After seeing the Snowy Owl in Dallas, and all of the excitement that it caused, I have been trying to figure out what gets people’s birding juices flowing. I can see why the Snowy Owl in Texas would cause quite a stir, but they are seen up north a lot more consistently and they still get people to read just about anything that may talk about them. Jeff Gordon, ABA President, recognized this and name-dropped the Snowy Owl to get people to read an invitation to join the ABA. Greg’s post of a confrontation between a Snowy Owl and a Peregrine Falcon drove the North American Birding Blog almost to the top of the Birding Blog list. That post was pretty amazing, but all the rest were very well read too. Here is an obligatory picture of the Snowy Owl from Texas. BTW does anybody else see the similarity between this owl and The Grinch who stole Christmas?
So Snowy Owls induce a kind of hysteria, despite only being a ABA Code 2 bird. The only other bird that I know that has that kind of power is the Bald Eagle, which is an ABA Code 1 bird. A recent post about the rewarding of permits to kill TWO Bald Eagles did not get 10% of the play that the Snowy Owl/ Peregrine Falcon post. I think that was more of an indication that I don’t understand what draws attention and gets a response on the blogs or social media.
How about rarity? The Black-vented Oriole is a Code 5 bird. When I went to see the one at Bentsen in December, there were only about 5 people at the site looking at this bird! I know that one was seen earlier in the year, but still, this was a much better view of the bird! Was this a good bird?
The Tufted Flycatcher is also a Code 5 bird that I saw in Big Bend National Park. It is the bird that I went the farthest to see (over 660 miles each way). It was also found within 30 seconds of getting to our destination! I can understand that this bird was hundreds of miles away, and so less likely to have as many birders looking for it. What a great bird for me. Maybe it was because I had to work harder to get to it. I don’t remember a big deal being made about this bird at the time.
The Crimson-collared Grosbeak that I saw last year in Allen William’s backyard is a Code 4 bird. There is currently another one being fed in the same back yard Hotspot that has produced some other amazing rarities in the past including a Blue Mockingbird, Rose-throated Becard, Slate-throated Redstart, and White-throated Thrush! People aren’t making the effort to schedule a visit to see this bird as much as I would expect. Unfortunately, I fall in this category, and will probably miss this bird this year as a result. Again, this is a Code 4 bird compared to the Code 2 Snowy Owl.
The White-throated Thrush is a Code 4 bird. I saw this bird at Estero Llano Grande, not as good looking as some of these other birds, but still a good bird according to the ABA. I saw this bird on the same day that I saw the Crimson-collared Grosbeak! Two Code 4 birds on the same day! I don’t think that I even knew the codes of these birds or I would have made a bigger deal of my feat at the time that I did it!
The Brown Jay is a Code 3 bird. I think it is a pretty good looking bird despite the lack of color. Still, it is a fairly rare bird, but no responses from anybody outside of the state of Texas.
The Yellow-green Vireo is a Code 3 bird too. Here is a video of the bird singing from the top of the tree. Not a very exciting looking bird, even sounds kind of like a House Sparrow. Maybe that is why people really didn’t talk much about it. Here is a video of the bird singing from the top of the tree.
Fork-tailed Flycatcher is another Code 3 bird. It feels more like a 4, but I don’t know much about what is seen around the rest of the country. I saw a bigger response on this bird, but that may be because the birders of Houston only had to drive an hour to get to it.
I guess that I really wanted to see this bird. If I had only known that it was only Code 3…
The Tropical Parula is another rarity that is only a Code 3. It is seen fairly regularly in Texas. There is one that Steve Gross found last weekend at Neal’s Lodge, and I don’t see many eBird Reports of it being seen. I guess people don’t want to make the effort.
It’s funny, I saw more top birders from the Houston area in Galveston last year when the Sabine’s Gull and the Black-legged Kittiwake were found. Guess what? Both birds are Code 1 birds! I guess ABA Codes aren’t everything.
Well maybe it is not the rarity of the bird, maybe it is the beauty or look of the bird that gets people’s attention. Let’s take the Northern Cardinal. They are one of the most common birds around, yet I get a lot of people who will stop to look at my sunning cardinal, who don’t even pay attention to a lot of my other pictures.
On my trip to Idaho last summer, my target bird was actually a fairly common bird, but I have been wanting to get a picture of a male Western Tanager in breeding plumage ever since I saw a picture of one online.
Isn’t that a great bird??? Obviously, color plays a big part in the beauty of this bird, and the ultimate in this line of thinking would be the Painted Bunting. I still don’t have any really good pictures of this bird. Here is one of my better ones, but these birds are even better looking in real life!
So back to the original question, what makes a bird good? Rarity probably does have something to do with it. Location is also key. Being away from the border probably is beneficial. Of course the size and majesty of raptors also helps. As someone who doesn’t like to bird gulls, I don’t understand the excitement created by Gulls, but they create quite a stir on a regular basis. My answer to the question is the next lifer, but these rarities are good too!