Bird Watching: What’s with the Camouflage

September 18, 2006 by  
Filed under Features

There are hard-core birders that feel they need to dress up like a supporting player in a Rambo movie in order to get deep in to the bird’s environment. As a result, you see quite a few bird enthusiasts dressed up in camouflage pants and shirts, their faces smeared with green grease paint. It’s no wonder they aren’t scaring away the very birds they are hoping to see in the first place.

This all begs the question, “Do birdwatchers really need to dress like they are playing war games in order to watch our feathered friends?” Of course, the answer is “No”. The better question may be to postulate whether birds can see color and if they can try to understand what they are seeing in the first place.

Let’s establish first that birds do indeed see color. Birds have color vision and their vision is pretty darn good. Much better in fact, that the vision of humans. Up until the early 1970’s it was widely thought that birds had trichromatic color vision comparable to that of humans – the ability to break things down into three basic colors. Later in the mid-1970’s it was discovered that birds can see light in the near-ultraviolet (uv) range and that spurred on even more study. Today it is widely accepted that the avian eye, not the human eye, is the superior color vision system. It is now believed that birds see more colors (hues) than we do and the colors also appear more saturated to birds than do ours to us.

It’s accepted that birds probably do see colors similar to the way we see them, although not in exactly the same hue. A green field jacket is probably a richer shade of green through the bird’s eyes than what we are actually seeing. The important issue here, is that bird can see you. And thanks to their heightened sense of hearing, they can hear you jostling around behind that bush.

Standing still with tree limbs sticking out of your hat will not endear you any more or less to the bird. Staying still and being patient will earn you more bonus points that if you look like you’re going to carnival in Brazil.

So in the final analysis, it is not so much what you wear, but how you conduct yourself that will bring you the most bird-watching satisfaction. Want to dress like Rambo? Go for it. But while you’re at it, stay hidden behind that tree so the rest of the birdwatchers can enjoy the scenery as well.

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