Here’s what most American birdwatchers are, according to a 2013 government study: White, older than 45, fairly well-off and pretty highly educated.
Here’s what many people think birdwatchers are: Creepy.
That’s according to a recent study that says it is the first “empirical study of ‘creepiness.’ ” Led by psychology professor Frank McAndrew at Illinois’s Knox College, the study set out to introduce “a theoretical perspective on the common psychological experience of feeling “creeped out,” and to figure out what makes us think other people are creepy.
The conclusion — based on a survey of 1,341 people, most of whom were female and American — is that feeling creeped out is an evolved response to the ambiguity of a possible threat, which helps us to remain vigilant.
As a public service to everyone who wants to avoid being viewed as creepy, we’ll go over some of the other highlights before we get to birdwatching.
About 95 percent of respondents thought creepy people are much more likely to be male, and female respondents were more likely to perceive a sexual threat from creeps. Characteristics widely perceived as creepy include greasy hair, being extremely thin and watching people before interacting with them.
Jobs to avoid if you don’t want to seem creepy: Clown, taxidermist, sex shop owner and funeral director. On this chart, professions with a higher mean were rated as more creepy. A score of 5 would signal the utmost in creepiness.
But this blog is called Animalia, so now we’ll turn to things involving creatures. In another section, survey respondents were asked to list two hobbies that are creepy. By far, “collecting things” took top honors, with special mentions for collecting insects and reptiles.
And: “Bird watchers were considered creepy by many as well.”
The study offers no details about why. But it turns out that this is probably not news to birdwatchers, and it seems to be rooted in a key birding tool: Binoculars.
“For backyard birding, one runs the risk of neighbors thinking you are a pervert of some type trying to look in their windows with your binoculars,” she wrote. She suggested that birders tell neighbors “the binoculars are not pointing at [anyone’s] windows,” or invite them to join in the fun.
“They will either grow bored and leave or get hooked,” she wrote. “Either way, you’ll benefit and no longer have to deal with negative gossip.”
Twitter is full of anecdotal evidence about the existence of a birdwatching-creepiness nexus.
Someone on YouTube even made a video about it, to the tune of the 1984 Rockwell hit “Somebody’s Watching Me.”
And someone else tried to generate a meme:
David. J. Ringer, the National Audubon Society’s chief network officer, took the study’s conclusions in stride.
“If you’re already a birder, maybe don’t point your binoculars at other people’s houses, stop your car in the middle of the road, or yell “Bushtit!” during an otherwise civil dinner conversation,” Ringer told the Post in an e-mail. “And if you’re not a birder yet, take a good long look at a cardinal, a hummingbird, or an eagle cam and see what happens. You might get hooked — just remember to keep it family- and bird-friendly.”