12 Steps to becoming a cooler birder

Listen, we all know that we don’t engage in the coolest of activities. I mean I think it’s cool, you hopefully think it’s cool, but quite frankly, it’s inherently nerdy and most sound people would agree. Any activity that requires a lot of “useless” knowledge (to be clear, I don’t think it’s actually useless), a large proportion of your time and energy, and (here’s the kicker) is very different from what most people do is hard to defend as cool. In fact the term “cool birder” is something of a paradox, like asking for a light but hoppy beer. Not possible. Still some are cooler than others, so I’ve made a list of rules for how to NOT look like a nerdy birder (even though I still know you are) while birding in public places. In the rainforest, or really any tropical location, all bets are off, but here in the US of dear old A, let’s make a few things clear:

These handsome gents really know how to dress. Tying a sweater around your neck shows sophistication, but the flannel and jeans give them that earthy, outdoorsman look perfect for every fall birding outfit. Ryan, Jared, and Conor at Presque Isle, PA.

These handsome gents really know how to dress. Tying a sweater around your neck shows “sophistication,” but the flannel and jeans give them that earthy, outdoorsman look “perfect” for every fall birding outfit. The phrase ‘sartorial geniuses’ was mentioned on more than one occasion upon viewing this photo. Ryan, Jared, and Conor at Presque Isle, PA.

  1. Own it—if somebody asks if you are a birder, don’t act like it’s the nerdiest thing ever and get sensitive about it. If you make it sound less weird, they won’t think twice…well maybe twice, but as a general rule of thumb, they will not think thrice. “Dude you’re a birder? That’s weird.” “Yeah I’m a birder. You’re not? Pfffff, what a loser. Hey everybody, this guy sucks…
  2. Lose the khaki vest—this was never cool (for whatever reason, I think it becomes slightly more acceptable the closer you get to the equator.  Ticos, for example, can still be cool while wearing a vest…usually). I’m sorry you have to hear this from me, but I swear I’m helping you and all of us. You only think it’s cool because you saw maybe 3 “famous” birders wearing one once. I’d like to tell them to stop too, but I can’t. I get that they’re utilitarian and whatnot with the pockets or whatever, but c’mon? The best course of action would just be to burn your vest ASAP. If it’s really too hot for a jacket but too cold for a shirt, then invest in one of those North Face ones; the puffier the better. While you’re at it, burn the zip-offs too. Stick to flannel, jeans, and manly things like that. And headbands. Wear more headbands.

    Wow. Here is a good example of what not to do. This is me in Wyoming back in 2010. Note that just about everything is wrong with this picture. Gross baggy shirt, weird cowboy hat, zip-offs. Muy embarasoso.

    Wow. Here is a good example of what not to do. This is me in Wyoming back in 2010. Note that just about everything is wrong with this picture. Gross baggy shirt, weird cowboy hat, zip-offs. Muy embarasoso.

  3. Show interest in something other than birds from time to time. I’m not saying you should pick up another hobby, god forbid, but please, take a break and just do something non-birdy for a change. Put David Sibley on the shelf for five whole minutes (it’s not a breakup, he just needs some space), pick up the phone and text your pals. Having a beer with the guys, or perhaps a lady friend, (or a dude, that’s cool too…what I’m trying to say is get some) is always a good bet. Playing music, cooking, sports, photography, learning how to twerk like Miley; these are solid choices as well.

    Taking a moment to crush a frog instead of a bird is worth the effort and time away from D-Sibs. Red-eyed tree-frog, Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

    Taking a moment to crush (photograph) a frog instead of a bird is worth the effort and time away from D-Sibs. Red-eyed tree-frog crush, Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

  4. Take it seriously but not too seriously—in other words, please chase as much as possible, see it all, learn a lot, discuss photo quizzes over coffee, whatever. I don’t care. I do these things too. Obviously. But for the love of god, take it down a notch. Know that it is okay to laugh at yourself, and that you aren’t always right about everything. Still, try to be right where applicable.

    Catch and release goshawking and/or being more like Cory Ritter makes you cooler also.  Do more of that if possible.  Here is Cory at Hawk Ridge. Photo by Andrew Longtin

    Catch and release goshawking and/or being more like Cory Ritter makes you cooler also. Do more of that if possible. Here is Cory at Hawk Ridge. Photo © 2011 Andrew Longtin

  5. Don’t wear binoculars to conventions. We all know how much you like birds. I promise there are no birds worth binocularing inside the building.
  6. If you don’t eat birds, it better be because you’re a vegetarian and not because you like birds so much. Nobody should ever have to hear the phrase, “Chickens are people too, man.”
  7. Try birding shirtless (not recommended for women)—this shows how little you care about almost anything, which is pretty great. Do this while wearing a headband if possible.

    Cameron Rutt's apathy towards fully dressing himself in the Antarctic is inspiring.  He is a model birder, and quite frankly should be a birder model.

    Cameron Rutt’s apathy towards fully dressing himself in the frigid depths of the southern hemisphere is inspirational to say the least. Muck boots + swim suit just screams, “I couldn’t care less.”  He is a model birder, and quite frankly should be a birder model.

  8. Don’t be an encyclopedia—I don’t care how much you know, or how much you think you know. Show some humility. Saying, “I don’t know” is something we should all work on. You should probably be more like Dr. Nelson Briefer. If you don’t know him, look him up. He knows an awful lot about Northern Goshawks. Some would say he knows…too much(?).

    Repeat after me, "Not a Goshawk."

    Repeat after me, “Not an urban Goshawk.”

  9. Work on your social skills—Some things can’t be taught. Good luck with this one.

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    Nothing like enjoying a good old fashioned sea watch while drinking a delicious brew with Dan Maxwell AKA Don Mastwell, America’s favorite “birding pal.”

  10. Stop talking about feeding birds unless you are talking about attracting vagrants in fall (i.e. hummers)—nobody cares what kind of sunflower seeds are best or which millet does nothing. Buy some bread at the store, go to the park, and feed the ducks like the rest of America. Okay, don’t do that either. Here is my tip, put out hummingbird feeders, plant some sages, put out a platform feeder with some sort of seed on it, and never discuss it again, unless you are telling me about the Bahama Woodstar you are watching on your back porch.  Thanks in advance.

    Talk about feeders as much as you want if you’ve got one of these bad boys visiting your yard. You’ve earned it. Check out this near crush of a Bahama Woodstar in PA © Meredith Lombard

  11. Personal hygiene—I know you like the outdoors, and that you are environmentally conscious. Take showers. Ship showers save water. Try that instead of forgoing them altogether.
  12. Read cool blogs—Stick to the Phenomenal Five: Nemesis Bird, Boom ChachalacaThermal Birding; Bourban, Bastards, and Birds, and Bird Crusher. See step 10 for figuring out which blogs are not cool.

I know this will be hard for many of us. I still have a lot of work to do myself. For example, here on the Farallones we don’t get to shower very often. Luckily I’m not truly birding in public while here. However I will most likely smell like some combination of sea lion dookie and sweaty armpits for a solid 3 days after getting off the island. Sorry. To my credit, I stopped wearing zip-offs with sandals two years ago, and never looked back. You’re welcome, America.