The Black Birdwatcher

Carrion crow, Corvus corone. Photograph: Alamy. “Any bird that’s black is my bird.” Are you a bird watcher, especially one who chases rare birds? If so, you most likely are white, fifty-five or older, and male. Female birders and young birders are unusual (in my experience), but the rarest birds of all are non-white birders.

“When I meet another black birder, it’s like encountering an ivory-billed woodpecker”, says J. Drew Lanham, a professor of non-game wildlife ecology at Clemson University in South Carolina.

“An endangered species. Extinction looms.”

(Well, actually … ivory-billed woodpeckers are extinct.)

“There are essential tools for birding”, explains Professor Lanham in the accompanying video.

“There’re your binoculars, your spotting scope, your field guide … and if you’re black, you’re probably going to need two or three forms of ID.”

The reason? As Professor Lanham wrote several years ago in a short article published in Orion Magazine: “You’ll need the ID to convince the cops, FBI, Homeland Security, and the flashlight-toting security guard that you’re not a terrorist or escaped convict.”

This is just the beginning of the special rules that non-white birders, and especially black birders, must observe when out in the field chasing rarities, as we learn in this sadly amusing video by BirdNote Radio. In this video, we also learn that Professor Lanham can produce a helluva barred owl call.

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