Friday, August 8, 2014

Bro, Do You Even Pish???

Even though they all have one terrifying thing in common, bird nerds are a pretty diverse bunch. There are the retiree birders, the hardcore listers, the young upstarts, the field biologists, the feeder watchers, and various other tendrils of the kraken. And like the birds themselves, there are many possible hybrids between these different species of nerd. Bird populations fluctuate. Ranges expand and contract. Some species thrive while others fade away, often replaced by adaptive, aggressive, or more versatile species. The same could be said of many breeds of birder. 
A recent, widely, and rightly mocked article on Esquire bemoaned the changing social scene of the birding community. With great trepidation it pointed to the increasing popularity of birding--even as a mild past time--not only in the mainstream, but in more stereotypical groups such as the "emo type" and the "frat-boy" birder. The author wanted to keep birding a small, esoteric hobby for himself, like a high schooler who just discovered a new Indie band and who doesn't want anyone else to know about it. The author is a jealous birder, even protective, but not a conservationist. Alas that none of the his revelatory, insecure premonitions seem to be transpiring. The number of "emo type" birders in North America is the same as the number of Piping Plovers breeding in Florida.
Nevertheless, the times they are a changin', and not necessarily for the better. Habitat loss and roving gangs of windmills are wreaking havoc on North American bird populations, many of which are in sharp decline. Esquire not withstanding, most people agree that awareness of birds and the need to protect their habitat needs to be expanded. 

There are initiatives underway to increase urban birding, and with that, diversify birder demographics. Qualifying species as 'endangered' can help with protection, but the political backlash here sometimes causes more harm than good. Whatever the other helpful solutions may be, birding also needs to become more popular with the mainstream. The endeavor itself and what it stands for (conservation) needs to become a commonly understood value, something vaunted and publicized in ways that might make the more timorous bird nerds flush for cover. 
To whom do do we turn? Who can bring birding into the mainstream? Who can infuse it with energy and money? Who can make it infectious even for those who'd prefer to mock it ironically from the sidelines? Without further adieu, I present to you a very special species. I present to you, the redeemer of North American birding.

The ill-fitting tank top, the crew socks with loafers, the sideways cap, the dangling lanyard, the vacant, empty-heaed expression...yes, yes you know who I'm talking about, and I realize what a radical proposition this is but I shall endeavor to justify. The salvation of birding, or rather of birds, lies with the Bros. End the brohibition!
They have the social capital. They have the energy. They have money. They tend to have wealthy parents. They get really, really excited (stoked) about stuff that they think is cool, and then they devote considerable time to it. 
Beer with me here; think about this for a minute. If we as bird nerds could get Bros to devote the same amount of time towards birding, and the conservation of bird habitat, as they devote to the muscle factory, bird-dogging chicks, and fussing with their facade, we would be knee-deep in Whimbrels (the very best depth of Whimbrels). This thing, it aint' pretty, but it's loud and really friggin' zestful. Get enough of them together and you've got a social force, one that is tech and media savvy. Let's put this creature to work for the birds:

Now grant me a little time here for specific exposition and specification. For you see, there are a couple different breeds of Bro, and we need to identify their positive, useful attributes first and then examine ways in which we can bring them into the fold, even if this will make the fold stink like Axe body spray and lavoris. I am willing to step in here, despite the perdition into which it may drag my soul, and aid in some Bro identification. After all, I attended an all-boys high school that literally had 'Bro' in its name, and can consider myself an experienced expert in Bro field studies. 
Real quick, here's an Elf Owl, before the lack of birds drives you away.

First, we'll start with the genera. There are two genera of Bro in the western world, with distribution concentrated primarily on the coasts including the Gulf, and also Syracuse, New York. We'll examine the first genus is more specific detail because it can be harder to identify, with its more subtle plumage and sociable behavior. Identify we must if we are to tag and drag such a specimen into the world of birding. We must understand it and approach it with caution, for it is insecure and easily startled. 
There are various species within this genera, distinguishable by voice and subtleties in plumage as well as range (east coats vs. west coast) and choice in footwear. This is the pampered Bro, genus Broticus Casanovicus, which includes the more localized East Coast species Prepicus Topsiderii, and we need all of them. Yes, I know it's more disgusting than a juvenile Mockingbird, but look nonetheless! 

See that douchebag? We need him. We need him because he has money and his dad has money and his Uncle Jim in Cape Cod has money. He has a yacht, and at night he parks his yacht inside the floating garage of his dad's yacht. This birder has capital, and this birder has clout. Not only that, but unlike some lawmakers or radical political friends, this target demographic is gettable. Why? Because even though this studmuffin has two collared shirts, both collars popped obviously and a puka shell necklace, he is incredibly insecure. I know he talks and swaggers big, but trust me. I have lived near this species of Bro before. I have studied it in the wild. This is its morning routine: 

"Alright you scrawny bastard. Everyone is watching. Everyone cares a lot, a real lot, about what you do and how you do it and how good you look while doing it. Don't mess this up and hate yourself forever. Are you ready??"

With the right approach, with some wheedling and cajoling and coddling and well-veiled ironic compliments, we can turn the morning routine of the Cash-Loafer Bro into:

"Hey there you magnificent bastard! Are you going to go find a MEGA today and then tweet it to your 700,000 followers!? You bet you are! And then you're going to put away more Jack Daniels and Coke than a graveyard shift liquor store shelf stocker!"

While most species of the Broticus Casanovicus genus are more localized, they have a considerable social weight across the continent relative to other groups. Their clout and capital influences advertisers. It makes politicians take notice. Species in this genera may seem insecure, but they tend to work at financial firms, at investment brokerages and software development companies while also taking classes in business management. Of course, not all Bros are bursting at the seams with Benjamins, but compared to other associations Bros tend to flash their cash and find outlets for their enthusiasm more so than many others. If we could harness their burgeoning financial power as well as their raw enthusiasm directed towards hair configuration, we could probably create infinitely renewable energy. At the very least, we would gain a privileged and powerful ally in the conservation of birds and their habitat. But how do we get its attention? First, let's look at field identification This photo was taken when the wild Bro species thought that Calvin Klein might have been looking.


Although there is some considerable variation by species, there are some commonalities across the genus that we will discuss here. The sunglasses are often resting atop the crown but seldom warn. There is always at least one and sometimes upwards of six adornments on the wrists, neck, and/or ankles, which often involve the shells of small mollusks, hemp, or hardened leather. This is a species of Double-Collar Popped Bro, and while no other species of Bro shows two popped collars, one is typical of many species in this genus. 
Expression is also key when identifying Bros. If no one else is paying attention to the Bro, it will often assume stank-face pose, undergo a brief, 7-second existential crisis (the longest recorded attention span of a Bro) and go change its shirt, or simply remove its shirt. Luckily that was not the case with this specimen, which was tamer than some. 


How can birding appeal to Bros? Well, starting off with a treatise on the ecological value of American Dippers is not the best angle. In fact, you'll probably get called a crass name like 'queer-mo'. 

A cool bird, but not of intrinsic value to a Bro, not like 14 Bald Eagles all in a pile. American birding cannot move forward without piles of Eagles!

Take the competitive angle. In your workplace or at family get-togethers, around your apartment complex and at your local pub, don't try to avoid the Chest-bumping Sidehat or the Oakleys-at-Night Owl. Most Bros are collegiate, and you'll find them concentrated on college campuses. Just think of how many are at U of A, a stone's throw away from Madera Canyon--and many have to take an environmental science class anyway! Words like 'face-melting' and 'crush' go a long way to setting the tone, but once you get a couple of Bros checking out the eBird Top 100 lists for their state or county, their high-adrenaline machismo drive, which is closely linked in the brain to the desire to feel popular and respected, will take over. This is not hypothetical. I have personal experience in getting Bro acquaintances involved with various hobbies they first thought were lame. Pretty soon they were so obsessed and one-track about the whole thing, sending constant phone calls and invitations and buying all kinds of products, that I was overwhelmed and driven away.
On a related note, it's true that greater Bro involvement in birding might seem unsavory to some birders, especially birders who are big fans of Esquire and quiet walks in the park. Increases in Bro birding would also bring some other repugnant behaviors as well, and it's fair to assume that the number of Natural Light cans along Antelope Island  or Lake Merritt would increase. Even so, it's a cost/benefit analysis that favors the Dudes. Though it seems like sacrilege to see a Bro with a Sibley's sticking out of his trousers, do not shun the blasphemer...continue the conversion.

I realize how iconoclastic this perspective is, how seemingly antithetical the involvement of Bros is to the values we draw from spending time in nature and with birds. Whether the Bro is a more refined East Coast specimen or the lower-middle class apartment type picture below, what force can they really bring? Remember, in the case of publicizing birding, any press is good press, and some of their worst character flaws can be great attributes. Combine the capital of Brotics Casanovicus with the raw energy and drive of the more common Broticus Slovenicus, the sort of fellow who will unabashedly lifer-dance in an apartment complex, and even in smaller numbers you have a dynamic force.


Don't believe me? How many Bros did it take to destroy the Aztec Empire, an excursion widely believed to have taken place simply because they made a wrong turn on a cerveza run?? So when Pledge to Fledge and other birder involvement initiatives come around, I challenge you to really make a sacrifice for the birds. Don't try to lure your grandmother or your little brother or the co-worker or friend whom you kind of want to flirt with but are nervous about directly addressing in a 1-on-1. These people will already be sympathetic to your causes. 
Try to get a Bro out birding. Tell him he might find a new species and get to name it. Tell him he could be number 1. Tell him there are lots and lots of available chicks in the birding scene. Prevaricate like no other; he won't even remember what you said. Whatever it takes to get 'em outside, a couple of flashy birds and a competitive edge will take care of the rest and give many the national park a much needed bolstering.
Next spring break? Yosemite baby!  

*No Bros were harmed in the making of this post, although someone other people might have been.


  1. Great post Laurence! "Yeah bro, check out these House Sparrows over here". "No bro, I've been partying with the Bald Eagles all weekend".

    Can the Big Heat Bro star in Birding Stereotypes sometime? That would be great!

    1. Thanks Tommy,

      I think it is essential that Big Heat Bro star in some stereotype let other Bros know that's ok to be a Brornithologist.

  2. I am at a loss for words...other than "bro". Obvi.

    1. Perhaps the highest compliment (or not???) I could hope to solicit from you Mr. Raconteur.

  3. Dude! Loved the piece on bros and birding, if only because (while I wouldn't consider myself a bro, per se) I do often feel like the only birder in the DC area under the age of 50. I've actually used the competitive angle to get a friend of mine (definite bro) at least somewhat into birding. He can't ID much yet but is keeping a life list like there's a beer-flavored prize or something. More importantly, he's started thinking about the conservation side of things. It's pretty awesome. Great piece, thanks for sharing!

    1. Cheers Jake,
      Hang in there and keep Bro-ing it up! And while you're at it, the whole D.C. area would probably benefit from a little more Bro in most of its various undertakings. The competitive angle works right? I mean, most birders feel its weight on their subconscious, but there's something in the blood of the Bros...
      Thanks for commenting with that affirmation. Of course the piece is predominantly sardonic, but I'm glad to hear of some positive developments, even on the individual/personal level nonetheless.
      If you don't mind, I'm going to transpose your comment to the website

  4. This cracks me up! Who were your collaborators?

    1. The is serious business Pat! Well ok, maybe not so much...
      Collaborators were Broseph Scarborbro and Brody McBrode

  5. I'm going to offer the counterargument that there are already too many males interested in birding. Consider the fact you will not find an article regarding birding if you browse Vogue or Good Housekeeping. I recognize the relationship between interest in birding and interest in conservation, but it's already daunting enough as a female birder in a predominantly male-filled field!

    Specifically regarding the Esquire article, the guy needs to revisit statistics or not intentionally skew his argument. "Of the 46.7 million people who observed wild birds, 88% did so around their homes and 38% on trips a mile or more from home." That's 41 million feeder watchers and 17 million who have traveled 1.0+ miles from home to watch a bird at least once during 2011*. (That's 5% of Americans who do more than feeder watch.)

    The statistics provided also note that "Participation [in in some form of wildlife-related recreation] is up 3 percent from five years earlier. The increase was primarily among those who fished and hunted. " Logically that seems to imply from 2006 to 2011, there was less than 3% increased interest in birding across the "retiree birders, the hardcore listers, the young upstarts, the field biologists, the feeder watchers," and let's not forget, the students birding for credit. Assuming this is a typical increase, at the start of birding-in-mainstream-media. Does he think there are 50-million retirees with one-foot in the grave who make up the American birding population?

    (This may have fired me up enough to go finish my Arizona posts).

    1. You're right Kathleen, especially in the upper echelons and in the more competitive birding world, males tend to outnumber the females. It doesn't seem like the themes of Vogue of Good Housekeeping would cover birding--you also won't find birding articles in many man-centric magazines. At any rate your point is well said and well taken.
      I'd also point out that, at least to my eyes, female birders outnumber males in the sort of semi-birding or more casual birding genres. I run into more males out birding in the middle of nowhere, but the facebook groups and bird groups that principally center around birding in city parks and at feeders are dominated by females. So part of the question is, how do we get these more timid circles to expand into actual wild/needing-to-be-conserved areas?
      The solution? Get lots of hunky Bros out birding. Their musk and mating calls would attract many more female eh eh? The logic is irrefutable.

      The Esquire article seems to be erroneous on all fronts: statistically, logically, sociologically...I really get the impression that the author (who displays considerable ignorance about birding in general when he tries to make direct references, e.g. breeding Piping Plovers in FL) thought this was more of a throw away piece that would be read by non-birders, which is why every birder who's read the article is annoyed by it.

      Thanks for stopping by. I'm looking forward to your AZ posts.

    2. In all seriousness, to even out the sex ratios present in birding, I'd focus more on introducing and retaining more females than introducing males to lure females. My impression regarding north-east birders is that it's male dominated regardless of the level of real-world birding. There appears to be a bimodal range: older-classic birders and the younger-tech-savvy birders (the general dichotomy mentioned in both the Esquire and the NYTimes articles).

      I think that online, the sex-ratio is much closer to 50:50, suggesting that either women are generally more active online then men (I believe more women use facebook for longer periods than men), or that due to the scarcity of females in the field, women take to the internet in order to feel less alone in this field.

      I may have previously mentioned this, but it's daunting to be a female birder. Unless birding with a male, when I encounter men in the field, it is much more likely I will be ignored, or assumed to be an utter novice who is utterly out of her depth. Men are more likely to stop and explain the basics of birding to me. In conversation with other female birders, my interactions are not unusual.

      I do see other females out birding. They are typically alone. (It's like seeing a really rare-bird, we stop and stare, do a double-take, and very frequently strike up a conversation!) Or they are women who appear to be doing it as a shared pursuit with their significant other who appears more invested in it.

      I've not been hit on yet while birding, but that I assume is only a matter of time. Especially if birding is on the rise with the emo types and bros.

      AZ post #2 is up.

    3. It probably is male-dominated at all the different levels, except maybe for feeder watching/backyard birding in suburban or urban areas. For sake of female birders, I hope the ratios even out, but that as a pursuit in itself is less pressing than general conservation, since the gender make up of conservationists doesn't affect the conservation directly.

      That being said, the more the better. Bros as a group are easy to typify and target. I can't claim much knowledge when it comes to female birders, or females in general, or generals in female.
      Is it daunting to be in the minority because of the condescension that comes with it? A certain element of that will never go away. There are too many birders with attitudes and egos, regardless of their actual skill level, and they'll turn up their nose or patronize anyone they don't know by reputation (I experience this often enough as well, and I'm conspicuously male). I hope you put them in their place when the opportunity presents itself.

      I too, have never been hit on while birding. I should put more effort into my appearance. If the Bros come and start bugging you Kathleen, I apologize. Think of the Burrowing Owls!!

  6. Your point that "as a pursuit in itself is less pressing than general conservation, since the gender make up of conservationists doesn't affect the conservation directly" holds true only because most of the people in political power are white males. I would imagine in order for sound conservation policy, practices, and awareness to take place, that the participation in wildlife viewing, wildlife experiences, etc. needs to be diverse. People of color; from rural, urban, and suburban regions; including those with family roots in Jamestown/Plymouth and those newly arrived from other countries all need to appreciate nature/conservation in order for it to happen.

    It's both daunting and frustrating. It can feel as though you're outside looking in. Becoming a part of a regional birding cluster helps, and there have been both men and women who have been marvelously fantastic about being friendly and inclusive, but as I think about it - many of those I've met first in a professional capacity rather than in the (literal) field. And while that's been helpful for me, it's not the typical experience for most birders.

    I wouldn't say that there's an Official Birding Boys' Club, but it's daunting enough when one is a new birder to contend with any semblance of a gender barrier while trying to stick with a hobby that has a slow learning curve.

    I wonder if the odds would be greater for you to be hit on by a male birder or a female birder?

    Truth. Owls keep one going in birding/life.

    1. Definitely the more people know and the more active they are, the greater awareness and conservation there can be. If the people with political power are still predominantly white males, then I'd still take that as a need to get more white males (the constituency) into the field as well the other demographics, and some of those subsets are much more reachable/realistic than others.

      Regional birding groups are good. Any place with some organization and unity can help awareness and maintain some social and political capital. So many birders are just also so bad at associating and socializing!

      I don't know--probably an older female. I'm not sure I'd recognize it anyhow.

  7. "Bros before Hoopoes," they'll say. But if we can push past the initial reluctance, surely we can harness the bros for good. I'd also like to see more jocks enlisted. If only they would rattle off population decline statistics, optimal habitat requirements, and feral cat numbers like they do batting averages and free throw percentages, they'd become a powerful force for conservation indeed! Thanks for shedding light on these two elusive species.

    1. Good god...if you could harness the Fantasy Baseball and Fantasy Football crowds...eBird would have more data than their databases could handle.

      The next demographic to target? Goth chicks.

  8. I'm at a loss for words here. Being the "misanthropic" asshole that I am, I hesitate to endorse anything that will result in me having to interact with more people. That said, I appreciate your enthusiasm and ingenuity.

    1. It's a tough trade off, having to interact with more people in the (perhaps) vain hope for the propagation of more birds.
      I can't say I'm enthusiastic about rubbing shoulders with Birding Bros., but it would make for livelier arguments on the birding forums eh?

  9. Clever and humorous post, Laurence, but better yet is the heart of it which is improving conservation via the recruitment of more birders. Was this brain-child borne while enduring a mind-numbing teacher inservice?

    Though I'm in the land of Broticus Slovenicus, I can't relate much to the Bro demographic. There are two groups that I feel would have a high ROI in the recruitment efforts. The first is hunters which may seem ironic at a superficial glance. This is where I get my birding roots. Now I get the thrill of the hunt any day and anywhere; it's not confined to just some short season or geographical locale. Many of these people are wildlife lovers already and are already the biggest movers and shakers in the conservation department -- Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, etc -- the dudes and dudettes buy some major real estate each year for habitat that benefits a plethora of wildlife. Birding would not be a tough sell to this demographic. And stuff would get done.

    The second group I speak of is not so specific but is ultimately the key -- children. Plant the seeds young and watch them (and the birds) grow. I'm thinking of starting a birding club at school. You in, Bro?

    And boatloads of Snowy Owls also help the whole recruitment effort in general.

    1. I love my Snowies by the boatload (boats never make it into Phoenix though).

      You're right, certainly getting the kiddos involved is a gold mine, and I too am contemplating a birding club come spring time. For the hunters, I think you're right that they are willing and able conservationists. In conjunction though, lots of hunters tend to be scattered and antisocial, even more than birders. The more's the better of course, but to really change the inertia I think we need larger, more socially central groups as well.

      Thanks for your insight.

  10. I think the next logical step is to petition the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Dave Matthews Band to write a song about birds or just put a picture of a bird on a record cover and your mission will pretty much complete itself.

    1. Bro!...this is a very important idea, a game changer!

  11. I want to know where you got that cigarette... They don't sell one-packs!

    Can you send "the Bro" to Lock and Dam 14 to deal with the pretentious Bald Eagle douchebags we get every late winter/early Spring?

    I would agree with earlier commenters - hunters are huge conservationists, for the most part. They understand the need for wide open spaces, and they grasp the importance of sustainability. And, so they hunt. Game birds and over-populated deer, etc. Doesn't bother me.

    1. I got no beef with hunters, nor with cigarette singles when I find them on the ground (!). Lock and Dam 14 especially needs a few Bros. They will make birding far less pretentious and give Bald Eagles far more unrequited love than perhaps any other demographic.

  12. Laurence, this is a top notch post as has been your past work over the last couple months. I don't always respond but I have read them and also have really noticed your fantastic pics, writing(always always always funny and uniquely your own) and the topics perfect. I couldn't help but think of my New England trip this summer and laugh about the East Coast birder. You nailed the stereotype perfectly. We were laughing at the pics. The clothes...the stance....seriously, coming from Arizona as a birder and observing an East Coast birder was a trip! Your pics are again always great but these last posts with your birds have been stunners! Thanks for the laughs and interesting reads:) I'm REALLY fascinated by that recent Texas trip:)

    1. Bro!

      Hey Chris,

      Thanks for commenting. I always appreciate your thoughtful responses and am glad the posts are keeping up to snuff.
      Texas Texas...I can't say enough about it. I cannot think of any place in North America where I would rather be, in mid May, than the southeast Texas coast.

  13. Laurence, I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or be shocked by this piece! I decided to laugh and disagree! But first I have a question: What is an "emo" type? I don't know. As for being a female birder, I know plenty of women birders and my birding mentor was a woman. I met her when I was 16 years old and knew her for the rest of her life. She lived to be 103, so maybe we can sell birding as a Life extending activity?

    I know that most of this was done tongue in cheek and I love the pics and the clever ways you created species names for these "bros". My take in the end is to get anyone involved who will truly care about the birds and conservation and I do not care what their age or gender is or sexual orientation is! Though I like racking up the Life Birds as much as anyone, I have no use for those who's sole purpose it to achieve birder fame. That being said, most birders I know care as much about the birds as their Life Lists and I hope it stays that way. In this point I agree with you: Getting people to care about the birds will lead them to conservation and THAT is a mission we can all embrace!

    As for the comment about woman having a greater presence on the internet, I think it is just a desire to share and to connect. I started my blog because I wanted to share my passion. I am thankful for the people I have met because of it, both male and female of all ages, including you!

    1. I sure hope birding is life extending! "Emo type" birders, as I mentioned, don't seem to actually exist--at any rate I've never seen them. Emo people/kids are like a softer, sissier version of Goth kids from the 90s. They wear lots of make up, put purple or blue in their hair and wear lots of tight black clothing with metal studs. They worship Edgar Allan Poe's worst work and try to be brooding, moody, morbid, and deep all the team, frustrated that they can't properly bemoan that they are, in fact, raised comfortably in white suburbia.

      Thanks for reading through Kathie and taking the time to comment. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your candor. Good birding to ya this weekend!