Gender identity is for the birds


‘How to tell the ornithological girls from the boys’

Take a moment (before reading on in amusement) to check out the flock of bird-watchers pictured at the top of this post. Just how hard is it, on a scale of one to ten, to tell the males from the females?

Well. As someone who has actually been on more than one ‘birding’ trip and traipsed around many a field a-flutter with fellow ‘birders’, I’m here to tell you that it can be a tad difficult to distinguish the sexes. No, I’m not talking about the sexes of the birds. I’m talking about the sexes of the people watching the birds.

That's Mr. Scarlet Tanager on the left. With Mrs. on the right. Interesting how she gets to keep the name 'Scarlet', tho there's not a trace on her

That’s Mr. Scarlet Tanager on the left. With Mrs. T on the right. Some pretty marked sexual differentiation going on here, wouldn’t you say?

By the way, I’m not crazy about the terms ‘birding’ and ‘birder’. Almost as much as I’m not crazy about other nouns-turned-into-verbs-and/or-adjectives: ‘parenting’, ‘crafting’, ‘kidding’. (I’m kidding about ‘kidding’.)

I do love birds, though. In fact, I once saved a baby bird, Sully Sullenberger-style, in my own back yard. If you like, you can read about it here.

But back to my theme. I have this theory that there is something about bird-watching that contributes to the blurring of sexual distinctions. (Again, refer to the photo at the top of this post. Or check out this one here:)

True, these birders are on their perch, so perhaps a tad more difficult to ID. Extra credit: two more on the ground to the left

Birders on a perch are perhaps a tad more difficult to ID, but can you tell the males from the females? Bonus points for checking out those two ambiguously-sexed specimens on the ground to the left

Of course this might be simply due to the fact that male and female birders (there’s that word again; sorry) sport similar plumage; they tend to dress nearly identically in layered shapeless garments in a not-very-wide variety of earth tones. Hmmm, make that mud tones. So very unlike Scarlet Tanagers. Of course, people have hair. But hairstyle is no help either, since birders of both sexes favor hair that’s cropped short. Or, if it’s long, they wear ponytails. (I have yet to spot a birder with a man bun, thank god.)

Oh, and there’s the asexuality of the gear: ‘big-pocket’ vests, trusses and harnesses for the binoculars, hats with brims, caps with flaps. Nylon ponchos. Army drab nylon ponchos. Giant cameras, toted by any and all.

Is that a camera, or are you glad to see me?

Is that a camera, or are you glad to see me?

You can’t tell the sexes apart by their diet, either. Both males and females are up at the veritable crack of dawn, chowing down on the Birder Breakfast of Champions:

Eating like a bird(er): big platters of eggs (of course)

Eating like a bird(er): big platters of eggs (of course)

And this hard-to-tell-apart thing isn’t just because most birders are, to be perfectly honest, not very young. Check out this photo:

Even young hipster birders are sexually indistinguishable

Even fledgling birders, like these hipsters spotted recently, tend to be sexually indistinguishable

Of course, my flock of birders is the exception that proves the rule. I would share photos of Birder Elizabeth in her hot pink jacket. Or Birder David in his snappy watch cap. Or shapely Birder Christine in just about anything. But that would be invading their privacy and jeopardizing our friendship. So you’ll just have to take my word for it. I can share this one, since I’ve only myself to shame.

Me, trying my birdiest to assert my femininity. This outfit is the birding equivalent of fishnet hose and a pushup bra

Me, trying my birdiest to assert my femininity. This outfit is the birding equivalent of fishnet hose and a pushup bra

And I can show you this one, because The Dude never ever reads my stuff.

Here's my hunka-hunka burning birder making a decidedly male display

Here’s my hunka-hunka burning birder making a decidedly male display

I’ll end this little birding observation by asserting that yes, sexual confusion aside, birding is incredibly fun and that no, I wouldn’t miss Cape May in May for the world. For one thing, I’d miss sightings like this one:

A funny thing happened on the way to the Bird Sanctuary

Fine feathered bouncer guarding the entrance to the Bird Sanctuary. I wonder if his tail is hiding ‘ERS’?

Amagansett, New York. May 2016

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31 thoughts on “Gender identity is for the birds

  1. Ha! This is fabulous! Love it. And it’s so true 🙂 Making a mental note right now to wear a dress & heels when I go out ‘birding’ this afternoon Although I should add, I am NOT a birder; I do not have binoculars – or a hat 🙂

    • You’ve inspired me! Maybe I’ll sport a pair of Manolos next time. Since the heels are sure to sink into the ground, I’ll definitely make an ‘impression’!

  2. OMG! I can’t believe that you got me staring at photo’s trying to determine if that was a male or female ass I was looking at. Apparently the female ass was the one doing the looking!

  3. Unbound Roots

    I have to say that we fly-fishermen and women are in the same boat as birders. We all dress in natural colors as to not scare the fish, we have pockets galore to store our fly boxes, tippet, line floatant, and line clippers, polarized sunglasses to negate the glare off the water, and hats to keep the sun off of our faces. In fact, I have the exact same waders and fly-vest as my husband. Besides the fact that he’s almost a foot taller than me, my ponytail may be the only tell-tale sign that I’m a female.

    Lovely post, Alice!

    • Ah! Nice to know we birders are not alone in our asexuality, dress wise at least! Though some of the Young Birders of Either Sex are wont to sport ponytails. So there’s that. The Dude and I once spent half a day trying to figure out whether once of our group was a ‘Jody’ or a ‘Jodie’.

  4. What a lovely read – my hubby is an avid although amateur birder. I do not participate in his hobby, but love this wonderful pictures and all the stories once he returned from hours and hours of birding.

    • I resisted participating in bird watching myself — for years! To be honest, I enjoyed the Alone Time when he was off with his bird buddies. But I got invited along about 10 years ago, and the minute I spotted a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak? Well, I was hooked. Thanks for reading, and for the nice compliment xoxo

  5. Nothing fascinates me more than spotting a birder or anyone whose gender I cannot identify. I think it is just human nature. But as soon as I spotted that semi-pornographic photo of you with your extreme feminine outfit I knew it was Alice. You are a funny bird.

    • Thank you, dear Hannah. Having had the great pleasure of seeing pictures of you, I can attest that you most definitely do not need pushups or fishnets to assert your femininity (!)

  6. Love this! You sound like a hoot, plus, you enjoy watching birds. As a fellow bird watcher, I must say that my plumage is more obviously female since moving to Texas.

    Up in Washington State, the weather often called for layers. Since migrating to the Lone Star State, I often sport an enormous sun hat, loads of sunscreen and as little clothing as possible.

    Nice to meet you! 🙂
    ~Tui, dropping by from the Weekend Blog Share

    • Hah! I love that your plumage is decidedly female. (I never have any problems with gender identity in Texas, that’s for sure!) Nice meeting you, too. Have fun with your bird-watching (I see you are on twitter; how appropriate!) And thanks for stopping by.

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