Don Torino’s Life In The Meadowlands: What Makes A Great Birder?

Sadly, the reason most people tell me they don’t go out on a group birding field trip is that they don’t have enough experience. As strange as it seems some folks feel they need to have some kind of special qualifications and may not be “good enough” for going outside and enjoying nature with a group of people that enjoy the outdoors the same way they do. 

Now just for the record, over the years I have had the opportunity to go out in the field with many world class  birders, and I have to tell you that they have made some awful mistakes misidentifying birds to the point of embarrassment. But that is what birding is: humbling to even the most experienced . 

Now  I am not one for labels, it just puts 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 seem to over shadow 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 many years back when I used to spend many a summer day bass fishing, a gentleman getting into his boat telling me he was a Professional Bass Fisherman, and then promptly asking where the “hot” fishing spots were on the lake. Every title is relative I guess. 

Now like anything else there are good 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 . 

Others 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. Some birders keep a life list and others no list at all. Some birders own a library full of field guides and some that just stick with their 40-year-old Petersons Guide.

There are some that drive a Mercedes and others that take a bus. Some birders go birding every day and others only when they can. Others birders are great at birding by ear and others don’t hear that well any longer and some use 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 then is a Great Birder ?

This is what I have come to believe a “Great Birder” truly to be. A Great Birder is someone who deeply cares about all of nature, especially the birds. 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. They keep a safe distance from nesting birds, never stress them by getting too close with a camera or binoculars. They 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 all of the natural world, especially the birds.

We don’t need to worry about labels or titles. It wastes our time. No need to burden ourselves with who is a great 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, clean air and water. We need them to save the critical wildlife habitat that we have left 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, respect and protect 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.

6 thoughts on “Don Torino’s Life In The Meadowlands: What Makes A Great Birder?

  1. Lisa

    I love what you wrote about what a “Great Birder” is. They are part of our everyday lives, we love them and want to protect them, and yes, pass on our passion to those we know! Beautifully written, Don.

  2. Eric C. Reuter

    Could not agree more with the sentiments in this article. I would add one personal observation and caveat that I have run into for many years. I am primarily a nature photographer, who also happens to love birding. Sometimes I am there to bird and photograph, other times I just bring the bins and go birding. I enjoy both. However, and I don’t really want to start the debate all over again, there are times when what I will call “pure” birders who don’t take photos look heavily down on bird photographers…as if we are troglodytes with no respect for the birds and for non-invasive observation of them. While sadly, there are always a few bad apples in any group, photographers included, by and large “we” are a group just as passionate about the birds and also ethical and respectful in doing our photography. But, there have been times that as soon as a birder with that particular attitude sees my camera, they assume I belong in the “troglodyte” camp, not realizing that I possibly can ID better than they can, and am not going to spoil things for everyone else by flushing everything in sight. I have seen many arguments over this during the years, and to some degree this “division” exists to this day.

    1. Don

      Birding with a camera has and is playing a major part in protecting and saving birds, the battles we have had to protect the eagles nest in Ridgefield park, the methane burner in the meadowlands was won with the help great photographers documenting the birds. photos make people care and they prove that there are endangered and threatened species out there that need protecting . Yes there are people that dont care and just want a photo no matter what the cost to the birds but as the ethics catches up to the technology there are less and less of those folks out there. If you have been on any of our BCAS bird walks you will see that many people bird with us with camera only and they are always welcomed ..hang in there

    2. Lisa

      As a photographer who is passionate about birds, I only use my camera. I use my ears, my eyes, and then zoom in to see a bird, sometimes to photograph it, sometimes not. I prefer to go alone, not in a group where I have found there are distractions,too many pointers, too many opinions. Taking in nature and being one with the calls I hear around me works best for me. That there are birders who look down on those of us who take photographs, well I think that speaks to their character. And not in a positive way.

  3. Don

    I am sure glad you guys take great photos! saves me a lot of work 🙂 its all good ..there are unethical people with binoculars , cameras , bicycles and whatever ..the good folks need to stand together for the sake of the environment


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