I like to think that birding has changed me for the better. I’ve become more attentive to detail, more attune to the natural world around me, more cognizant about conservation issues and the perils facing bird habitats. Birds have changed the landscape of Toronto for me; I now marvel at urban parks because of their ability to transport me to a magical realm, one where warbler songs manage to drown out city noise.
And yet, I’m starting to see how these bird-related revelations might not be as enticing for my non-birder partner. Actually, sometimes my birding habits make me downright annoying to live with, like when I set the alarm clock for 5 a.m. on a Saturday to go see a Baltimore oriole or an indigo bunting.
Another problem is that once I acquire new information, I want to share it and assume that everybody is just as fascinated as I am by notions of Renaissance natural historians who believed that swallows migrated underwater. Since I find almost every ornithological tidbit riveting, I have a difficult time assessing what will be of equal interest to my interlocutors. Suffice it to say that my husband puts up with a lot of bird lore, including conversations about sexual dimorphism in phalaropes and the poor hermaphrodite cockerel (Gallus monstrificus) that was burned at the stake in Basel in 1474. And he listens, quite likely without registering a single thing I say, but my enthusiasm makes him smile.
Aside from over-sharing and alarm clock issues, birding also seems to have changed my travel preferences. Now when booking a vacation, whether abroad or here in Ontario, I research the possible birding options and include a guided tour whenever I can. (Birdingpal.org has proven to be a great site with resources and helpful contacts.) The curious thing about birding is that the more you learn about birds, the more you recognize that what awaits you is undoubtedly more spectacular than anything you’ve already seen, and the urgency to add new species to your life list becomes all the more pressing.
As a result, my husband has now explored the Western avian wonders in and around the Arcata Marsh in California, Caribbean birds in Turks and Caicos and, most recently, phenomenal African migratory species in Donana National Park in Spain, in what happens to be Europe’s largest protected wetland. What started out as short, two-hour excursions have now morphed into more expansive, half-day tours in all-terrain vehicles that require early wake-up times and long bus rides to reach our destinations.
I can’t say that the bird trips have transformed my husband into an ardent birder, or any kind of birder for that matter. But he appreciates my birding as a quirky hobby that takes us to unexpected locales, and is surprisingly happy to come along for the ride, Tilley hat and all!
Julia Zarankin is a writer, editor, and former professor of Russian literature and culture at the University of Missouri. She's a long-time contributor to ON Nature magazine and our blog.