A Birder’s List of 20 Things to Do Today

I taught a class on daily planning. It was called The Daily Planning Class, because it had to be called something. It was a time-management class, meant to help people accomplish more. Each student received a daily planner at the beginning of the class and a hearty handshake at the end.

The daily planner broke a day into 15-minute increments. A student was supposed to fill in each space with an activity. Certain activities were excluded, for obvious reasons. Sleep filled a third of the daily slots, and filling out the daily planner filled another third. That daily planner taught people to make lists of things to do.

Each night, it’s my habit to make a list of things to do for the next day. There is a satisfaction and a tactile pleasure derived from crossing things off that list as they are accomplished.

How important are lists? In the primitive days before cellphones, I was given a probationary job of grocery shopping. My wife prepared a list written on the back of an envelope that once held our telephone bill. That telephone was a landline. It might have had a rotary dial. My wife expressed skepticism regarding my ability to stick to that list. I dismissed her doubts with, “Would the man you married fail at such a minimal task?”

I lost that list long before I’d located a shopping cart with four working wheels. I was resourceful. I followed a guy my age as he pushed a cart around the grocery store. What he put into his cart, I put into mine. It was a brilliant plan, but it didn’t work. My heaping cart had three items that had been on my wife’s list.

Lists are important. Birders keep lists: life lists, world lists, North America lists, state lists, county lists, yard lists, year lists, and list lists.

Here is a list of 20 things for a birder to do today.

1. Consider whatever bird you see first each morning to be an omen of good luck.

2. If you don’t know the first thing about birding, learn the first thing about birding. You decide what that is.

3. See something in a bird at your feeder that you’ve never noticed before. Things like that blue ring around the eye of a mourning dove. Give yourself credit for your sharp eye. Learn something about a bird without involving Google. Read a field guide. You will learn something.

4. Create a story as to why a bird’s feathers are the color they are. Don’t include any reference to athletic teams. Come up with a more descriptive name for your favorite bird.

5. Birds remind us that we are surrounded by beauty. Don’t forget to tip them. You can count on birds if you provide habitat. Buy a Duck Stamp. Don’t buy one from a duck. I learned that lesson the hard way. Buy a state park sticker. If you aren’t a member of a birding or nature group, practice self-flagellation.

6. Peer at an insect through the wrong end of your binoculars, but never use binoculars to watch your cholesterol.

7. Make a bucket list of the buckets you have owned.

8. Listen for the sounds of the wings of birds flying overhead.

9. Appreciate the commonplace. Common birds are common. Find comfort and joy in that fact. Common is never ordinary.

10. Stop whining about a nasty paper cut or hangnail. Birding isn’t for sissies.

11. Give a Bird Watcher’s Digest subscription to your boss. This is called sucking up. It got me through school.

12. Wanderlust is good when combined with wonder lust. Wander and wonder. Take a hike. Just remember, when the going gets tough, use your GPS. Who do you think you are, a scout for a wagon train?

13. Be patient. Patience is a good idea when looking for a bird. Give a bird a second chance. Take a wait-and-see attitude. You’ll see why. If you don’t, keep waiting. Be patient until your clothes go out of style. This doesn’t apply to birding togs. They were never in style. God gave birders clothing so that golfers would have someone to laugh at.

14. Expect to be amazed when birding. If you’re not amazed, it’s your fault. Bird your own way. There are around 10,000 bird species and more than 10,000 different ways of birding.

15. Don’t judge others. Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” I say, “If you don’t judge people, you’ll have more time for birding.”

16. Warren Buffett said that in the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield. Keep your windshield, side windows, rear window, and mirrors of your vehicle, plus your eyeglasses, binoculars, spotting scope, and camera lens clean.

17. Keep learning. Most of us can’t get much dumber. If you know too much to ask a question, take up rocket science. Birds are intentionally vague. You’ll make mistakes in identification. Everybody does. Get over it; you’re not a Jeopardy contestant. Because one mistake makes a better cake, make many mistakes. Making many mistakes means that you’re birding a lot.

18. Believe in something. Repeat after me, “I believe I’ll go birding.” Take a mental health day and look at birds. The day you started birding was your lucky day.

19. Perform a Heimlich maneuver on a grackle.
20. Realize that there is no secret to birding other than birding.

In the documentary How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the narrator said, “And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville, they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.” Birding has that impact on the heart. If I’m going to be a Grinch, I’m going to be a birding Grinch, with a list of things to do.

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