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Top (Birdy) Costumes to Avoid [BSA]

October 21, 2010

Here we are, again. Halloween is just around the corner and you’re invited to a party. Or maybe your kids, friends, colleagues or spouse come to you for costume ideas. As a birder, you’ve got one thing on your mind: birds! Birders! OK, two things. How to intertwine your passion with this most costumed of celebrations? It seems easy, there are more than 10,000 species to choose from, and that’s just the bird half. But the inexperienced bird watcher may not realize that, just like the tabloids, some segments of our culture are “out” right now. And, also like the gossip community, some were very likely never “in.”

As a BSA, or Birding Service Announcement, I’ve compiled a list of nine costumes to avoid this Halloween. And not being one to point out a faux pas without offering a solution, I’ve included options that are sure to leave you higher in the pecking order than ever before. And that’s what parties are all about, am I right? That and access to potential mates. But I digress.

The Bird Geek

Jeff Gordon August 2007

Whoops, I don't think this Jeff Gordon is ready to lead the ABA (Kim Phillips, Wikimedia Commons).

Put away the pseudo-stereotypical khaki shorts and pith helmet, that look isn’t based on anyone’s real image of a birder. You’ll simply be mistaken as Steve Irwin with a bad Aussie accent, meaning you’ll put up with variations on sting ray jokes all night. Worse, if you are, in fact, Australian, most will confuse you with a Bronx native trying to be a British explorer in a Monty Python episode.

Consider this instead: Why not dress up as the incoming President, or Executive Director, of the American Birding Association? Or at least an ABA member. Many birders enjoyed rubbernecking with a healthy dose of schadenfreude at the organization’s public meltdown over this past year, and now that sincere efforts are underway to create a useful and relevant birding society it would mean a lot to show your support. You can be birding ambassador, educating and recruiting fellow party-goers!

Jane Hathaway, aka “Doddering, sneaker-clad, spinster bird watcher”

Good lord, this stereotype is so old no one remembers it anymore. Except that older bird watchers keep shouting to stop comparing us to it. Let’s face it, no one watches the show, and those who remember it can barely remember all six in Jed’s clan (did you know there were six?), let alone Miss Jane Hathaway and Professor Biddle. Let’s just let this one go, once and for all.

Consider this instead: A trip leader for a birding tour company. Now you’re talking action hero, an ornithology-focused Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. Now you’re talking someone who can entertain and educate, someone who can match wits with Cold War-era Soviets and defeat Nazis. The latter qualities may sound a little overkill, but good skills to have should the occasion arise on your two-week adventure (remember, there are birds on all seven continents, so you may be touring any place on earth). Properly marketed, this could be a best seller this year. Since I’m not a salesperson you will likely be the one and only at your party.

The Non-existent Bird

Bird, Kurentovanje Ptuj 2009 (Ekke Vasli, via Flickr)

ID, anyone? (Ekke Vasli, via Flickr)

We’ve all been there. You’re at a party, someone walks by in some semblance of an avian-oriented costume. It’s brightly- and multi-colored, it’s got a bill, it’s covered in feathers, it has what appear to be wings and a long tail. Predictably you start taking field notes and grab a point-and-shoot to document the sighting. At home you spend the evening flipping through various field guides from around the world trying to figure out what species they are. Hell, if you could get it down to a family you’d be (temporarily) satisfied. But here’s the thing: the costume was made by someone whose experience with birds is limited to Flintstone re-runs. Not only does it not exist in the wild, it barely exists outside of some corporate designer’s sketch pad. That’s no costume for a bird watcher.

Consider this instead: dress as your favorite field guide to the birds by saturating yourself head-to-toe with images and descriptions of actual birds. Range maps are optional as you’re likely to start some arguments about their accuracy.

Big Bird

Speaking of non-existent birds, do we even need to go here? If you’re over the age of five, especially if you’re a birder, just don’t. Unless you’re partnering with someone dressing as Aloysius Snuffleupagus.

Consider this instead: if your plan was to dress as an eight-foot two-inch tall bright yellow bird, you’re probably better off staying home and planning for next year.

Birdy Sports Mascot

This one is tempting, I know. There are lots of sportswatchers, and whether they realize it or not, they become bird-people for a few hours per week. But disguising yourself as a mascot brings a whole mess of issues, the first of which is having to know something about the team. And by something, clearly I mean everything. Show up as a Baltimore Oriole, you better know Eddie Murray’s standing on the home run leader’s list. Thinking of dressing as a Blue Jay? Quick, what year did they first play in the Skydome? Falcons seem like a cool choice, but you’ll have to relive their 1998 season moment-by-moment, not to mention steer well away from dog lovers at the party. Northern Cardinal? That’s masochistic: you’ll need to know everything about St. Louis and Arizona.

Consider this instead:

Seattle Seahawks Logo

Nice. (Seattle Weekly Blogs)

There is one team’s logo that’s worth investing some time and study into: a seahawk. Sure, the Seattle football folks don’t seem to know the difference between an Osprey and the various hawks that have been used to lead the team out of the tunnel, but Indigenous art from the Pacific Northwest is perpetually cool. Best of all, no one outside of King County really knows anything about these guys. Invest a few minutes on Wikipedia before the party and you’re good to go.

Bald Eagle

The majesty, symbolism, and fairly simple color scheme make Haliaeetus leucocephalus an annual favorite, especially in election years. But remember that time the guy in the Uncle Sam outfit had one too many Coors Lights and wanted to bitch politics at you all night? With Halloween mere days before the first Tuesday in November, who needs that?

Immature Bald Eagle (Ken Thomas via Wikimedia Commons)

Immature Bald Eagle (Wikimedia Commons)

Consider this instead: An immature Bald Eagle can be adequately majestic, but not yet symbolic, and looks nothing like anything from Philadelphia. Best of all, you can get away with juvenile antics (spike the punch!) while educating the unbirdy masses on the eagle’s life cycle. If you’re feeling inflammatory, drop a few factual tidbits no one wants to associate with America, à la, “did you know eagles are scavengers and kleptoparasites?” Extra bonus this year: by simply hacking up a pellet or two anyone dressed for a Tea Party will leave you alone.

Any Psittacidae

Scarlet, Blue-and-yellow, and Military Macaw

Birds outside of their native habitat, like these Scarlet, Blue-and-yellow, and Military Macaws, is always out. (LancerEvolution, Wikimedia Commons)

True parrots — your macaws, your conures, your amazons – are awesome, but only in the wild. Unless you can pull off a convincing company at a clay lick, you’re going to annoy everyone by your fourth, “Sqwaaaak, Polly want a margarita!” such that you’ll be wearing one. Unless you have a very understanding shoulder to perch on, you’ll be spending the rest of your evening in the bathroom alone preening thousands of sugary-sticky feathers.

Consider this instead: Austin Powers. OK, this has nothing to do with birds, but he should be coming back in vogue right about now, and he’s colorful, loud, and the life of any party. A kind of 60’s-era British parrot, come to think of it.

The Raven

Hmmm, no problem with this. Ravens are awesome. Edgar Allan Poe’s writings are awesome. Raven-colored hair is awesome. Raven sound analysis software is awesome. I bet the Baltimore Ravens are awesome (I think. As a soon-to-be-ex-Bills fan I’m looking for a new team). So, here you go. Don’t consider anything else instead, go Raven.  But which one?  Choose from the following list, and remember to stay away from anything mascot-like!

  • If it’s a standard, blasé, suburban house party, go with Common Raven. Plain, simple, and always in style.
  • If you’re into salsa or flamenco for the evening, Chihuahuan Raven can be muy caliente.
  • Or maybe you’re feeling more exotic with complex African rhythms, in which case you can choose between Thick-billed or White-necked Raven.
  • Looking for more of a North African or Middle-eastern flavor? Brown-necked Raven.
  • Australian, Forest, or Little Raven can inspire both “Aboriginal” or “penal colony,” have fun!
  • Finally, for something more Kiwi inspired, you’re going to have to think “fossilized.” But you’ve got two choices, the Chatham Islands Raven or Forest Raven. Extra points if you can rap like the Rhymenoceros or Hiphopopotamus.

Peeps, but not the good kind

Calidris pusilla, Semipalmated Sandpiper

These kinds of peeps are in . . . (Will Sweet, Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately, most of the English-speaking world does not associate “peeps” with “Calidris sandpipers,” so you’d be flying over their heads right off the bat. No, these “Peeps” are, and always will be, a spring-themed confection, even if they’re now marketing to the Valentine’s, Christmas (please, “Holiday Peeps” is too thinly-veiled to be anything but Christmas), and Halloween crowds with chemically-bogus hearts, snowmen, and pumpkins. Most importantly, those disgusting, syntheticy marshmallow things have no place in society. Any society: decent, civilized, uncouth, whatever, parody or not.

Pink Peeps Banned, Jon Sullivan (Wikimedia Commons)

. . . these Peeps are always out. (Jon Sullivan, Wikimedia Commons)

Consider this instead: I was going to go with forced sterilization, but that’s likely unnecessary. If this was your costume choice, chances of reproduction are pretty much nil.

So, there you go. Have a great party, and drop back to let us know how you dressed and how it went.

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