Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: What is a “Birder” Anyway?

DeKorte Walk 3.6.16 4

A while back a news reporter came along on one of our field trips, and as reporters often do, they ask a general question to allow the readers to learn something about the subject of their story.  “So what is a birder and why do you consider yourself a birder?” the young correspondent asked me with kind of a smirk.

Now, for those that know me, I am rarely at a loss for words, but at that moment I found I was more than a bit speechless.  How was I to explain with a quick comment what it is we love so much in just a few sentences? And why does someone consider themselves a birder?  I think I remember answering his question by saying something dumb like, “We are birders because we enjoy looking at birds.”

Not  very informative to say the least  and a little lacking trying to explain what I have been doing with my life the last 40 or so years, but to this day I have not entirely learned how to answer that question, and I have not come to terms with what exactly is birding and what makes someone a birder ?

I am not one for labels. They just put one in a box that tends to define who they are, which is often not very fair. I also have never been impressed with titles. They always seemed to overshadow who a person really is. So when some well-meaning folks say to me, “I am a real birder,” I am never sure what to think. I remember years back when I used to spend many a summer day bass fishing when a gentleman getting into his boat told me he was a professional bass fisherman, and then promptly asked where the “hot” fishing spots were on the lake. I guess every title is relative.

Now, like anything else, there are great birders and some birders that are better than most, and of course there are experienced birders and beginner birders. There are birders that compete and others that don’t. Still others travel around the world to find birds they have never seen and some that may never leave their hometown. Some individuals may love watching warblers and some that only hanker for the hawks.

Some birders love watching birds in the backyard and others don’t even have a backyard. Particular birders keep a life list and others no list at all. Some own a library full of field guides and some just stick with their 40-year-old Petersons Guide. There are individuals that drive a Mercedes and others that take the bus. Some go birding every day and others only when they can. Certain birders are great at birding by ear and others don’t hear that well any longer. Some use birding APPS and others don’t even have a computer.

One of my favorite kinds of birders are folks that don’t think they are birders at all. They just go out and tell me about all the birds they have seen but for some reason don’t think they are birders

So what is a birder?

This is what I have come to believe a “birder” truly to be:  A birder is someone who deeply cares about all of nature, especially the birds. The birds are a part of their everyday lives; they see birds when driving to work, walking to the bus stop or on their way to school. A birder understands and endorses the need to protect birds through conservation efforts and help others understand the importance of our birds and pass on their passion for birding by helping new birders, children and friends appreciate and respect the entire natural world, especially the birds.

We don’t need to worry about labels or titles. That wastes our time, and there is no need to burden ourselves with who is birder and who is not. While we concern ourselves with these trivial designations the barbarians are at the gate: habitat destruction, climate change and special interests are attempting to plow over all the conservation work that has been accomplished over the last 40 years.

We need all birders of all kinds to stand up and protect and defend endangered species and clean air and water. We need them to save the critical wildlife habitat that we have remaining and we need everyone to protect and save the many birds that are and will become endangered.

We need everyone to join together to teach others to love and respect nature the way we all do or one day there may be no place or no birds left for us to enjoy no matter what kind of birders we might consider ourselves to be.

There is no better place than the Meadowlands to get your birding life started.  Please join us  for our free “Birding for Beginners” class on Sunday, April 10, from 1 to 3 pm at the Meadowlands Environment Center at DeKorte Park.

We start inside the MEC with a class that covers bird identification, field guide basics and optics. Then we’ll walk around the park looking for early spring migrants, waterfowl and other neat birds.

If you have any questions about the program, contact me at or 201-230-4983. Hope to see you there!

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