For the Birds Radio Program: The Hunter and the Birder Should Be Friends
The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! is in large part about the difficult relationship between cowboys running cattle on the open range versus farmers who fenced in their land specifically to keep cattle away. In the movie, although people in the two factions were in complete opposition regarding land use issues, they all banded together to fight a common enemy and to celebrate shared joys.
The human and humane impulse to share joys and woes and to work together for common causes has been a common theme throughout history, and throughout literature. Aesop coined the phrase “United we stand, divided we fall” for his tale of the Four Oxen and the Lion. Robert Frost celebrates two people working together toward a common goal, to protect a lovely little tuft of flowers from the scythe, saying, “‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart, ‘Whether they work together or apart.’” And the entire Harry Potter series has been about how one person or even a single Hogwarts House alone can never ultimately win—that the four houses at Hogwarts and the individual characters all derive their strength and ultimate successes or failures from how unified they truly are and their compassion for one another.
Birders and hunters are two groups that should be working together toward their many shared goals. Of all Americans, people who spend time outdoors hunting and people who watch and/or photograph and/or make sound recordings of nature are the main ones who actually notice wildlife and have a vested interest in its survival. I get endlessly annoyed by birders who say we shouldn’t have to pay for our uses of wildlife because we’re not taking or consuming the way hunters are, as if disturbing birds, calling them in with recordings, and trampling their habitat aren’t taking from them, and as if our photos and recordings and ticks on our lists aren’t actual things of value that we’re consuming. Every birder should be buying a federal Duck Stamp because even if we never set foot in a National Wildlife Refuge, a great many of the birds we watch spend part of their lives taking refuge at these islands of quality habitat.
I know that many birders feel uncomfortable with what they call “killing sports.” But the best hunters—and here I’m not talking about people who shoot every bird they can at a private game farm—have at least as many field skills as birders, and are no less worthy of their quarry than the Peregrine Falcons we humans reintroduced in Minnesota knowing they’ll feed on birds. These Peregrines all originated from captive birds owned by falconers—practitioners of another form of hunting. I’ve always had a bit of difficulty dealing with hunting—I simply cannot imagine shooting any living creature. But I don’t like watching Peregrines chomping down on pigeons either.
Hunters and birders share a lot more in common than we have differences. If we joined forces to preserve quality natural habitat, to fight pollution, and to save species we all love, we’d be a formidable force for good. The birder and the hunter should be friends. Yes, the birder and the hunter should be friends. One man likes to tote a gun. The other gawks at birds for fun. But that’s no reason why they can’t be friends.