Do Birdwatchers Make Good Counterinsurgents?

Do Birdwatchers Make Good Counterinsurgents?

Julie Leibach
Published: 02/14/2011


Sticking a birder out amid potential terrorists may seem ridiculous, but Foreign Policy’s Thomas E. Ricks has a point: There seem to be some similarities between astutely observing birds and keeping eyes peeled for insurgents. A few birding recommendations that, according to Ricks, speak to counterterrorist philosphy follow, as quoted from Sibley’s Birding Basics:

• "Watch the edges of the flock and pay special attention to outlying birds or those that act differently; they may be a different species."
• "Follow the birds. If you find a number of birds in an area, consider why they might be there. Is there a concentration of food? Is it a warm or cool spot?"
• "Looking at a bird with prejudice, having already determined that it is likely to be one species and leading only to confirm that identification, will lead you into error.… Guard against forming an opinion until all of the evidence is in." For more, click here.

How the concept dawned on Ricks in the first place is also compelling: Apparently, after helping a neighbor in a Christmas Bird Count, he was inspired to pick up Sibley’s guide, which led him to those parallels. Ricks came up with one of his own birding recommendations, too: “Be ready for the unexpected,” he writes. “I was surprised that Sibley lists Central Park, smack in middle of the concrete canyons of New York City, as great bird-watching spot. The reason, he writes, is that migrating birds gravitate toward it, as ‘the largest patch of natural habitat in the area’—not unlike, he writes, a desert oasis.” (Speaking of desert oases, one military man stationed in Iraq, Major Randel Rogers, actually is a birder. He was profiled in Audubon here). And I’ll add another similiarity, as I see it: Expert birders and skilled counterinsurgents surely stress the importance of good optical equipment. So it’s not beyond the, er, scope of possibility that they could least exchange a few pointers, if not roles entirely.