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Birding by Bicycle

by Tony Croasdale
Photograph by Brian Yates

Saving energy while competing in a Big Day!

Many of us birders are committed to reducing our carbon footprint. But I wonder, will the hobby of birding change if we stop chasing vagrants and driving to hotspot after hotspot? Can birding under those conditions hold the same allure?

Tony Croasdale was captain for “Ridin’ Birdy,” the team that won the 2009 World Series of Birding’s Carbon Footprint Cup. Read more about Tony’s green birding at www.radicalnaturalist.blogspot.com.

How much of birding is a love of birds and how much is it a collecting hobby? Bird watchers pursue birds under any context. Competitive birders or “listers” love arbitrary limitations, because they heighten the excitement of their passion. Imposing rules and restrictions, such as limiting the birding area to North America, a state, backyard, or bioregion, creates more satisfaction from finding birds within those parameters. When we cut back on birding in motorized vehicles, we limit how far we can travel, but we create new parameters with new reasons for excitement. I know this from personal experience.

I have competed in the last three World Series of Birding events. The first year, my team drove a vegetable-oil-powered car, the second year a hybrid, and this year bicycles. Birding by bicycle was definitely the most enjoyable. On bicycles we were always immersed in the surrounding nature, we heard bird song more clearly, and found many unexpected species. We did not record nearly as many birds as we did in previous years, but the rush we felt with each new bird was more intense. Be assured—low carbon-emission birding is every bit as pleasurable as motorized birding, if not more.