Saturday, May 21, 2005

Eight Reasons Why We Watch Birds

I am not feeling well today (still) so I am still writing my interview story for you. Because I want to give you something to read and because I conveniently found this essay several days ago, I am republishing it here for your reading pleasure. I particularly relate to point number eight, especially after surviving the past eight months.

Eight Reasons Why We Watch Birds

1. It sharpens your sight. Before you know it, you learn to see the ruby-crowned kinglet, to identify the ever-so-slight upswing in the bill of the greater yellowlegs, and to spot the half-inch wide band on the breast of the bank swallow as he twirls past you at 40 miles per hour.

2. It encourages you to explore the world. You ride out on chartered fishing boats with fishermen who are wondering why anyone would spend 30 bucks not to fish but to look for something called "shearwaters," which, when finally found after nine solid hours of looking, turn out to be only some long-winged dark birds that skim across the waves and disappear in a minute.

3. It gives you something to write about: "Dear Mom, How are you? It snowed here the other day, but we still have two kingfishers down on the pond. Against the white they seem especially beautiful..."

4. It makes you an authority in the neighborhood. People you have never met will bring you robins and orioles their cat caught and ask, "What's the wingspan of an eagle?"

5. It helps you to treasure a moment -- that June evening, for example, when you find on the branch of a fallen tree, his plumage dark and golden, one eye closed and one eye watching you back, your first Chuck-will's-widow.

6. It provides you with opportunities to meet someone like my friend John Henry Hintermister -- who keeps his life list locked in a steel box in case of fire; who every spring, in the second week of March, hikes the route Frank M. Chapman hiked in 1890 in search of the now-possibly extinct Bachman's warbler. He comes home exhausted, ticks in his hair, and says, "I'm only going to chase that !#@& bird for 15 more years. If I don't see one by then, I'll give it up."

7. It will make you politically active. You will write intricately argued, adrenalin-fueled letters to your congressman demanding that something be done so people will stop littering, riding jeeps on beaches, throwing rocks at gulls, building condominiums, driving airboats in the Everglades, spraying insecticides, and sawing down trees.

8. Finally, it can save your life. One day you will be walking home from work, depressed. Your kid has the flu; the car's clutch needs to be fixed; and you are thinking tomorrow is your birthday. Another year has passed, and once again you have not triumphed at anything, really. Then you glance at the sky in despair, and right there, right over your head, blessing that particular air space on your street forever, is the world's most beautiful bird! With pearly white head, black and white wings, long forked tail, it circles slowly, a hundred feet up, eating dragonflies, tearing off the wings and letting them flutter down -- while you toss your briefcase in a bush, grab the first person to come along, and shout, "A swallow-tailed kite! A swallow-tailed kite!" until he, too, looks up and blinks at the sight and knows suddenly that he must buy some binoculars and become a bird watcher himself.

-- Jack Conner, Eight Reasons Why We Bird, Bird Watcher's Digest, July/August 1984.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

5 Peer Reviews:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another beautiful bird post! I, too, like point #8. I recall an altercation b/t my boss and I a few weeks ago, which would have resulted in losing my "crappy yet it finances my college education" job, except that in the middle of it, we both looked up and saw a turkey vulture soaring over the building. For a brief moment, we both contemplated the elegant beauty of the real situation going on, and the fight ended with "wouldn't you love to be able to do that?" This, of course, catapulted my respect for vultures far beyond my initial love inspired by Abbey's 'Desert Solitaire.' That said, my neighbor tells me an owl lives in the tree behind my house, I'm gonna go look for it . . .


10:02 PM  
Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

Thank you so much for posting this. We're going to link to it. It is so wonderfully written, and captures the awe-inspiring beauty of the wild creatures that live around us. We haven't started our life list yet, but have been inspired to, by this post.
We hope you feel better soon.

10:49 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thanks! I am glad that you appreciated this essay as much as I did. I was surprised to read your story, Jamie. I have never been able to view people the same again after a shared bird experience because, regardless of the incomprehensible acts they may commit, I realize that we still have a connection with each other, and that connection is something as ephemeral as the memory of a bird seen. Has this shared turkey vulture changed your relationship somewhat?

I hope you find that owl!


12:12 PM  
Blogger Tom Dilatush said...

From GrrlScientist at "Living the Scientific Life (or Scientist, Interrupted)", eight reasons why birdwatchers watch birds. JamulBlog

1:32 PM  
Blogger oldwhitelady said...

Fantastic post. I like that number 1 reason. Watching birds probably does sharpen vision. I'm going to watch more often!

10:54 PM  

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