Birding goes Hollywood: The Big Year


It’s important to me that kids know their birds.

It’s even more important to me that my kids know their birds. I don’t need them to be birders, I just want them to know that it’s a “cardinal” singing outside as opposed to “some bird.” At the same time, I’d be tickled if they did take up birding but I worry about pushing them too hard and having them reject it. So far, I’ve tried to expose them to birds and birding, but not force them to do it.

Sometimes, if there’s something really fun for them to see, they’re glad to come out with me for a little while. Peenting woodcocks in the spring, roosting scissortails in autumn, itinerant flocks of Yellow-headed Blackbirds: they’ve seen all these things. In fact, their life lists while not large contain some really interesting birds. How many birders can really claim to have seen their lifer Red Crossbills and Rusty Blackbirds on the same morning in the same park . . . in Oklahoma?! My kids can.

those little stinkers getting their life Common Eiders on a balmy July in Maine

Yet for all this gentle exposure, I can tell that my kids don’t really care about birds. So many other interests of theirs don’t necessitate rising before dawn, frostbite, heat exhaustion, ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, and endless study of arcane minutiae. So it was with great surprise that each expressed interest this past week in seeing The Big Year on the big screen.

Maybe it was the appeal of Owen Wilson (Jedediah from Night at the Museum), Steve Martin (Clouseau from The Pink Panther), and Jack Black (Dewey Finn from School of Rock): three actors they recognize from some of their favorite movies? Maybe it was their understanding of what “big years” are from watching their dad on his “big days?” Whatever the reason, they really wanted to go see this movie.

So we did, and it was good. We birders are hypercritical of how our sport is portrayed in the media, and I thought they did a fine job. The movie wasn’t really birdy, but songs generally matched images, and the birds they were looking for at various locations were actually the birds one might find in those locations. The movie, of course, was really about the three main characters and the joys and challenges of pursuing their obsession. There were some funny bits along the way, and the movie captured well some of the grim realities and humorous eccentricities of the birding world. It also provided an opportunity for some top-notch cinematography:

My own impressions notwithstanding, I didn’t realize just how good the movie was until I asked my kids for their impressions. Kid #1: “That’s my new favorite movie!” Kid #2: “Inspiring!”

Well, what do you know.

That afternoon, Kid #2 sat down with my Sibley guide for about an hour, just paging through looking at birds. On his insistence, I took both of them to the OSU Arboretum for a “Big Half-Hour” and on their own they found 12 species.

Was that all it took, Hollywood? Has seeing actors they know and like go birding given my kids a new appreciation for the sport? It remains to be seen I suppose, but The Big Year certainly didn’t hurt.

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5 Responses to Birding goes Hollywood: The Big Year

  1. Roy says:

    Tim, That’s great! I have to admit that I thought of you several times when I was watching the movie. I think it was around the time you showed up in Stillwater that I read the book, and it was soon after that when I went down to south Texas for my “Big Spring Break”. You were encouraging all the way . . . as long as I got my homework done. Let me know when all of you want to come up to Alaska for a few lifers and I’ll give you a tour. ~Roy

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  2. Brandi says:

    I suppose my lil novice birder will want to see it next? 🙂 Great article!

    Like

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