• Terry

Bird as a verb

I did a Google search (I still refuse to use Google as a verb) for a definition the word BIRD. What I found hardly surprised me...lots of reference to the noun BIRD as a feathered vertebrate...or as one's middle finger (really?). I tried searching BIRDING. Okay, now we're getting somewhere! "The recreational observation of birds as a hobby." But Andrea and I just returned from an extraordinary adventure to Northwest Ohio for The Biggest Week in American Birding. So, even the title of the festival bore the verb BIRDING, but, then, shouldn't BIRD be an acceptable verb?

More than several hundred times in the past week, I heard (and said) "we are going to bird the boardwalk this morning" or "I birded the marsh yesterday" and "BIRD ON!!" I'm convinced if when one is swimming across a pool, then one will SWIM back. Therefore, then, when one is birding the south field, then one will BIRD the north field.

I can't find any reference to BIRD as an adjective either, but last week, I sure found some BIRDY spots on the trail. The trees were lit up with warblers...almost dripping from the trees...very BIRDY trees indeed!

All this consideration of how BIRD fits into proper grammar led me to reflect on how one BIRDS...and who's doing it correctly...and who just doesn't get it. If I can accept BIRDING as a verb then there has to be some protocol for how one goes about performing this action, right? What does proper and good birding look like?

Magee Marsh on Lake Erie's south shore is a birding hotspot...a magnet for migrating warblers and other birds as well as birders from all over the country and world. A trip to Magee in May is a spectacle of bird life and an amazing study in how we bird (verb). Andrea and I go for both experiences, but, since the topic of the day is birding, let's consider the folks we meet at the Warbler Captiol of the World.

As we arrived Thursday, we were met with a throng of people clustered in a group of at least fifty staring and gasping at a bush where someone exclaimed "I've got the Kirtland's!!" The ENTIRE throng shifted to the observer waiting for guidance in seeing North America's rarest warbler. Then, another person twenty yards distant said "it's over here now!!" The throng rushed to them to get a glimpse of the tiny bird that seemed to be playing with the crowd. Is this what birding is? Fighting for a fleeting view of a tiny show off? Not to be smug, but we live close enough to the bird's isolated breeding area in Michigan to see it easily in we moved on after catching the briefest of views. (I had to see it to list it!)

Then there are the birders clothed in what many consider proper birding gear...floppy hats, tan loose pants and vests with big pockets. These folks come in two catagories. Some have worn attire, adorned with patches (much like bumper stickers) and an old, tattered field guide that may still have Eastern Towhee listed as Ruffus-sided and American Kestrel listed as Sparrowhawk and binoculars older than me. These are often older birders that know their birds like old friends. Others have what are obviously brand-new "birder-uniform" clothes and carry binoculars that cost more than three of my mortgage doubt NOT school teachers! Surely they can't both be doing this right?!?

As we moved onto the boardwalk, a man rushed by us with friends in tow saying to them "keep going, the good birds are further on". We walked slowly and got eye-to-eye views of Blackpoll, Wilson's and Chestnut-sided warblers. Surely one of us is doing this wrong?!?

Some folks take ALL DAY on the Magee Marsh boardwalk, walking, stopping, sitting, studying...going back and forth. Others walk along, stopping occasionally to look at birds that present themselves easily. When asked what they see they simply say "birds". Certainly, these can't both be right?!?

All along our birding adventures we meet folks of all of these habits. One of the richest things we have a birders is the diversity of our fellow bird-obsessed. I believe this is what makes us truely blessed be part of a fraternity, or probably family is a better word. Some are strange to us and we, no doubt, are strange to them! Andrea and I have our way of birding which, while normal and right to us may be something alien to others. Some birders are competetive. Others are passive and their motivation is much more aethetic.

So, what is the right way to bird? I heard one of my inspirations, Kenn Kaufman mention that if you enjoy your birding, you're a good birder. Don't worry, as long as you are enjoying birds, respecting birds and respecting other birders, you're doing it right! We all, all of us, bird a little differently. Some compete, some gaze at simple beauty, some look with a scientific eye and others just like to walk in a place where nature exists.

American Birding Association has developed a document that outlines their Principles of Birding Ethics that describes what responsible birding looks like. I encourage you to read and understand the principles before entering the field (you can click our image below to be taken to the American Birding Association Principles of Birding Ethics page). And, finally, BIRD ON!!


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I’ve noticed that every particular profession or interest carries along its own language. Being a educator, I can speak teacher jargon pretty fluently. Being married to an educator, Andrea does a pr