A Birder Responds to the So-Called Creepiness Study

Who are the real creeps? It's not birders.

[Ed. note: The Birdist is taking a break from his regular rulemaking to address this important issue.]

If you’re a birder you’ve probably heard about the “creepiness study” that surfaced today. It was maybe posted to your Facebook wall by some jerk uncle or unfunny friend. If you haven’t heard of it yet, here’s the gist: Psychologists from Knox College in Illinois published the first-ever empirical study of “creepiness” and found, among other things, that people feel weirded out by birdwatchers. Great.

Here’s exactly how that earth-shattering conclusion came about. In one section of the study, people were asked to list hobbies they thought were creepy; “the second most frequently mentioned creepy hobby (after 'collecting') . . . involved some variation of 'watching.' Watching, following, or taking pictures of people (especially children) was thought to be creepy by many of our participants." And somehow, birdwatchers got lumped in there as well.

I have a few thoughts.

  1. First of all, only squares use the term "birdwatching." It’s birding.

  2. “Involves watching” is such a silly, reductive definition of birding. What it actually involves is a lot of hiking, adventuring, traveling to exotic locales, listening, thinking, anticipating, persevering, and laughing. Birders aren’t birdwatchers, just as treasure hunters aren’t “treasure watchers.” We’re actively pursuing, not passively observing. I’ve been conducting my own study for years, and this newer study only proves a result I’ve long suspected: that people are horribly misinformed about what birding is.

  3. Fine, birding is a little bit creepy! If we’re going off of some warped public perception of creepiness, anyway. A lot of birders like birding in part because it means we don’t have to interact with the public. That doesn’t mean that we're anti-social; like most people, many birders just need a break from the human world and its hassles from time to time. I guess some people find it creepy when other people want some alone time? Whatever. I’m a creep then.

  4. You know who I think the real creeps are here? These psychologists! Sitting around thinking about what’s creepy all day? Constantly asking people, “Do you think this is creepy?” and “How about this? Creepy?” What a bunch of creeps! I think these scientists should get out of the lab a bit more—maybe pick up a hobby. I know the perfect one . . .

If you're a birder and proud of it, the Birdist has a few words on how you can spread the gospel. Check them out right here, and then step to it.