To the “Average Joe”, birding and bird feeding may not be the most exciting activities, or the most interesting to learn about, but for all of us Bird Nerds what could be more exciting than the history of birding and bird feeding!? Therefore, without further ado, here are the Top 10 Moments in Bird Nerd History!
- The State Birds:
The year: 1926. The moment: Kentucky state legislators vote to establish the Cardinal as the first official state bird in the nation. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia would follow suit – listing the Cardinal as their state bird. However, the story behind the establishment of state birds in two of the nation’s greatest states (Wisconsin and Kansas) can actually be traced to the efforts of kids! In 1949, Wisconsin decided to choose the American Robin due to a vote enacted in 1926-1927 by school children throughout the state, and also due to the fact that the Robin accompanies one of the favorite seasons for Wisconsinites: Spring! In 1925 school children all over Kansas performed a similar vote, however they decided on the Western Meadowlark, which became the Kansas state bird in 1937. As it turns out, the Meadowlark is now the state bird for five other states and spends about 84% of it’s time seasonally in the United States.
- The First Bird Feeder
It’s been speculated that the first person to ever be recorded feeding birds was 6th century monk Saint Serf of Fife who tamed a pigeon by feeding it. The history of bird feeding in America dates back to 1845 when Henry David Thoreau fed birds at Walden Pond, and officially came to all of us bird nerds in 1926 when the first feeder, designed specifically for hummingbirds (of course), was made available to the public. Looks a bit different than our modern feeders, wouldn’t you agree? Now bird feeding is the No. 2 hobby in the United States behind gardening (see The Cornell Lab’s feeding tips here) and bird hobbyists spend around $3 billion a year on bird feeders, alone. Woohoo! Go Bird Nerds!
- First Discovery of Staple Birds:
There are birds that all of us Bird Nerds know and love, we like to call these the “staple birds”; you know the ones: Robins, Blue Jays, and Cardinals. The American Robin was popularly described by Carl Linnaeus in 1766, but they have been documented in journals and literature since 1703. Blue Jays were discovered slightly earlier than the Robin, when it was first written about by the naturalist Mark Catesby in 1731, where he dubbed them Cyanocitta which comes from the Greek meaning, “blue chatterer”. Very fitting name for our chatty Jays! The Northern Cardinal was first discovered in the same work from Linnaeus in 1776 but didn’t become a cardinal officially until 1838.
- Most Famous Bird Nerds
Birding is (unsurprisingly) incredibly popular and that popularity doesn’t stop at us “everyday” Bird Nerds. There are tons of celebrities that enjoy the relaxing art of birding. Spanning from presidents like Jimmy Carter and FDR, to rock stars Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger (maybe that’s his secret to staying young), and even TV stars like Game of Thrones’ Sean Bean and Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson. The list goes on and on and our group of Bird Nerds grows!
- First Person To Record All Species:
No one person has ever been able to document every species of bird, but one intrepid woman was able to come close by documenting more than 8,000 species of birds. Her name was Phoebe Snetsinger, and when she was diagnosed with cancer in 1981 she set out on her journey to record as many bird species as possible. She came the closest anyone has ever come in history to documenting the 10,000 total species that the American Birding Association have on record. Snetsinger was unequivocally one of the best Bird Nerds in history.
- First Field Guide In Bird History:
Another astounding Bird Nerd has to be Roger Tory Peterson, the first man to write a field guide about our avian friends in 1934. In his landmark publication “Guide to Birds” he laid out the example for the modern field guide and documented as many bird species as he could, and sold out his first printing of 2,000 in the first week. I guess you could say those first 2,000 buyers are the original Bird Nerds!
- Best Representation of Birding in a Movie:
For some reason, birding and Bird Nerds in general seem to get a bad rap in television and film, however, there are a couple films and shows out there that do our beloved pastime justice on the silver screen. Movies like to portray Bird Nerds as old, not-so-bright people who enjoy having a set of binoculars glued to their face at all times, but it seems like that stereotype is getting cast aside for a more accurate representation (Hooray)! Starting in 2011 with a star studded cast The Big Year came out to mixed reviews with a somewhat accurate representation of what us Bird Nerds actually do all day, but there were admittedly some inaccuracies, like when they thought a pink footed goose would ever be seen in Texas or Colorado (pfft amateurs). But it seems as though popular media is finally catching up with our hobby as the 2013 movie A Birder’s Guide To Everything has been heralded by critics and audiences alike for its authenticity and accuracy in the art of birding. Let’s hope the good trend continues!
- Bird Sports Teams:
In all of our favorite spectator sports there are at least a few teams named after our chirpy friends. The reason as to why is different for every city, like Baltimore who named their team after the mythical raven from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, to teams like the Toronto Blue Jays who are simply named such because the University of Toronto were already The Blues, so rather than deal with having two Blues, they became the Blue Jays! Whatever the case may be, let’s just be glad that our birds are getting the recognition and attention that they deserve!
- Most Extreme Bird Nerds:
Most Bird Nerds enjoy the relaxing element of birding that inherently comes with being quiet and being in nature, however some enjoy taking things to the next level entirely. They’ve taken to calling themselves “twitchers” and decided that they want to travel incredible distances to capture incredibly rare birds, sometimes even putting themselves in harm’s way to do so. Take the group of Twitchers from Britain who travelled to the Philippines just to get a glimpse of the endangered Philippine Eagle and wound up in the middle of a firefight, where their guide was even grazed by a bullet. They never did get to see that Eagle but what a story for us Bird Nerds!
- Best Birding Story:
This list would not be complete if you didn’t leave your mark. Everyone has their own tale about “That one time…” or the one that got away. Bird Nerd history wouldn’t be complete unless all birders left their mark in some way, so we want to hear your story! Share with us your greatest tale and enthrall your friends with your birding prowess. Maybe you can even impress them with a few facts about Bird Nerd history…