CormoRANT 4-18-2016: Take out the Trash!

Welcome to the first edition of what I hope will be a quasi-regular feature called the CormoRANT. These will be posts that focus on something about birding, nature, people or environmental issues that I have something to SAY about!

In this edition, I’ll be talking about something in birding terminology many of us birders have heard many times. Some of you might use this term without much thought. And that’s where I have something to say.

Trash birds. No, not the gulls or shorebirds at your local landfill (although some of those COULD be considered “trash” birds by some). Trash birds are bird species that are either common or so easily seen that they are almost a bother to even note in our checklists. For large swaths of the US, a typical trash bird would be an American Robin, or Northern Cardinal.

I’ve heard accomplished birders call Blue-gray Gnatcatchers “Blue-gray Time-wasters” or worse.


I understand. When you’re traipsing through the woods looking for a Golden-winged Warbler or sweating it out hoping the Cuban Pewee you saw on eBird is still there, having your attention drawn away by such common fluff as Blue Jays or Northern Mockingbirds can be annoying. I myself have had a love-hate relationship with the cardinals that occasionally drown out other bird calls in my favorite hotspots.

But I subscribe to the belief that words mean things. They have power. They shape how we think and how we act. When you call a bird “trash” you are devaluing it based on your own subjective idea of which birds are important and which are not. Because an American Robin is easily seen, is it less beautiful? Less important? How less impressive, really, is the red of a male Northern Cardinal to that of a male Summer Tanager?


Wild things have an intrinsic value, independent of how we label them. The values we ascribe to them matter only in as much as we seek to mold our worlds to our needs and wants. We all do it. But the next time you find yourself sighing that the leaf-scrabbling bird you got on your knees to see is only a Gray Catbird and not the Swainson’s Warbler you thought, remember to check your perspective and appreciate the bird you have in front of you.