PSA – Ignorance about Birders
I birded Grantville Park Tuesday morning before stopping by a nearby coffee shop for a bite to eat. While waiting on my order 4 police officers surrounded me, asking if I had a camera in my bag. I told them they’re binoculars and I’m a birder. They promptly handcuffed me and walked me outside. One of them ran my driver’s license and came back saying “he’s clean”. They said someone living in the apartments next to Grantville Park called in to report a peeping Tom and asked if I was there. I told them I was there, but I was looking for birds, to which one of them scoffed and quizzed me, “what kind of birds?” I started listing off species (carefully leaving Bushtits out as to not antagonize them) until he became visibly frustrated and cut me off. I further explained how exotic trees in our public parks can attract rare birds, making them popular birding destinations. Realizing they weren’t believing me, I helped them unlock my phone and navigated them to my submitted eBird checklist from my time at the Grantville Park hotspot that morning. They were convinced birdwatching would be a great cover for a peeping Tom and started looking through my photos only to see…lots of pictures of birds!
After 25 minutes of defending myself, they finally removed the cuffs and told me not to watch birds around residential areas anymore and that I should wear something like an “orange construction vest” while birdwatching. As I was turning around to walk away one of them said (in what seemed to be a last-ditch effort to rile me up), “for the record, I do think you were looking in people’s windows”. I didn’t take the bait.
Due to my perception of unprofessionalism during this experience, I am submitting a formal complaint. In doing so, I hope it provides some education about birders to our local law enforcement as well.
Stay safe out there,