Easy Birding, Chapter 7, Birder Etiquette

Birder etiquette

Not too much may be said about birder etiquette. I take that back, sometimes too much is said. For example, the websites that are supposed to be for reporting sightings of birds periodically get jammed up with too much whining and requisite advice about how we should behave. Sure, it is good to occasionally be reminded to respect private property, not block roads and driveways, to not park on a railroad track, and above all, to keep in mind to not do something you wouldn’t like yourself. We might call the latter the Golden Eagle Rule. No, I think that has something a special old fart pass to our national parks. Whatever, keep it clean. What I’m talking about is people writing, otherwise complaining about petty things that take up valuable time and space on a web site that is supposedly for reporting bird occurrences. Which is easier, finding a bird or reading about why some worrywart who either really wants to give someone or some issue the bird.

Birders should grow up. That the rosy finches were not fed on time or when a person feeding them decides to call it a day instead of placating us birders, take it like a, huh, a birder, a grown up one that is. If someone allows you on their property, don’t complain that the ranches cows should first be petted then receive professional grade pedicures before their next visit to McDonald’s. Mind your own business, be grateful that the farmer, rancher, the occupant of the house with the great bird in the back yard, or whoever, allows you to be on their property. And, when you are there, put the little candy wrappers in your pocket, don’t step on anything, pee on anything, don’t ask to use their bathroom, and thank them for their time and consideration. Definitely don’t step on the prized plant your gracious host planted or kick at their sniffing dog.

Those are some of the general practices an ethical birder should put in practice. Here are a the five “Ts,” Tipping, Talking, Tripping, Trying and one D, Disgregating :


Tipping is a way we adults have learned to get our way. Depending on our geographic origin, sometimes our sex and how much money we have to give away, we tip for too many things. People from certain regions of the country tip more in amount and tip more frequently for just about everything. It has been my observation that women, who are often great at finding bargains and thereby save their or their household’s money, are strangely more generous than males when tipping time roles to the forefront. Whatever the reason, people feel they must tip, sometimes even when they know it will not garner favoritism or that they will most likely never see the tipee again. No, we’re not talking about imbalanced cows in the night. What if there was some little extra the tipee, human, now cow, might have thrown in, maybe an extra garnish, who knows, or maybe the tipee might move to your home town, become the chief of police. Every time you wheeled down the street, you knew you were being watched by the displeased officer of the law. It would be impossible to make sudden stops as birders sometime are prone. Worse than a sequel to a movie of the walking dead, you knew all those tipless people were going to get even.

Where do we, often budget maven birders, draw the tipping line? Unless you are Lady or Gentleman Bountiful, there has to be a limit. It’s actually common to tip cabbies, even though, some cab companies allow their drivers to keep half of the fare. If there’s more than one fare going to the same location a driver can rack up some nice hourly wages. It used to cost around $60. to cab it from Arlington to Dulles International, but after forking out the fare, it’s hard to tip much. Should we tip the plane pilot for getting us to our destination? How about tipping the airport security people for being so nice to us. Maybe that would be construed as bribery and that might be the end of your birding career.

So, is tipping a form of bribery? It probably is, and paying someone to be on their property gets in the realm of paying for favoritism. There are a few private individuals and organizations that habitually ask for donation. Usually the amounts are small, and it’s best to think of the money to enter as user fees. Tom Beatty in southeastern Arizona, for example is not getting rich from the donations he hopes to collect. Somebody has to pay for those gallons of sweetened water slurped up by all those great foraging hummingbirds. Then there are trails to keep up, benches where we sit require occasional maintenance, and who pays for the brochure, the check-list, or the interpretative signs. It is money worth spending for some definitely easy birding.

What comes under tipping that seems to strain the good nature of people is when someone expects a tip close to the minimum wage. Greed is not foreign to nature lovers, sometimes especially to someone who may have something nature lovers want. There are a few out there that might consider a nationally rare bird on their property worth far more than the going rate at such places as say Sabal Palms in Texas or Tom’s hummingbird estate in Arizona. That nationally rare avis nestled in a garden owned by more mercenary than most of us might be monetarily off-limits to most birders who cannot afford to pay the asking price.

Etiquette-wise, what is a good birder to do? It depends on contents of your pocket, just how badly you want to see the waif and perhaps, conscience. On a website last year, a birder commented that to encourage paying such a person would likely cause more people to charge admission. I would add that it those charges of admission, money for a favor, a tip, could also become inflated to the point birding would be on par with shopping at the mall. There are already too many people are out there with their hands out.

There was a Falcated Duck wintering mostly at a pond on the property of a RV Park and a Laysan Albatross floats just off the Point Arena pier every winter since 1993. Even though access to both the RV park and the pier could be controlled, neither place charges people to view the two rare birds. Good for them.

To help make birding easy, carry a little cash to donate, but don’t tip. Being courteous and appreciative are often the best kinds of tips. In fact, there remains a few people out there that like to help people and would be insulted if someone tried to pay for their generosity. As a local birder, people sometimes ask where the best place to look for certain species. Should the reply be, “I’ll tell you, but, how much are you going to tip.”

Claudia Wild long ago suggested that us birders identify ourselves when frequenting business establishments by wearing our binoculars. That’s a great idea, but, as pointed out in Winging It, some business staff have learned that some birders are down right cheep, oops, cheap. They see a crowd of binoc strapped people and it is akin almost to “no shoes, no shirt service.” Sure, they’ll take you in but it won’t be pretty. They say the one thing that will ruin a dinning experience is service. Known low tippers will receive known poor service, that fill up on the water-glass, directions, what ever they feel is poor tipper revenge. The Winging It author suggest that poor tippers not wear their binocs. They should remain anonymous, leave the birding paraphernalia out of sight so as not to give all birders a bad rep. That’s good advice, but what about numerous nonbirder tippers? What should they wear. Maybe a t-shirt with big letters stating, “shoes, shirt, no tipping.

Regardless of the tip, chances are the service rendered will include the necessary nourishment, without poison or ground glass, the taxi or other transport will go from point A to B, without being thrown in the trunk with the luggage, and your lodging will be just fine. It’s not like they recognize you as a birder and change the clean sheets to some from the dirty laundry.

If you are rich, throw your money to a worthy charity or organization. Keep in mind that many of us are not wealthy. Remember that there are souls out there that inflate the prices just because they know there are birders who can afford what they have to offer. Certainly everyone has to make a living or pay for expenses, be it guiding or stocking the bird feeder. The bottom line is to keep the monetary aspect of birding in perspective. Maintain the possibility that the young birder, many dieting on peanut butter by day and sleeping in campgrounds by night, need financial considerations. After all, easy birding should be as financially attainable as possible.

There are certain instances when tipping is not only a good idea, it provides a feeling of well-being. Tipping at the restaurant or the motel doesn’t automatically make for a feeling of contentment. Tipping someone who really provided something, I mean birds, are most deserving of praise, gratitude and a tip. Even though you have already paid, pay again, as a tip, to the guide who showed you all those great species you would not have seen or maybe not identified so quickly. Sure, it is a business, but most guides do what they do from love, and how, without a potentially embarrassing incident, could our love be returned. Give them green valentines, tip the guides, the boat crew, the people who make birding a memorable experience.


Although talk is cheap, the tip here is to keep it to a minimum. Chatty Kathy and Charlie should get a room. Birds don’t like lots of talking and good birders don’t either. If you do have to talk, keep it short and at a low volume. Naturally, if there is real danger lurking ahead, speak up. It would demonstrate poor etiquette to let someone get a lethal dose of snake venom. If possible, use some sort of hand signal, but even then, keep the hands close to the body. Don’t wave. If you can’t identify some mystery bird, don’t pull out a white handkerchief. If a bird gets away before you can get the binocs up, remember to imagine the curse word or depending on your vocabulary, curse words. Don’t blurt out the disappointment. When in a group, know that the lump of people looking up in a tree at the first spring White-eyed Vireo, has the power ranging from having the potential to back up a small band or a choir singing Handel‘s The Messiah. One voice added to another, to another could likely produce the difference between easy birding and not so easy birding. It isn’t necessary to become the antisocial of the group, but don’t talk. Smile a lot to let people know you are not a threat and are having basically a good time. Also, and I could be wrong on this, but a group whispering probably does not contribute to easy birding. To a bird, it probably sounds like an angry giant snake.


Another “t” rule does not refer to tripping over a root, rock or your own or someone else’s feet. Tripping here is a colloquialism, used here to forewarn those lacking in controlling their emotions and thus fostering lack of etiquette. I’m talking about the oos and aws, the verbalized gushes of delightful surprise. It’s hard to avoid a positive exclamation upon seeing some birds. However, there is a time and place for everything. I once gushed at a particular antbird in Panama much to the chagrin of the groups very serious guide. Luckily, the bird stayed put and the rest were able to see it.

For easy birding, if you want to join other happily emotional birders, go for it. Many species can take it, especially if they are relatively used to people or are far away. Although Anhingas and herons along some of the trails in Everglades National Park are not worth becoming audibly emotional over, they can also take it. The backyard cardinals can handle a worthy gush or two. Experiment. Some species are more tolerant to sudden human vocalizations than others.

For gushy birders who find themselves among the ungushy, it is possible to keep quiet while letting out all those pent-up emotions. How, learn good mime techniques. Practice in front of a mirror. Imagine a blazing Blackburnian Warbler, a soaring crane, whatever, then emote all imaginable expressions to the mirror. When you are with a like-minded birder birding with the ungushed, feel free to convey a silent delight. Remember not be too physical. No hand waving or jumping up and down. Keeping the miming to a whisper.


It’s commendable to try, but it isn’t to be trying. It gets on people’s nerves. Other birders will stop sharing information, maybe even pointing you in the wrong direction. “Yeah, walk through the bushes to the left.” Of course the bushes are poison oak that is blooming at the time and is full of killer bees. Not only consider not scaring the birds, but consider not annoying your companion birders. At least don’t make them want to walk you into poison oak or scary insects.

There is another kind of trying that breaks the rules of etiquette. Whether you are going for a few easy birds or a rare waif, you have run into the bird dog of the group. They’ll do anything to find and see the quarry, including complete annihilation of surrounding habitat, fences and other structures and even the bird itself. Most have heard about the rail stomped by the feet of zealous birders. Me thinks they try to hard. There are plenty of rules about trying to see a bird to the point of doing harm to it and its habitat. Besides, trying that hard defeats the point of easy birding.


The word disgregating may not be in some dictionaries, just as the word birding was not so long ago. Disgregate is a current word, which means to separate or scatter. So, disgregating is scattering and separating something. What the…? In birding etiquette, we should not take part in disgregating.

It’s hard to do, but sometimes to get a closer look we end up crowding a bird or a flock right out of its habitat. For example, a flock of peeps, not easy sandpipers at all, have descended around the muddy shores of a small pool. it’s the only muddy shore for miles, and the birds are tired and hungry. Suddenly someone or worse, a group of someones also descends at the water’s edge. The shorebirds let out a peep, and frantically fly away. Example two, a hawk lands in a group of trees. The raptor is magnificent and definitely picture worthy. You’ve already identified it, but you want to see the glimmer in its fierce eyes or fill the frame in your snap-shot camera. Eventually, the bird gets enough of this in-your-face, yes, disgregating behavior. It flies away. Remember, just as you need individual space, so do birds. It so happens birds need yards, not inches, otherwise they, well, disgregate from where they might have preferred to be. Now, some have learned a new word and more importantly, a new technique to help make birding easy.

xxx While out there birding, don’t be cheap but don’t disgregate your funds, don’t talk, don’t try so hard you are annoying to others and trip-out on the wonders you will discover.

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