People with hobbies are the easiest to buy gifts for. My dad loved to read books about nature and the mysteries of the universe. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Loren Eiseley, Sigurd Olson, August Derleth, Virginia Eifert, and Peter Matthiessen provided an almost endless supply of gifts for my dad, not only for many Christmases, but for an equal number of birthdays and Father’s Days.
He also loved to hike in the woods at all times of the year and in all sorts of weather. But I learned early in life that you can only give a person so many pairs of wool socks before another pair doesn’t add much to their life.
Birding, like reading, hiking, quilting, fly fishing, and coin collecting, is a hobby. We birders are probably not unique in believing that our hobby is at least slightly superior to your hobby. If a birder contributes bird sightings to eBird, that person can rightly say they are contributing to science, and hence, the betterment of human civilization.
This can become a game wherein you try to show how your hobby is better. I have had a good time with friends who are fishermen, trying to one-up each other with the inherent superiority of our chosen enterprise.
No matter the inherent virtue of birding, birders do live in a world surrounded by potential gifts. This makes it relatively easy for a giver to find something good. Gifts range from technical tools, like optics, to more general things like hats.
I wrote about optics in my April 8, 2020 column, so check that out (“Unless you’re an eagle, you might want binoculars,” idahopress.com/community/just-for-the-birds). I would only add that you can always buy someone binoculars that are better than the ones they have, unless they already have the top of the line. But even then, if you have money to burn, and they have superb 8-power binoculars, I suppose you could always get them superb 10-power bins.
Getting back to books, there are an enormous number of books out there on birds. I discussed local, regional and North American field guides in my October 14, 2020 column (“Field guides for bird identification,” idahopress.com/community/just-for-the-birds. But don’t forget about the rest of the world. If a person is even casually interested in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, France, India or some other country, there is a bird field guide for that place. And even if they are going to Uganda mainly for the mammals, having a bird guide in their day pack will probably be a hit. In my experience, the more you look at books about some place, the more likely you are to go there.
I’ve never been too keen on books that chronicle someone’s time spent with a pet quail or parrot or duck in the house. They are usually a little too cute for my tastes. But I did find “H is for Hawk” (Macdonald 2014) to be a compelling story about the emotional connection between a falconer and her northern goshawk. Great read!
A book that is more on the science side but that is very readable is “A Parrot Without a Name: The Search for the Last Unknown Birds on Earth” (Stap 1991). I love this book — highly recommended.
There are several books about an individual’s attempt to see as many bird species as possible in a year, either in a state, a country, or the entire planet. “Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder” (Kaufman 2006) has been popular. This covers the author’s attempt to see as many bird species as possible in North America in one year.
More recently, Noah Strycker’s “Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World” (2018) covers the author’s attempt to see more species on earth in one year than anyone else. You don’t need to be a serious birder to enjoy what are essentially adventure stories. If you like Ted Kunz’s Dispatches in this paper, you will likely enjoy these books.
There are an ever-increasing number of books devoted to particular groups of birds. My first specialty book was “Pigeons and Doves of the World” (Goodwin 1967). I bought it at a silent auction in the mid-’70s because it was big and only cost me a few bucks. It was a good value for a grad student.
I have more recently picked up “Crows & Jays” (Madge and Burn 1994), “Antbirds & Ovenbirds” (Skutch 1996), and “Shrikes & Bush-Shrikes” (Harris and Franklin 2000) simply because I became especially curious about these groups. So, if you have a friend who particularly likes hawks, hummingbirds, herons, or any other group, there is probably a specialty book available.
Magazines devoted to birds also make great gifts because they literally deliver throughout the entire year. I currently enjoy “BirdWatching Magazine,” “Bird Watcher’s Digest,” “Living Bird,” and “Birding.” The first two can be obtained directly as subscriptions, and that last two by joining the respective organizations. “Living Bird” comes with a membership to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and “Birding” with a membership to the American Birding Association.
All of these come with websites where subscribers and members typically have access to more information than the general public. The focus of each of these magazines is somewhat different, so the contents tend to complement each other.
I talked about bird feeders in my Sept. 16, 2020 column “Feeding birds in winter” idahopress.com/community/just-for-the-birds. Because feeders come in such a variety of sizes and materials, they present a nice array of price options. Even if someone already has feeders, another one probably won’t be rejected. And if it’s a person’s first feeder, it might get them going on a lifetime of new enjoyment. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!
In the stocking stuffer category are lens cloths, especially those that come sewn in on their own little case and can be clipped to the binocular strap. Bird jewelry is fun and also comes at a variety of price points. I have 20-30 ball caps with birds on them. But if I get another one, I’ll wear it. And although I don’t like broad-brimmed hats because they block your view, these are well liked by a lot of people. These, too, come in a huge variety of styles and materials.
I have collected little bird figurines and carvings from all over the world. I love my carved, wooden, Argentinian woodpeckers. But some of my favorites include a wooden greater roadrunner from Arizona and a quirky fantasy bird welded from scrap metal that I got at Art in the Park.
Clothing, beyond just hats, provides the giver with an enormous variety of options. Remember that bright colors are proven to frighten birds away. So, steer clear of all those whites, yellows, oranges and bright blues. I find high tech fabrics to be uncomfortable under all conditions and prefer cotton or blends with high cotton content. But if you are spending a few weeks in the Amazon, those new fabrics can be washed and dried, they’ll keep the bugs off, and they are worth it. For me, a better option for wet climates is a good folding umbrella.
Two words — bird T-shirts. I have hundreds, and I’ll wear another one if I find one under the tree.
Finally, for people who like birds, almost anything with a bird on it will be appreciated. Coffee cups, coasters, thank-you cards, a bird print or photo (not too big in case they don’t like it), or a serving tray might be just the thing.
If after all this you say, my friend/relative has all of this stuff — I bet they don’t have leech socks. You can toss in a guide to the birds of Borneo.