09 December 2009


Bald Eagle

During this course I expect you to keep a life list of the birds you see--either in the book or on a checklist. Of course, if you keep it up after the course is over is up to you. Many birders keep a life list of species seen throughout their whole lives. I keep track of the dates and places all around the world. (Some people are into cathedrals and Rembrandt's but I race out to the nearest swamp!) If you keep up birding seriously, you might want to start a Year List in addition to a life list, monthly lists state lists, big days, world lists, semesters, country lists, Christmas counts, spring counts are all examples of lists people keep. Birding can quickly become a sport that can involve any number of players. The South Dakota Ornithologists' Union saw 150 species in one weekend in Sisseton, South Dakota. The sport can be costly too--once friends saw a Bald Eagle and jumped out of their jeep. Unfortunately, nobody turned the jeep off, so it proceeded into a lake! A fellow named Vardemann wanted to list 700 species in one year in North America: he fell 2 short and spent $30,000 trying! (All sports have their fanatics.)

Some will spare no expense to see a new bird: a Ross's Gull in New England brought out thousands from all over the country to some poor sucker's front yard. A Brambling in Bismark, North Dakota, was kept quiet for fear of intruding birders. Black Rails have been literally trampled to death by the hordes of bird watchers searching for them! But, by in large, folks are mostly sympathetic to birders--many don't hunt and so aren't destructive to private property (although a farmer was once upset at my walking across his newly planted turf). In fact, birdwatchers have somewhat of a bad name among hunters as some are vehemently anti-hunting. But, to be a good hunter, you must be a good bird identifier. I have always believed that all hunters should have to have a bird identification license. If you can't tell a grebe from a duck, you should not have a shotgun in your hand--so to become a good hunter is another reason to take ornithology
If you don't become a rabid birder that's OK too. Bird behavior is a fascinating study and you can specialize in just the birds of your farm or backyard. Any educated person ought to know the parts of the Thanksgiving turkey he or she is carving up. I firmly believe that people should know the plants and animals of their home state--in the past, this knowledge has always been the mark of an educated person.

Birds have always had a great aesthetic value to people--perhaps because of their ability to fly: (even though this ability has left birds remarkably stupid: having a bird brain means you don't have to think about problems, you just fly away).

Welty included this quote in his ornithology textbook: "When the anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker surveyed native school children of Northern Rhodesia and asked them, given a free choice, what they most wanted to be, nearly half the boys wanted to be birds. Almost half the girls wanted to be boys, but about one quarter of the girls wished that they, too, might become birds."

Birds, of course, have great value for people: not only because of all the insects and weed seeds they consume (without birds, of course, we would have ecological catastrophe) but because they act as an index to our ecological well being--just as old-time miners took canaries into mines to warn of deadly gas concentrations.

This is not to suggest that birds can not cause damage to farmers. One of the favorite quotes of the ornithologist Alan Phillips was "If ever I am accused of destroying the crops, I would certainly want an ornithologist to defend me." A farmer, however, should be able to tell which birds are actually doing the damage or he may actually be costing himself money in the long run.


  1. Sería fantástico tenerlo en español, saludos desde Venezuela.

    1. You should be able to more or less translate by pasting text into an English/Spanish dictionary. I think there are free Internet dictionaries.

      Usted debe ser capaz de traducir más o menos al pegar texto en un diccionario Inglés / Español . Creo que hay diccionarios gratuitos de Internet .

  2. Would it be more correct to say some species of mammals, birds and insects?