Beware the Male Bird-Watching Clown

Beware the Male Bird-Watching Clown

Posted on May 30 by Steve Burrows in Mystery, News
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By now, many of you will have seen this article in USA Today, stating that “creepiness” is linked to clowns, men, and birdwatching. I have to say, I agree whole-heartedly. There are few creepier things than stalking through a quiet forest early in the morning only to be confronted by a man in a polka-dotted jumpsuit and a red nose, carrying a pair of high-end Swarovskis.

Frankly, the “men” part did throw me a little. The suggestion is that a female clown watching birds might somehow be less creepy, but I think the androgynous nature of clown makeup and costumes might make this distinction a hard one to call in the field.

Nevertheless, there is undeniably a degree of creepiness to the behaviour of a male birdwatching clown. Who pays that much money for a pair of bins (binoculars), for example, only to smear the eye-pieces with greasepaint? And how can these people move so quietly through the underbrush in those oversize shoes, worn on the wrong feet, no less?

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There are problems with their birding etiquette, too. Since clowns are mute, they must communicate bird sightings to each other by other means: air horns. With Northern Mockingbirds expanding their range so rapidly, it surely can’t be long before these notorious mimics are filling the forests with the sound of honking.

There is, too, the male birdwatching clown’s behaviour when he’s missed a bird. Look closely at the man sitting cross-legged on that stump, after he’s been told the Mourning Warbler has just left. Beneath that painted smile, you’ll see the downturned edges of a mouth. Surely nothing captures the heartbreak of dipping on a bird like this tragic-comic pose.

But it is in disputes over bird ID that the male-clown-birdwatcher sinks to his lowest point. A simple discussion over the presence of wing-bars can rapidly descend into gambolling between each other’s legs and a hail of custard pies to the face.

May I suggest someone write a book of protocol for these clowns? Bozo’s Book of Birding, perhaps, or Twitching with Coco.

It’s been suggested to me that I may have misinterpreted the title of the USA Today article; that perhaps clowns, birders, and men were three discrete categories of creepiness. Surely this can’t be the case. I’m not sure how many clowns are out there, but the authors can’t be making such a sweeping generalization about all of the tens of millions of birders out there, can they? Besides, what self-respecting scientists would release a study that suggests their finely honed research has been able to pinpoint a category that includes HALF THE ADULT POPULATION OF THE PLANET!

I’d like to thank USA Today for highlighting this issue. After all, fear is largely the product of ignorance, so they have performed a great service here. I realize all this sciency-type stuff is not their normal remit, but I can’t imagine how many irrelevant, meaningless studies they must have sorted through before unearthing this informative gem to bring us.

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So the next time you’re standing at a marsh, watching shorebirds through your scope, don’t be too alarmed if you look up to find a man in a white jumpsuit, red nose and multi-coloured face paint next to you. After all, it might be me.  

Scroll down to the bottom to check out the newest Birder Murder Mystery, A Cast of Falcons!

Steve Burrows

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014
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Steve Burrows

Steve Burrows has pursued his birdwatching hobby on six continents. The first Birder Murder Mystery, A Siege of Bitterns, won the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. The other books in the series are A Pitying of Doves and A Cast of Falcons. Steve lives with his wife, Resa, in Oshawa, Ontario.