Birders have a colorful vocabulary. It’s one of the things I really enjoy about my sometimes quirky past-time. Names of birds can be very imaginative like Yellow-Breasted Chat, Chuck-Will’s-Widow, and Black-billed Cuckoo. My husband Carl was offended on behalf of all Dark-eyed Juncos. He thought they’d rather be called Grey-winged Terrors because it sounded cooler. The birds don’t get much say about what we call them. Admittedly, some of the names are pretty ridiculous. A friend just sent me a great link to a long-forgotten clip from the Honeymooners. Just the mention of a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker gets a laugh:
Actually, there’s an official nomenclature committee in the birding community that names and re-names birds. The mission of the American Ornothologists’ Union’s(AOU) official Committee on Classification and Nomenclature of North and Middle American Birds ("North American Classification Committee," NACC) is to keep abreast of the systematics and distribution of North and Middle American birds, with the purpose of creating a standard classification and nomenclature.” Who knew? I went on a birding trip to Colorado with a member of this committee. You’d be surprised by how many urgent calls this guy received concerning the very important business of this committee. I spent 10 days with him and on more than one occasion I presented my best case to have the Common Yellowthroat renamed the “Bandit Warbler.” My argument was that his official name didn’t do justice to this adorable little bird. Common Yellowthroat makes him sound so....well, common. He’s anything but common. He’s extraordinary.
Anyway, back to birders’ vocabulary…if you’re new to birding, you might not understand some of the lingo. For example, a baby bird that hatches out of the egg with the ability to feed itself and run is called “precocious.” Western Sandpipers are “attenuated” versions of Semipalmated Sandpipers. A “good flight” refers to a large number of birds that have flown into an area during migration. A group of soaring hawks and vultures collectively is called a “kettle.” “Twitching” refers to the British obsession of chasing after rare species. If you “dip” on a bird, it means you missed it. When someone asks you, “What are you on?” They’re not referring to possible mind-altering chemicals you might have snorted, they’re talking about the bird you’re looking at. I’m conducting a little experiment to see how these phrases catch on. I’ve started referring to the little traveling bands of warblers during the migration as “baskets.” Can’t wait to hear someone from California casually use that term: “Oooh…there’s a little basket over there, just past the big oak in the back…do you see? Redstart, Parula, Gnatcatcher, Yumper, Black and White….Nice!” I’ll know where it all started.
Birds flock together indiscriminately. They somehow understand the inherent value in hanging out with other birds. It’s socially beneficial and it decreases their relative risk of being eaten by a predator. So perhaps contrary to the old adage of “birds of a feather flock together,” I’ve found that birds are not so cliquey. They move in and out of migratory flocks easily and without a lot of drama. The kettles and baskets are happy groupings of birds who don’t exclude others because they’re not part of their crowd.
Not so with humans. Having left my church a year and half ago, I’ve been navigating life without my own crowd for some time now. I’m re-experiencing the difficulty of being an outsider. Cliques form everywhere. Middle school girls are famous for their in-crowd cliques. But it’s not just teenaged girls who are cliquey. Their dads are cliquey at soccer games. Their moms are cliquey at the hair dresser. Reading groups can be cliquey and writer’s groups are even worse. Gym enthusiasts form cliques. The cliques in churches are particularly insidious because to the clique-belongers, they believe they are simply enjoying fellowship between brothers and sisters in Christ. To outsiders, churches often feel exclusive.
Starbucks is aware of this issue – at least at some level. Baristas-in-training watch a video called “Bob vs. Not Bob.” You can watch it here:
After I watched it for training to be a barista (see "Qaud Grande Decaf Americano" from September 2015), the store manager asked what I thought. I said “Cliques are hurtful. But they pop up everywhere.” He seemed mystified by my response. I wonder what he thought the video was about? His own staff had some long-standing cliques that were particularly antagonistic to “newbies.”
I wonder if cliquishness is the modern vestige of tribalism. Since becoming an outsider, cliques are easier to recognize. I note them and avoid them. Or I purposely go on reconnaissance missions with cliques to see what holds them together. I think it’s mostly feelings of exclusivity that make them work. Members of the clique feel special. They feel like they belong somewhere.
The truth is, we all belong together, we’re all members of the kettle of humans soaring through life on this planet. How hard is it to make sure others feel welcome on this leg of the journey? I’m trying to take my lead from the birds…flying in little baskets as opportunity allows, but not defining boundaries that would keep others out.