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A Renegade Birdwatcher Makes a "Field Guide to Dumb Birds"

This birdwatcher hates birds. So he decided to catalogue every single stupid one he sees.

by Dyllan Furness
May 6 2017, 12:05pm

“Pretty much all sandpipers migrate in flocks and nest on the ground, but not this dickweed.”

Spring is a beautiful season, when all that was resting returns, including those fucking birds perched outside your window singing love songs at six in the morning every single day. It's easy to hate on birds, not so easy to appreciate them, and harder still to find them funny. But the birder (that's what birdwatchers prefer to be called) behind the Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America manages to express both deep disdain and admiration for our feathered friends, while churning up no shortage of humor along the way.

"I hate birds," the blogger writes on his or her Tumblr. "These are my field notes."

These notes are the result of a homework assignment-cum-35-year quest to spot a single bird. He notes on the blog that, back in the fourth grade, he was given a school assignment to find the allusive Golden Crowned Kinglet. Many hours later, the poor kid conceded defeat. But on New Year's Day, the now middle-aged birder ran into a Golden Crowned Kinglet on a walk.

"I carefully pulled my phone from my pocket to snap a picture of it—a trophy for an event nearly forty years ago. Proof of achievement," he writes. Unfortunately, the kinglet wasn't having it and wouldn't sit still. It flew off before our birder could take a decent photo. "'You little son of a bitch,' I thought, and I decided to make this blog."

The guide is a treasure trove of amateur art and snark, relatable to anyone who has loved to hate and hated to love a hobby. The illustrations are impressively detailed and simply colored. But they're not for the easily offended ornithologist—along with less-than-flattering notes about the birds he sees, the begrudging birder gives them playground nicknames. A white-breasted nuthatch becomes a "white-breasted butt nugget." A great gray shrike become a "great grey shite." And a Canada goose becomes, well, a "goddamned Canada goose."

"We can get a little too reverent when we talk about nature," writer and birder Nick Lund tells Creators. As the columnist behind the Audubon Society's The Birdist's Rules of Birding, Lund walks a fine line between comedy and conventionalism at one of the world's oldest environmental organizations. "Museums and breathless documentaries can have the effect of teaching us that the natural world is pure and perfect and unassailable. And while that's not entirely untrue or improper to believe, it just isn't true."

What Lund means is nature can be ugly. It has tender moments, like when a snowy egret swoops through cypress trees at sunset, returning to a nest of newborn chicks. But then the mother barfs up dinner and the runt of the brood gets pushed from the nest into an alligator's mouth in the swamp below. Nature is cruel and animals are often unintelligent.

"Individual birds can be just as dumb and lame and annoying as individual humans can be," Lund says. "It's important to not take everything so damn seriously, you know?"

For the non-birders among us, Lund points out that the field guide is actually pretty legitimate, despite its generous use of expletives.

"In terms of accuracy, this project is clearly produced by someone who knows what they're doing," he says, "Maybe an ornithologist just venting on their off-hours. Maybe a bird crapped on them or a gull stole their ice cream."

Whomever this person is, whatever his true motivation might be, he's tapped into the frustrations felt by birders everywhere and managed to create something unique about a hundred-year-old hobby. And not only is it accurate—it's fucking funny.

Follow the Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America on Tumblr. You can also check out Nick Lund's writing here and follow him on Twitter.

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