September 9, 2010
Elegant Trogon could be Allison's first assignment
Elegant Trogon could be Allison's first assignment
As we approach the fifth anniversary of Bird Is A Verb I was struck by two realizations:  I haven't discussed why we bird since way back at the beginning; and I have relatives and friends for whom "bird" is still just a noun, not a verb.  And it's not a noun that brings pleasure into their lives.  Here are a couple examples.  My daughter-in-law, Allison, is "uncomfortable" around birds.  A friend, whom we'll call "Sharon," claims to "hate" birds.  Shocking!

First things first.  Although it's not out there on the family table, Allison is probably my favorite relative.  She's a teacher, kind, understanding, and gentle, she hikes, she does triathlons, she canyoneers (yes, that's a verb too), she runs kayaks through Class IV rapids, and she knows all about my birding addiction.  How is she "uncomfortable" around birds?

Her story isn't that uncommon.  As a child on a family farm, one of Allison's parents was "attacked" and pecked by domestic geese.  Allison picked up on those bad bird vibes during her own childhood and has never gotten into the other side of our avian fellow travelers--the colors of their plumage, the beauty of their flight, the music of their song, the mysteries of their infinite variety and mind-boggling physical adaptations.  No one understands better than I the odd cultural predispositions inevitably picked up from one's parents but, seriously folks, should domestic geese even be considered birds?

The very first Bird Is A Verb column ( bore the title BirdingA Pathway To Nature.  That title could have stood by itself, yet here is a person already immersed in nature but missing some of the trees for the forest.  Mea culpa.  Sometimes when I give a program I'll finish by having the audience pledge to take a non-birding friend or relative birding, the intent being to swell the numbers of those who care about our environment.  But Allison is already involved in "causes" such as river clean-up, trail maintenance, and habitat for humanity.

I guess I could kidnap Allison and take her on a birding trip, replete with good binoculars and a field guide.  I don't want her to become a "hard core" lister though.  I just want to make sure she's seeing and appreciating what I'm seeing and appreciating out there.  She's already seen how our species is negatively impacting the environment, and I'd simply like to have her more fully experience the beauty and wonder of that environment's avian component.

If you're experiencing this dilemma with a close friend or loved one, here's a great idea.  Take them to a special, spectacular birding event like spring migration at McGee Marsh in northwest Ohio in early May or the Festival Of Cranes at Bosque Del Apache in New Mexico in November.  Smaller, closer to home events could be California Condors at the Grand Canyon or Elegant Trogons in Madera Canyon.

Or maybe I'll just give Allison an "assignment."  She is a teacher after all.  After her next outdoor trek, she's going to have to give me a verbal report on the coolest bird she encountered.  She needs to name it to species, give me a physical description, relate something she learned about its life history, and tell me why it grabbed her attention in the first place.

Yeah, she's reading this column.  I'll let you know how this all plays out.  In the meantime I'm trying to figure out what to do about "Sharon" who "hates" birds.  If you have any ideas, you know how to contact me.