What’s the Deal with Birdwatching: Part 2 – Don’t Assume

Here are two bird sounds – let’s see if we can find the differences between them (and don’t scroll down too quickly if you don’t want the answer to be spoiled). 

You might have picked up that the first is longer and ends in a bit of a raspy sound. The second is a bit shorter and lacks that raspy quality. 

So, do you think these these birds are similar? Maybe in size or maybe in the same family? 

Are you ready for the answer?

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Ta da! 

Blue Jays are known to mimic other birds, especially raptors and particularly red-shouldered hawks. Though no one is totally sure why they do this, they have been known to bring out the scary calls whenever they are around bird feeders in an effort to scare all the other birds away. 

I’ve 100% been fooled by a Blue Jay. So, it can be dangerous to assume an ID based just on a single call. 

And somewhat paradoxically, that’s more true the better I get. I’ve found that I’ll make a quick ID based on an assumption only to be proven wrong. That’s such a common issue and so many people do this type of thing that there is a psychological effect to describe it – the Dunning-Kruger effect. 

Psychology Today describes the Dunning-Kruger effect as a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their skills. It’s basically a formal way of saying “a little knowledge is a terrible thing” or “I know just enough to be dangerous.”

I’ve most certainly found this to be true with my bridwatching, and I’d go so far as to say that birdwatching has humbled me. The more birds I learn about the more I realize just how many birds there are that I have no idea even exist. The better I get at ID’ing birds on the fly (har har) the more I find that my ID isn’t always correct. Beyond that, bird sounds are very hard for me to ID. 

As a result, I’ve become more willing to admit that I just don’t know something,  plain and simple. And honestly, that’s not the easiest thing to say, right? There is certainly a bit of ego check involved – I think we all want to appear smart and knowledgeable. 

My hope is that admitting that we don’t know something is seen as an opportunity to learn rather than an admission of ignorance. We all have to start somewhere. 

In my day-to-day life I’ve been working on doing my best to wait to answer a  question with as accurate a response as possible rather than just answering as quickly as possible. It’s an idea that I’ll get into a bit more down the road, the idea of slowing down and approaching things with patience.