Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Birder Worship Syndrome (BWS)

Sorry folks, there are no pictures of birds today, just pictures of birders as I bring you serious information and advice about a condition which can afflict birders of all ages and backgrounds. I have met birders who suffer from this illness and I can assure you that it is no laughing matter. 


Until now this disorder has been little discussed or researched but I found the following information via Wiki and reproduce it here for our mutual interest. 

“Birder Worship Syndrome (BWS) is an obsessive addictive disorder in which a person becomes overly involved with the details of an elite birder’s life, the same person’s tick list and their ability to react quickly to pager and Internet messages and to then chase, and re-identify rare and uncommon birds. Psychologists have indicated that though many people obsess over film, television, sport and pop stars, the only common factor between them is that they are all figures in the public eye. In the cases of birder worshippers and the elite bird watchers they esteem, none are in any public eye other than that of the tiny percentage of an overall population who are simply birders. Following recent cases in the birding and national press (Bird Watching magazine, Daily Mail etc, 2005, 2008, 2013, 2015 ) it is thought that a simple case of birder worship can quickly develop into more severe cases of stalking. 

The term "birder worship syndrome" first appeared in an article 'Do you worship other birders?' by Robin A Ticker and Sylvia B Schuer (Bird Watch magazine, 2003). Ticker based his article on the journal paper by Finch et al. (Nature & Birds, 2002) which discussed the term Birder Worship Scale, first used in an academic article by Wren (British Birds 1999). 

Nonetheless Ticker and Schuer may be generally correct. A syndrome refers to a set of abnormal or unusual set of symptoms indicating the existence of an undesirable condition or quality. Indeed, many attitudes and behaviours of birders covered in this research indicate such states. 

Bird Watchers

Psychologists in the United Kingdom created a birder worship scale to rate the problems. In 2004, psychologists Marila Crowe, Arthur Nightingale and Frederik Swallow introduced the Birding Attitude Scale, a 34 item scale administered to 262 persons living in Lancashire, Norfolk and Yorkshire, perceived hot spots of the condition. 

Early research by Crowe et al. suggested that birder worship comprised one dimension in which lower scores on the scale involved individualistic behaviour such as following, watching, listening to, reading and learning about superstar birders. They further suggested that higher levels of infatuation are characterized by empathy, over-identification, and obsession with the star birder.  However, later research in recent years with larger samples suggested there are 3 different aspects to celeb birder worship. 

John Ruppell (University of Liverpool), and the aforementioned psychologists examined the Celebrity Birder Attitude Scale (Psychology Today, 2005) among 1723 UK respondents, (942 males, 781 females) aged between 16 and 70 years and found 3 dimensions to celebrity birder worship: entertainment-social, intense-personal, and borderline-pathological. 

More Birders

Pavel Cretzschmar PhD, author of Confusing Birding with Birder Obsession and creator of the Obsessive Birder Love Wheel suggests in a 2014 online article the existence of three other primary types of luminary birder obsessives: Simple Obsessional, Love Obsessional and Erotomanic, as follows. 

Simple obsessional:
Simple obsessional stalking and aggravation constitutes a majority of all cases, anywhere from 70%-80%, and is dominated by males. This form of stalking is generally associated with individuals who have shared previous birding trips or experienced casual birding encounters with their victims. A particular characteristic of the illness is “name-dropping” in conversations with lesser birders or mentioning their victims frequently in online forums, social media or blogs etc. 

Individuals who meet the criteria of being labelled as a “simple obsessional” tend to share a set of characteristics including an inability to have successful relationships in their own personal and birding lives, social awkwardness in birding situations, feelings of powerlessness in finding rare birds, or a sense of insecurity and very low self-esteem when faced with IDing a bird. Of these characteristics, low self-esteem plays a large role in the obsession that these individuals develop with their victim, the principal birder. If the individual is unable to have any sort of connection to the foremost birder with whom they are obsessed, their own sense of self-worth may decline. 

Love obsessional: 
As the name suggests, individuals who demonstrate this type of behaviour develop an intense love obsession with the birder with whom they rarely have any personal relationship. Love obsessional accounts for roughly 20%-25% of all birder stalking cases. Bird watchers who demonstrate this form of obsessional behaviour are likely to suffer from a mental disorder, commonly paranoia. 

Individuals that are love obsessional often convince themselves that they are in fact in a relationship with the subject of their obsession. For example, a woman who stalked a well-known UK birder Lee Evans for a total of five years claimed to be his partner in life when she had no personal connection to him and lived hundreds of miles away. 

Erotomanic, originating from the word Erotomania, refers to stalkers who genuinely believe that their victims are in love with them. The victims in this case are almost always well known within the close local birding community. Erotomanic stalkers are the least common with by far the majority being men. Similar to love-obsessional stalkers, the behavioural Birder Worship Syndrome (BWS) of Erotomanics may be a result of an underlying psychological disorder. 

Individuals who suffer from Erotomania tend to believe that the birding figure with whom they are obsessed is utilising media as a way to communicate with them by sending special messages or signals via a pager or similar device and will spend many hours listening for bleeps from their machines. 

Although these obsessives have unrealistic beliefs, they are less likely to seek any form of face-to-face meetings with their victims and so mainly use their victim’s name in the hope of impressing others. In extreme situations where the obsessive is rejected by their target, an unforeseen and sometimes tragic outcome might ensue. In a recent case (Birdwatch magazine, September 2015), a birder expected that their target might sit next to them during a sea watch on the Yorkshire coast. When the object of their attention refused to do so and sat alongside another birder instead, the obsessive threw himself from the cliffs at Flamborough Head and was taken by the currents out into the North Sea, never to be seen again.“ 

So, dear readers, and in conclusion, you may recognise this affliction in a particular birder you know or meet occasionally in the course of your bird watching. Always treat them with care, consideration and respect as they are unwell. If possible, take the person aside and explain gently that they may be suffering from BWS and that they should seek professional advice as soon as possible. 

Bird Photographer
It’s back to the mundane stuff tomorrow when if the wind holds off across the farm fields I’m due to meet Andy for another crack at those Linnets. 

Log in later to see how we do. 


Bob Bushell said...

Funny sketch, I love it.

Prunella Pepperpot said...

Well Phil, I had to pick poor Prunella up off the floor and put her to bed as she was laughing so much she looked limp like a rag doll!!
Stay well :)

David Gascoigne said...

And I thought all along I was just a regular birder. But wait...maybe it is me upon whom other birders fawn and fantasize. Whoever could have imagined such a thing? Miriam is out right now but I am sure she will soon disabuse me of any delusions of grandeur when she returns. But maybe before she gets here I can indulge myself in moments of puffery. I may have to lie down for a while to cope with it all!

Lowcarb team member said...

Great post ...
I liked your pictures too ...

All the best Jan

Linda said...

Great post and I love to see birdwatchers!

Dave Lewis said...

Uh-oh...I better seek help...maybe I'll ask my great personal friend Kenn Kaufman...

Margaret Adamson said...

Hilarious an well written

Pete Marsh said...

Who is your agent Phil? Give me his details and I might use his services. Cheers pete :-)

Russell Jenkins said...

I don't know what to say. I often get confused when saying "Go birding" or "Go birdwatching". I don't know whether I'm in either category. I'm not really a photographer either. It may be safer to remain uncategorised. Maybe its good that I'm hopeless with seabirds.

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