Social Bird Study
( Originally Published 1910 )
TWO are better than one " is a truth that has wide application. Though it is perfectly possible to enjoy the birds alone, the pleasure of the study is greatly enhanced by knowing others with whom to share it There is something so fascinating, so enlivening, about outdoor study of birds, that those who acquire the taste for it fall into a sort of natural fraternity. People who know the birds are acquainted the moment they meet.
There are times, of - course, when it is not at all necessary, or even desirable, to have human company afield. In photographing birds, save in some special cases where assistance is needed, the fewer people there are around the better. If one is active and agile and really wants to "find things," it is a hindrance to have someone along for whom it is necessary to be constantly waiting. In capes requiring careful, patient observation, company may prevent one from taking time for the best work. The birds themselves are very good company.
All the same, however, it adds greatly to the zest of the thing to be working, through various channels, with fellow enthusiasts. On many, if not most, occasions afield the presence and cooperation of an alert and enthusiastic person are pleasant and desirable. Conversation will help the time pass when birds are not in evidence. If the one is especially keen of hearing and has a good ear for songs, and the other excels in quickness of sight, two will surely find more birds than can one alone. And, though they should be evenly matched, two can cover more ground than one, flush more birds, beat out more nests, surround a tree or thicket where birds are hiding.
If on the water, two can row a boat farther and faster than one. If one is to climb a tall tree to a hawk's nest in lonely woods, it is little short of folly to do it alone, and it steadies the nerves and helps to prevent accident simply to know that someone is on hand. All in all, it is very pleasant to have congenial company when afield.
Even though varying hours of business or duty may rob us of desired company for a walk, we can well afford to be out alone often if there are fellow workers with whom we can share experiences. " Swapping yarns is a custom which will be popular as long as the human race shall last. The search for birds is a productive source of discovery and incident, eminently fitting in with social purposes, and, through comparing experiences, each will learn much and receive a great deal of pleasure.
In case one is just beginning to study birds, it is a good plan to try to induce a few others to begin at the same time. When one has already acquired some experience and needs company, it will be quite worth while to give others the benefit of the experience gained and try to lead them along. If one will take a little pains to interest boys and go afield with them, there will probably be little trouble in starting a crop of enthusiasts, and it is surprising how fast an active boy will " catch up."
An excellent step to take, when there are a number of bird-lovers in a community, is to organize a bird-club or start a branch of the Audubon Society. The latter aims not only to protect the birds, but to encourage acquaintance with them as well. What-ever the organization, it had better be as informal as possible, with no burdensome dues or elaborate rules. It may be simply an agreement to get together now and then to " compare notes." If the members take notes, they will have something to compare. Different ones will have found different things of special interest, outside the experience of the rest, and it will be a mutual pleasure to give and receive new in-formation, or to compare photographs or lantern slides of bird-subjects.
Every such group of students should select some definite district of the surrounding country for investigation and for working up a list of its bird-fauna,— and this applies just as much to an individual working alone as to a group. The town or city can be made the district, A county list is a more ambitious undertaking. To do this well, it is desirable to secure cooperation from observers over the county as widely as possible. Even if a county, list has been published, it can be made an object to increase or revise it.
No matter who else are working, each person should keep his or her own individual bird-lists.
These may be the local list of the birds seen in a defined locality, the " annual list " of the birds observed during the year, and the " life list" of birds personally seen and identified by the observer. Comparing one's own lists with those of others will be found a great source of pleasure. It goes without saying that without a strict sense of honor on the part of each friendly competitor, such work is impossible.
A plan which could be carried out by a club or group, and which might well prove stimulating and amusing, is to hold a series of " hunts for points. Those concerned might agree upon a scale of values for each species liable to be found in the region, giving each one a number representing its supposed desirability and degree of rarity. One could be the unit of value of the most common birds,— such as the robin, chipping sparrow, and others; two for birds moderately common, as the chestnut-sided warbler,) vesper sparrow, etc; three for species less common, such as the scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, etc. four for irregularly distributed species, or those hard to see, like the grasshopper sparrow, white-eyed vireo, rails, etc. ; five for those rather rare, such as the Tennessee and Cape May warblers, yellow-bellied and olive-sided flycatchers, etc. ; and from ten upwards for others of still greater rarity.
The scale of values, of course, should he different for the several seasons. Many birds common in summer would be the greatest rarities in winter. To get up such a scale of values is considerable work and needs some expert advice. Still, no one would be harmed if it did not entirely represent true values, and, if agreed upon, the members could have some exciting hunts. Such a pastime is infinitely ahead of the brutal one of shooting for a maximum record; it would be a hunt for points, comparable to army maneuvers in mimic warfare.
On a given day each one in the game would put in the specified hours afield, make a list of species identified, and score accordingly. As more people come to know the birds, I see no reason why such hunts should not become more popular. No birds would be hurt, and all concerned would get some glorious exercise and have a splendid time. An evening could be devoted to the judging of lists, hearing stories of the hunt, and awarding prizes. A simpler form of competition would be on the basis of the largest number of species seen, the rarest or most difficult bird to find, and so on.
The interest attaching to the making of a list of birds personally identified is much greater than one would at first imagine. Especially when the list has grown to goodly proportions, the desire to add to it, or to surpass someone else, will set one to reading the bird-books eagerly to see how or where to find this or that bird, and send one off on all sorts of adventurous trips, to explore some mountain, forest tract, bog, or what not, and there will be a fine spice of zest served with the simple lunch afield. Though I am blessed with a normally healthy appetite, I can truthfully say that I would not hesitate for a moment between the best banquet that any caterer could serve and a package in the pocket containing two sandwiches and a slice of cake or a few cookies to. be eaten on a bird-hunt with some quest in view which inspired my . enthusiasm. I would choose the latter without a moment's delay.
Any bird-lover can have the privilege of alliance with the fraternity of those like-minded, not only in one's own locality, but in very broad relations.
Every bird lover in America would be welcomed in the two great representative organizations, "The American Ornithologists' Union " and " The Audubon Society,'' and be stimulated by acquaintance, either personally at meetings, by correspondence, or through the published organs of these societies, with the most active and successful workers. The beginner should certainly subscribe for Bird-Lore, the popular organ of the Audubon Society, and, if the interest in birds does not abate, for The Auk, which is the leading scientific publication of America. The latter is not unduly technical in character, but it gives the latest discoveries and researches in ornithology and is absolutely essential to one who takes any serious interest in the study. It is published by " The American Ornithologists' Union " and is sent without further charge to members. Inquiries should be addressed to the office of the National Association of Audubon Societies, 141 Broadway, New York City, and to the treasurer of the American Ornithologists' Union at 134 West 71st Street, of the same city.
These magazines furnish a bond of union between bird lovers all over the country, and the editors are glad to hear from all who have items of interest about birds. No one who intelligently tries to know the birds is working alone, and all can feel that though they may live in the remotest spots, they can easily, if they will, be in touch with kindred spirits everywhere.