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The Guide to Chasing a Rare Bird | When to chase rare birds

Don't take my word for it. Or do. Or don't. This is the definitive guide for chasing rare birds. AKA twitching.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher in the US
Fork-tailed Flycatcher in Wyoming

On November 4th, 2019, many bird lovers from Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, or Montana, were likely checking Google Maps and/or Google Flights to get to the tiny town of Laramie, WY. For the unaware, at 10:44 am on November 3rd, a Red-Flanked Bluetail was spotted in a residential neighborhood. Why would that cause a mass exodus? Check out the eBird Occurrence Map. Right? Holy cyranurus-oly. That bird is lost. VERY LOST.


When birds like this appear in the United States, they cause quite a stir in the birding community. I followed the story of the Red-flanked Bluetail, and by 6 pm on the 4th, a minimum of 11 eBird checklists reporting the bird had been submitted. If the bird had been found in the near vicinity the following day, Wyoming's population would have likely doubled.


Hyperbolic? Yes. But Wyoming also has a really small population, and birders love rare birds.


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Need a guide for identifying rare birds? We love The Sibley Guide to Birds and Rare Birds of North America.

 

When to Chase a Rare Bird

This is a question that haunts philosophers and scholars worldwide. There is no set answer. No expectations. No relief from dipping on a mega. (That is twitcher lingo for not seeing a known rare bird.) No guaranteed ink for a lifer tick. No, there are no rules until now...


The DEFINITIVE guidelines to determine when to chase a rarity:

  • The species is NOT seen in your region more than once every ten years.

  • The species IS seen in your region more than once every ten years.

  • The bird is less than 3 hours away.

  • The bird is more than 3 hours away.

  • The bird has been seen 2 days in a row.

  • The bird has not been seen in several days.

  • Your annual income has more than 5 figures.

  • You have no annual income.

  • You hate your job.

  • You love your job.

  • Birding is your job.

  • Birding is not your job.

  • You really want to see this species.

  • You could care less about the species but want to brag.

  • You realized there were more than seven guidelines.

  • You did not realize there were more than seven guidelines.


The DEFINITIVE guidelines to determine when not to chase a rarity:

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Hm. Something seems to be lost in my effort here. I have a handy flow chart that may simplify this for you if you continue reading.

 

Need an entry-level camera to document your rare bird? Grab the Panasonic FZ80!

 

I know those guidelines above may have seemed confusing, so I have created "The Quick Reference for When to Chase Rare Birds." See below:


Quick Reference for When to Chase Rare Birds

Rare Bird Flow Chart for Chasing
The Rare Bird Flow Chart for Chasing

Bird Chasing Vocabulary

Okay, by this point in the article, you have decided to wake yourself at 0400 and chase a Red-flanked Bluetail the next time one shows up. I commend you for your decision-making process. I hope my guide and flow chart helped you come to this questionable decision. However, if you are going to "chase" a "mega," you should probably learn a couple of terms you may hear around the other "twitchers." For a more complete vocabulary lesson, visit our Birding Lingo post!


Chaser - A bird person that pursues some desired bird.


Tick - The mark you put on your life list to indicate you've seen a particular species.


Mega - A bird of maximum rareness. Not to be confused with a grail. A grail is the ultimate of ultimates in the bird world.


Nockies - These are what you will look for a mega through. See binoculars or bins.


Lifer - The first sighting of a species in your lifetime. If you want to commemorate your life birds, check out our Life Bird Stickers!



To Dip - #$%!@#$!@#$%^@!#$^. See also "missed the mega."


Stringer - This is an insult. If someone calls you this, set your nockies down because you are about to scrap.


Twitcher - A birder who "twitches" or gets ancy thinking about chasing. Twitchers often will chase over long distances.


Reviewer - The person who holds the eBird fate of your sighting in their hands. However, you can still count the bird even if you did not get a photo. You can tell them to "dip off."

 

Remember, if you chase and dip, you can always megatick with your nockies on the morrow.


 

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