When you first start birding just about every bird you see seems like a good one. Then you start to familiarize yourself with all the species in your area and things change. You begin to grow tired of seeing common, everyday birds and start to search for migrants, rare birds or any species you haven't seen.
If you feel as though looking at common birds though your binoculars is a waste of time then you might be suffering from Avian Snob Syndrome :
Here are 5 signs that you may be suffering from this affliction:
1) "I could have seen one of those in my own backyard."
Have you ever been an organized birding field trip and thought to yourself-something along the lines of-"Let's get to the good stuff- I can see one of those birds in my own backyard" I've actually heard other birders say things like that during field trips on several occasions.
2) Have you seen anything good this morning?
Have you ever been out at a popular birding spot and asked another birder- "Have you seen anything good this morning."
What if their response was-"Yes, I saw a beautiful Cardinal and 2 nice Blue Jays, and a Mourning Dove."
I'm assuming that you would have a polite response but honestly, what would you really be thinking to yourself?
I've often heard experienced birders say "the usual suspects" in response to the same question which is another way of saying same old stuff. What is the crime a that these birds are suspected of committing?
3) The second you identify one common species you're already looking for the next.
See the bird-identify the bird and on to the next one. Most birds just aren't worthy of a second look-right?
4) You say that you like to study bird behavior-but for how long?
You study bird behavior-really? Lots of birders claim this but for how long -20 seconds? I doubt many birders spend a lot of time studying the behavior of common birds.
5) You subconsciously rate the species you see:
What would you rather see-A House Sparrow or a Cedar Waxwing? A Yellow-rumped Warbler or a Blackburnian Warbler? Chances are, you have an answer to those questions because many birders tend to place a value on each species they encounter. This might be based on rarity, appearance, or other factors but ask yourself this question. Is one species really better than another?
I wish that I could say that I'd be just as excited to see a catbird today as I was the first time I saw one. The truth is that I too have suffered from symptoms of Avian Snob Syndrome. If we dismiss 95% of the birds we see as being too common to be worth our attention then 95% of our time spent birding is also a waste of time. The good news is that we have a choice. With a little patience, creativity, and imagination we can continue to enjoy watching birds even if they're not listed on the daily rare bird report. I think it's worth the effort.
Great post! I was thinking that the other day....there was a Verdin out in the wild and this group of guys was excited....and I thought to myself, "I have these guys nesting in my tree and raiding the hummingbird feeder." So to combat the boring same old same old....I use my camera to capture angles I've never gotten before.....and that's how I keep our familiar bird friends fresh:) But I have to admit, Redwing Blackbirds are cool, but I can't snap anymore shots of them. But I sure do love their calls. Excellent post!
I, too suffer from Avian Snob Syndrome! Knowingly or otherwise, I tend to pass over the so-called common backyard birds like mourning doves, cardinals, tufted titmice, etc., but the truth is that passing value judgments is innately human. Even birders are subject to committing this crime (yes, I consider Avian Snob Syndrome a crime). I remember visiting Lake Conestee Nature Park in Greenville, SC last month and asking another birder (who was venturing all on his own) whether he'd seen anything "of interest" that morning? He replied, "Red-tailed hawk!" to which I thought, "Ya whatever, I see those everyday. Do I really care?" But then he said it's a nest! That's when I collected myself and followed him within view of the nest, where I got my first view of a red-tailed hawk nest! It was absolutely beautiful and made me respect the birds even more!
I totally agree, and am ashamed to say that I have A-S-S (Avian Snob Syndrome) at times. But my husband is much better than me and will get excited about all birds. Nice article.
I often find myself internally being a snob when non birders try to strike up a friendly conversation when I'm out birding. They'll usually say something innocent like "did you see that Cedar Waxwing back there?" I nod and say yes but on the inside I'm thinking "yeah I saw it and three hundred of its brothers and sisters today also." People I work with when they find out I'm a birder will say things like "we have an eagle living near us." Its almost impossible to spend any time outside here and NOT see an Eagle.
I do love all seeing all the birds. I enjoyed this post, my hubby has mentioned on occasions that I might have this Avian Snob Syndrome.
Rohrerbot-Being able to concentrate on photography adds another dimension to birding. An interesting photo of a bird you see often is still a good photo.
Nikhil Jain-Passing judgement is human nature and so is wanting more and better. It's interesting to see birders admit to what they're really thinking.
eileninmind-If you enjoy seeing all birds then your doing better than most.
Oh dear, mostly guilty as charged. While I'm still only a backyard birder, I do dismiss Blue Jays and Grackles! Thanks for a thought provoking post.
What a good post. I was sitting on a bench by the river yesterday when a man came and pulled out a booklet of grainy photos he had taken along this path so far this spring. I went through each photo with him and his enthusiasm for the common species of butterflies, birds and flowers was contagious. He enjoyed everything he saw and that is really the best way to be.
warriormom-When I take the time to observe Blue Jays, I find it interesting the way they go about their business. Most of the time I my binoculars glide right past them though.
Ruth-If you can put yourself in another person's shoes it can be enjoyable to see something through someone else's eyes.
It's easy to forget that rarity and "specialness" is a largely relative thing when it comes to birds!
When it do this it really depends on the setting - When I'm at home or not out LOOKING for birds I always enjoy watching the antics of "common birds" on a regular basis. For me right now on Guam my backyard birds are Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Island Collared Dove, Yellow Bittern, Black Drongo and White Tern (and that is nearly ALL of the species that live here!), but a year ago living in New Mexico it was Greater Roadrunner, Western Kingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and Swainson's Hawk. I'm sure plenty of birders would drool over the prospect of seeing some of these birds - just as I would drool over seeing birds that are common elsewhere! We all love seeing birds that are "exotic" to us! I suppose the time I'm worst about this is when other birders are talking about birds I've seen around the world as "rarities", in which case my husband and I usually exchange a look and recall how common that bird was in whatever country we were in last year. So yes, I'm guilty of this too! But I remember when I first started birdwatching how excited I was about Yellow-rumped Warblers! Heck, I'm still pretty excited about them, actually. XD
When I'm in the field searching for something new and exciting it's easy enough to dismiss the "common" birds that I've seen before. Even if they were new and exciting earlier the same day sometimes! But I do really enjoy them all.
So yes, I think we all have this tendency, but at least for me personally I really do love all of the birds. Even the common ones, because it's all relative anyway!
Rohrerbot - I agree with your comment about photography helping to keep a fresh mind about birds you see all the time. Yesterday at a Wetlands site south of Bristol (England) I came across a Eurasian Blackbird which is one of the most common birds in UK but it was standing on the ground 6 feet from me with a bright green grub in its beak. It didn't fly away but was cocking its head from side to side until it moved forward to grab a worm from the grass. It clearly knew I was there but allowed me to take some (hopefully ok) pictures.
So, even though I went to the site to have a chance of seeing some less common birds my closest encounter was with one I see in our garden every day.
Having said that, I still asked someone "Have you seen anything good?" the previous week so I think we probably all suffer from A.S.S. to some degree however much we might like to think that we don't.
Keith Williams. Bristol, England
Hey, sometimes the only activity is a junco! Be thankful for that.
This was just so great!! Those of us who only see birds around our own homes get to 'study' them pretty well. We know about when the swallows will come back, and when we'll hear the first woodcock. In my case, familiarity doesn't breed contempt, but great affection. :<)
You hit that nail on the head, Larry. I stand guilty as charged but with a new and improved outlook... ;)
Great post Larry! I read it a week or so ago and meant to get back to it..I wanted to share it on facebook..just did that. I think it's a great topic and something we should all ask ourselves,
thanks for reminding me to appreciate the so called regular birds.
Ain't it the truth. I think I would be lying if I said I never suffer from ASS. But if I don't snap myself out of it, I wouldn't be looking for birds at all. I have come to really appreciate those common old world sparrows that come to my feeders and bath in the sand or water what ever they're in the mood for. Thanks Larry, for reminding us not to let this syndrome infect us for too long... Great post.
Thanks for the reminder, Larry. I plea guilty too. For me it's saying "I have x number of photos of that species already. Do I need another one?" I'll miss some smart birds and interesting behavior that way.
I am not a birder, but I am always interested in what you write. I live in Chicago--in the city--so there aren't too many birds here. But I do see a lot of starlings. And, to be honest, I love starlings! I know they are a totally common bird. But they still give me a thrill when I see them.
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