For the Birds Radio Program: Birder in Cyberspace

Original Air Date: Dec. 6, 1996

Laura goes on line for the first time. (3:22) Date verified.

Audio missing


I’m not a modern kind of person. I like going about things slowly, taking in the scenery on the bike lane of life, so to speak, so I never expected that I’d ever get on the information superhighway. But my kids have been pestering us to get on the Internet, and we finally broke down and said we’d subscribe the day all three kids brought home straight-A report cards. So, naturally, all three kids immediately brought home straight A’s. Well, not quite—Joey did get one B, but Tommy saved the day by getting two A+’s, and we suddenly found ourselves on line.

Cyberspace is an amazing place. I expected the Internet to be a high-tech place for high-tech people, but in Minnesota a lot of regular low-tech birders are hooked in, and belong to the Minnesota Bird Net. When someone sees a rare bird, he or she sends a message to the birdnet, and within minutes every other subscriber checking E-mail will find out about the sighting. Birders on the net also share tips, information, and jokes, and discuss controversial issues.

The day I signed up, there was a raging controversy about a sighting in Moorhead, Minnesota the previous week. It turns out a drab, tiny western bird, a Pygmy Nuthatch, had appeared in Fargo, North Dakota, and birders from Minnesota, wanting to add it to their state lists, enticed it to fly across the river to the Minnesota side by playing a tape recording of Pygmy Nuthatches. The lost little bird, probably hungry for the companionship of others of its kind, flew right over. But other birders were upset—some felt that it’s unfair to use recordings, since some birders don’t have access to high quality equipment, and others said they believed recordings are unethical intrusions on a bird’s life, stressing birds too much to be acceptable. Others felt that since the bird didn’t appear in Minnesota of its own free will, it shouldn’t be added to the state checklist, which might be considered a list of the state’s natural avifauna.

Some of the birders got rather rude about the matter, ridiculing those who held the opposite viewpoint. Some birders get upset when others use different criteria for birds on their lists because easier criteria mean some people can count more birds than others, disturbing for competitive birders. A lot of birders consider their lists to be personal, not subject to comparison, and those don’t much care one way or the other what the others decided. The whole matter led to some interesting discussion.

Anyway, now that I’m connected, I can also get e-mail, which is a lot easier to read and respond to than real mail. So you can send your bird questions and comments via e-mail to I’ll see you in cyberspace.