21 September 2005

Men who bird and the women who love them

Tanya was out today so we had a temp named Linda. Unlike some of our temps, Linda had the foresight to bring a book. (I say this as someone who spent a couple of years temping and know what it is. To not bring a book is to risk spending the day reading the company's previous annual report. Possibly more than once.)

I asked Linda what she was reading, expecting it to be a mystery or something equally light and interruption-friendly. Conceive of my surprise when she showed me that it was Pete Dunne On Birding. So I asked if she's a birder and she told me that her boyfriend is a birder. Hmmmm. Well, we were as Ruth and Naomi after that, comparing how to us and our nearsighted eyes, all birds over 20 feet away (i.e., most of them) simply look like, well, birds. They have no decernible characteristics, like yellow bibs or blue bills or what-have-you. And how the females all look like brown birds with no discernible characteristics at all, really. And how our menfriends keep insisting that there is a difference between sparrows - House Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Office Ledge Sparrows, yeah, yeah, yeah.

She told me the funny story about how when she first began noticing birds there were a whole bunch of them in her yard and she excitedly woke her boyfriend to identify them because they could have been anything and they were ... robins. "You woke me up for robins?" So I told her about the time I was describing a Mourning Dove to David over the phone and refered to the bird's "teal green eye-liner."

Linda was able to add to her life list on a recent trip to Malawi. She said that it took her several months to get 30 or 40 birds here in the States, but that she added a 103 in Malawi. So I told her that David said that I'm good birding karma and how we saw a Barred Owl on a trip to Accokeek.

Conveniently for both of us, I still had in the car - and was able to copy for Linda - an article that David found for me when I pointed out that naming the birds after the male's characteristics seemed a trifle sexist, not to mention completely unhelpful when one is observing a female, say Red-Winged Blackbird, which is neither red-winged nor black. Hmpf.

The article, by Margaret Van de Pitte and entitled "The female is somewhat duller," makes my points at greater length and indignation than I did and the letters in reply were often more indignant still. Great fun. (Sample quote: "For example, how many obviously female birds have been featured on the cover of this magazine? Not many.")

Next time we need a temp, I'm going to ask that we request Linda because she and I have a real bond now.


bug_girl said...

do you know if it's online anywhere?
I've been trying to find a copy.


Leta said...


The title of the book is a hyperlink, so if you click on it, you'll be taken to Amazon's page for the book.

Bug_girl said...

sorry, I was clearly not clear :)

I meant the "female is duller" paper.

Good thing it's a friday....

Leta said...

Yep - duh. Sorry about that - I see what you mean now.

David said that it was in "Birding" magazine - August 1999, vol 31 #4, page 367.