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.