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Birder Jargon Project: Friendly Birds

December 8, 2011

In addition to creating new words out of whole cloth to describe any number of birds and birder activities, we bird people are also exceptionally guilty of overuse of several familiar words to describe interactions with those birds.  This sort of language is often so overdone that it makes it far far too easy to make a exceptionally convincing caricature of a birder.  For instance, how many of us have read trip reports that read the same way regardless of where the actual trip took place, a cavalcade of amazing birds described exactly the same way.  There are the targets, those achieved and those unfortunately dipped, there are stunners and BVDs and so on and so forth.  The protocol is remarkably similar regardless of whether the trip was to the Arctic tundra of the African rainforest.  It’s a recipe, and most of us accept that as simply “the way things are”.  So be it.  But perhaps most annoying, at least to my sensibilities, we birders and photographers are far too apt to describe an exceptionally well-seen bird, particularly if that bird is a rare or desirable, one of two ways, as “confiding” or “accommodating”.

A very accommodating rarity

Why, then, do these two words seem to show up in nearly every single bird report?  Are we that predictable?  That unencumbered by a thesaurus?  We’re clearly excited by the birds we see, and eager to cheer our hobby to all those who are willing to listen (and I’ll be honest, the audience for a field trip report is generally a very limited one indeed), but to be so darn predictable as to be cliche?  Let’s strive to do better.

It’s not that these words are improperly applied, an accommodating bird is one seen well, a confiding one is right up in your face, and I have to say I’m as guilty as the next birder in leaning on them when no other adjective seems to suffice.  But perhaps my biggest problem with the aforementioned offensive adjectives is that they imply far too much weight given to the birder’s perspective.  Birds, after all, don’t really consciously accommodate us, and they certainly don’t confide in us.  We are merely obstacles in their paths, mostly benevolent but occasionally malevolent, to which they give the scarcest of thought.  We give ourselves too much credit to assume anything else.

My fellow bird blogger Seagull Steve relies generously on the adjective “face-melting”.  It’s appropriately evocative indeed, and thoughtfully places the emphasis solely on the bird, rather than on the bird’s disposition towards the observer.  Adjectives like beautiful do the same, or, if we must imbue the bird with some sort of anthropomorphic character, naivete.  The first is a more than adequate description and the second implies the wary ambivalence with which so many birds regard us.

But maybe I’m just being a pedant.  In any case, the trip report, that most avian of genres, needs some help.

  1. December 8, 2011 10:15 am

    “Confiding” seems to be used mainly for smaller birds. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gull described as “confiding,” even when it’s seen well at close range. I’ll try to find some other adjectives.

  2. December 8, 2011 10:19 am

    You forgot ‘cooperative’. That one is used a lot as well.

  3. December 12, 2011 3:59 pm

    Yup, I’m all about more use of dramatic adjectives…and expletives. The more slang the merrier, I say.

  4. Nate permalink*
    December 29, 2011 9:50 pm

    @John- “Confiding”. Yes, another good one.

    @jmj- “Cooperative”. That, too. Very popular

    @Steve- We’re all the better for it, too.

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