My name is Terry Stapleton, and I am the world’s greatest birder. Ever since I was a little boy and I saw Big Bird on TV, I knew I wanted to be out there in the woods, binocular on my eyes and love in my heart. Love for birds. Platonic love, not sexual. Some birders are fetishists, but not me, I’m not a “birdie”.
So, from a young age I knew I wanted to be a professional birder. I read about all the famous birders, like David Allen Sibley and David Allen Sibley. I knew it would be a hard life. There isn’t really any money in birding. In order to survive as a professional birder I needed a sponsor, but there’s very little I could offer in return. I told people that I could offer to name any bird I discovered after their business, so long as they changed their business’ name to the Blue Titted Warbler. After months of looking, I had one taker: the local strip joint. Unfortunately, the new name turned out to be great for business. They no longer needed me and stopped my sponsorship three weeks after it started.
I stretched that sponsorship money out for months, sleeping in the park and living off of bird seed (that’s an old birder’s move, by the way). I’d sneak into the bookstore and copy pages of Sibley’s Guide on leaves. One windy night, my Sibley leaves all blew away. Let me tell you, there’s nothing sadder than a homeless man crying into his breakfast of bird seed. Those hard times taught me to be robust, like the hardy Nuthatch. All that time in nature also taught me to think like a bird, which isn’t much at all due to their tiny brains.
I was quickly moving up the birding ranks, but it’s hard to know who the greatest birder is. In fact, it’s hard to know anything in birding. You go to these meetings and people will have the craziest things marked off on their birding cards. Once someone said they saw a Blue Bird of Paradise (which is endemic to the island of Papua New Guinea) in Central Park. When I asked them about it, they said they didn’t have their glasses on so it was kind of blurry, but they were pretty sure. That’s a major reason why competitive birding never took off, because it’s all on the honor system and fraught with lies. Also because watching people look for birds never was able to captivate an audience. I never understood that, though. I could watch someone go birding all day. Unless that person is a “birdie”, nobody wants to see that.
So, how do I know I’m the world’s greatest birder then? Let’s just say a little bird told me that the American Bird Conservancy is going to announce it next week. That’s right, ever since I began my bird seed diet, I’ve been able to communicate with the birds, and a sparrow broke the big news to me the other day. I am humbled, but I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s like us birders say, “What was that? I wasn’t listening, I was thinking about birds again.”