When you’re new to bird-watching, birders can come across as a smug group of people. Whether it’s the birder in your group who insists on identifying species before everyone else or the rare bird alert at a “private address” that everyone else in the birding community seems to know about except you.
It can be tough to break into this world, so I put together this “survival” guide to make the process easier.
#1 Smug birders? Is she talking about me?
The artwork in this article was done by Rohan Chakravarty.
Birding is challenging so I think most of us can admit to feeling smug at some point. For me it’s that time I found and identified an Empidonax flycatcher on my own without even hearing it sing. Yeah, I’m pretty awesome! (Okay, this didn’t really happen).
What is a smug birder?
When I refer to the “smug birder” in this article, I’m talking about experienced and knowledgeable birders who, intentionally or not, can be intimidating or even condescending to newbies.
#2 Put in the Work
I think part of what makes experienced birders appear smug is that they’ve spent countless hours over a long period of time perfecting their birding skills. If you’re the new kid on the block, you need to show that you’re serious and willing to put in the time and effort to improve your birding skills.
Learn from more experienced birders, but don’t expect to ride their coattails.
#3 Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
This is an important one. Sometimes when I’m birding with a group of experienced people, I don’t like calling out which birds I’m seeing for fear of making a mistake. Making mistakes is a good way to learn so you can always ask the group to have a chance at identifying the next species seen.
#4 Get a Camera to Take Photographs of Birds
Taking photographs of birds you see in the field will greatly increase your chances of being able to identify them. You can scrutinize your photographs at home with a field guide in hand. Plus, getting a photograph of an unusual species will give you cred with the experienced birders!
I recommend superzoom cameras for new birders.
#5 Get Taken Seriously
Nothing irritates smug birders more than someone posting a common bird to an online bird group and wildly mis-identifying it. If you want to be taken seriously, then you need to make an effort to identify the bird before you post it online.
I’ll let you in on a secret: Merlin Bird ID has a 90% accuracy rate for identifying bird photographs. Get this app!
#6 What if I Get the ID Wrong?
Don’t worry, someone will let you know! And don’t make the faux pas of saying you are right and someone else is wrong without doing your research first. If you’re still in doubt, you can always ask the other person for their rationale.
#7 What If I Meet a Smug Birder Out on the Trail?
See anything good today?
For a new birder, it’s always intimidating to be asked by an experienced birder if you’ve seen any “good” birds. A good bird to you, might not be a good bird to them! Or you may not even know which birds you’ve seen.
Umm, err, let me review my photographs and consult 4 field guides and other experts and then I’ll get back to you!
There are different ways you can handle this conversation. If you’re new to birding, it’s okay to say that you’re just starting out and aren’t sure of the id’s yet. You can also give a more general response,
Yes, I’ve enjoyed the birding today! What about you?
#8 Build Your Network
Your chances for survival greatly increase if you have network of birders you can bird with, debate ids with and improve your skills with. I’ve developed my network through Instagram, Facebook birding groups and going on guided trips in my area.
If you follow the suggestions in this guide, you are well on your way to becoming a smug birder yourself 😉
For another great take on this topic, read Birders Should Stop “Trash” Talking
The artwork in this article was done by Rohan Chakravarty and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported