Illustration: Meryl Rowin

Murmurations

A Sibling Rivalry Through Twitches and Tweets—with Jeffrey Ward

“Jason taught me 90 percent of everything I know. He’s been a big part of the bird aspect of my life.”

This is episode no. 6 of “Murmurations,” a podcast asking people why birds and the environment matter to them.​

Growing up [in New York City], I always was into animals and going to the library to take out a whole bunch of field guides and different animal books. I drifted toward birds. I would find myself flipping through the pages of the field guide and trying to ID the bird just from the picture.

Im lucky to have a sibling that is into birds as much as I am. So Im thankful to Jason for introducing this to me.

A lot of people dont know what their passion is yet, and its nice that I found mine. Its nice that I found something that I am good at.

Jason, his eyesight isnt as good as mine. So he can bird looking down and tell me the seven things that are over his head, just by hearing the chips and the calls and the songs. Hes more of a birder by ear; he always tries to let me how important it is to bird by ear. Im more of an eyesight type of person. I bird by movement. I can look into an area and see multiple things moving. I catch leaves falling from the trees. So, hes my ears and Im his eyes.

I was always in a competition with myself to see more [birds] than a year before. But just this year—because Jason, hes pretty known on Twitter—I just randomly started tweeting about the birds that I saw and what number they were. And he caught onto it and started going back and forth with me. People caught onto it; people started retweeting. I was like, “Oh my God, this should be a competition.”

So Jason tweeted, “My eyesight is horrendous.” Someone replied to him, “Is that why Jeffrey’s beating you in this competition?” Yeah, its always been competitive.

Growing up, Jason drifted toward football and I drifted toward basketball. Im positive I can beat him at both, but hes probably positive he can beat me at both.

When he came down here [from Atlanta], we had our phones out the whole entire time, making sure we were tallying every single bird we were seeing. Every bird that I saw that was one up, I would tap him, “You know thats an extra bird on my list right?”

“Oh thats an extra bird on my list, too, thats an extra bird!”

“But Im still 10 ahead of you, so it doesnt really matter if thats an extra bird on your list because you arent getting any closer to me.”

People are hyping us up to the point where were taking this competition a lot more seriously. I hear about a bird I havent seen yet, and I typically wouldnt chase it if its too far away from my house—but Im chasing it this time.

Hes at 186 or 187? And I’m at 210. The Kirtland’s Warbler in Central Park is a bird that is only in a small part of Michigan—and it’s even rare in Michigan. One popped up in Central Park, which I got to see and Jason didn’t. That bird is definitely [worth] 10 points. But to be fair I’m at 210.

I’m always pushing myself to learn more, learn calls, learn this and that. Jason taught me 90 percent of everything I know. He’s been a big part of the bird aspect of my life. 

Update: Since this interview was recorded, Jeffrey is at 233 year birds and Jason is at 267. Follow their progress on Twitter.

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Credits: Interviewed by Dominic Arenas; Edited by Dominic Arenas; Intro music: Podington Bear, “The Mountain” (CC BY-NC 2.0); Basketball sounds: findsounds.com; Bird calls: Kirtland's Warbler © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.

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