to pick up on Gunnar's point about 'Brits' there is an element of elitism over here with some birders showing a distinct intolerance to those that are at the beginning of the learning process. Thankfully the self appointed 'elite' are still in the minority. It's interesting that there is a New Wave of British Bird Bloggers that are sharing huge amounts of knowledge and fieldcraft online for the next generations.

April 30, 2009 2:13 AM  
Blogger Gavan said...

@Alan Tilmouth

That notion of inter-generational difference between birders is interesting.

April 30, 2009 6:24 AM  
Blogger OpposableChums said...

I, like many if not most of us, enjoy sharing my sightings with other birders, but I'm even more keen on displaying my enthusiasm around non-birders. I think we all feel that "they don't know what they're missing."

Birding, and the wider comprehension of natural phenomena which it confers, has made me a better citizen of the planet. It's my deepest wish to make the planet some more friends.

April 30, 2009 4:50 PM  

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