By: Dan Cassidy, Vice President of Animal Management
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a birder. Have been most of my life. Besides the obvious, that we enjoy watching birds, the other thing that most birders have in common is listing. Almost all birders keep a minimum of one list, a life list. The list of every bird species you have ever seen. Many birders keep multiple lists, such as state or county lists, and some start over every year. But at the minimum, a birder usually keeps the all-important life list.
I, myself, keep two lists. The first is, of course, every bird I have ever seen anywhere in the world. My second list is the American Birding Association (ABA) list, which is basically the birds that I have seen in North America, north of Mexico plus Hawaii. I have seen birds in Mexico that count on my life list but not on my ABA list, even though they can be seen on both sides of the border, until I see it on the U.S. side.
It can be confusing to non-birders, but birders all get the concept and eventually, the list controls parts of your life, like going to a particular spot on the map where a bird you need to check off has been spotted. If you bird long enough, eventually the list becomes a number you know, like your social security number. It becomes part of your identity and the larger it is, the more fulfilled of a birder you become. And there are competitions such as The Big Year, where birders travel back and forth across the U.S. to try to spot as many species as possible in one year. There was a movie about it in 2011 starring Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson. People who know me may ask about my list. If I share my number, they frequently say, “I bet I couldn’t identify 10 birds!” That’s what got me thinking, how many birds does the average non-birder know?
Assuming you live in Nebraska or Iowa, who hasn’t seen a robin, a blue jay, a cardinal, a crow, a pigeon, and maybe even a mourning dove? I know if you’ve been to a park or golf course, you have seen a mallard and a Canada goose. Probably have even seen or heard snow geese migrating overhead. And everyone recognizes a bald eagle right? But you probably have seen a red-tailed hawk on a fence post. If you have driven in the country anywhere you probably have seen a pheasant and a quail and even, a wild turkey. If you have lived in Nebraska, no doubt you are familiar with meadowlarks and sandhill cranes. Red-winged blackbirds are also common in road ditches, singing on a cattail.
If you or a family member have bird feeders, you have seen goldfinches, chickadees and at least one species of woodpecker. Other common yard birds are bluebirds, house wrens, ruby-throated hummingbirds and sometimes barn swallows will build a mud nest on your porch light and chimney swifts might use your chimney as a roost.
Even if you haven’t actually seen them yet, we all would recognize a pelican or a roadrunner from cartoons if we do encounter them. So, it seems to me that even a casual observer could have a life list of 20 - 30 birds without having to travel very far. Obviously, listing isn’t for everyone. But if you do start a life list of your own or with your kids or grandkids, just be aware there are currently more than 10,000 recognized bird species worldwide, so it could become a lifetime obsession!