The Birdist’s Rules of Birding

Birdist Rule #88: Think Up Some Excuses To Go Chase Birds

What happens when a rare bird shows up while you’re still at school or the office? WHAT HAPPENS THEN?

It happens to all birders, sooner or later. You’ll be sitting at work, or in class, and you’ll glance at your local birding listserv or Twitter feed and see a message like: “[SUPER RARE BIRD] BEING SEEN RIGHT NOW AT [NEARBY PLACE]!”

Your pulse quickens, and your mind speeds toward the inevitable conclusion of despair: You want to go see that bird, but you’re stuck. You could be a productive member of society and wait until work or class is over, but who knows where the bird will by then? You need to leave now! You need to see that bird before it flies away (because remember, birds do that)!

You need an excuse.

Look, weaseling your way out of some prior commitment to go birding is as much a part of the hobby as choosing the right binoculars. A quick scan of my Twitter followers shows that 67 percent of them have done it. The rest either haven’t had the opportunity yet . . . or have bosses that follow them on Twitter.

Most of my followers were forthright about their lies. Francie Cashman (@FrancieCashman) used the classic “I’m just not feeling well *cough*” before speeding off to see a Snowy Owl in Georgia (I mean, how could you not?). Lucas Bobay (@BirderBobay), who’s in college studying wildlife, pulled the “uh, I need to go study some wildlife” move to track down a Sage Thrasher in North Carolina. Simple, but effective. Twitter user Golden Slippers (@GSBirding) was in sales and just faked a customer visitand then stomped around the beach in business clothes in case he was spotted.

So what should you do? How can you craft an excuse to get out of that awful weekly meeting where you have to listen to Dennis chewing his lunch again because he forgot to put his phone on mute?

The first time, fake sick. It’s the best. A simple “oh [boss], I woke up feeling really crummy today and I came in to work because I really wanted to work on that thing for you but it’s just getting worse . . . I think I need to go home” will act like an absolute dynamite miracle. But it’ll only work once, and you’ll need a good response at the ready to explain how the beginnings of the bubonic plague just cleared right up overnight.

After that, you’ve got to mix it up, and that's when things get complicated. Let’s think about the options for a minute.

Kids. I don’t have kids, but from everything I hear, they sure seem to be getting into emergencies a lot. Telling your boss that your kid’s in trouble and needs to be picked up is an excellent way to get out of stuff, I’d guess, because it’s plausible and also might speak to your boss’s maternal or paternal instincts.  

“Boss, I gotta go, my kid (has lice/ate some paste/ate a bunch of lice/got a boo-boo/blew up the chemistry classroom)!” They all could work.

For the childless among us, the next best thing to a kid is a . . .

Dog. Like babies, dogs are always doing crazy stuff and needing help. They’re always eating some gross thing and getting sick, or jamming their faces into porcupine butts for no reason. Lots of good excuses to be had here. Note: There are no good excuses that involve cats. Cats don’t need anyone’s help, ever.

Repair People. This is a good one because TV/AC/computer/cable-repair people are always coming at random times, and the misery of having the guy finally make it to your house and you not being there is universally understood. This is a good one to use if you dip on the bird the first time and want to try again the next day: “Oh man, the Fios guy totally stood me up yesterday, but today they said they’d definitely be there at 3 p.m.”

Elderly Grandparents. They’re either making a surprise visit to see the grandkids (and to help take care of the lice infestation), or needing you to set up the Wi-fi and sign up for “The Facebooks.” 

Weirder Stuff. Really, the sky’s the limit for the creative birder trying to leave work. I’ve found that just urgently mumbling nonsense to your boss as you throw on your coat works just fine as a sort of shock treatment. “Howie needs me!” you could yell, with no explanation. Or, “I’ll never let them steal back my carpet!” Anything can work, as long as it’s said with slightly insane conviction.

I hope these tips have been helpful. May you feel empowered to do a bit of maneuvering next time a rare bird shows up nearby. You might get a reputation as “that crazy person in the office who is always yelling about someone named Howie,” but your life list will be a mile long. Go get ‘em.

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