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The Wetland Explorer
Finding a Zootie
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About this time last year, I introduced the term zugunruhe (pronounced zue-gun-rue) to you in our Wetland Explorer column. This word is used in the birding world to describe a restless behavior of birds that tells them when they need to migrate. Undoubtedly, many birds are feeling zugunruhe right now as we have begun to see some of the early migrants stop through Cheyenne Bottoms in the last couple weeks.
I was reminded recently of another interesting birding term that I thought I’d share this month, as it is also applicable to the Fall migration. That word is “zootie”.
Ask any birder, and their definition of zootie might be a little different, but it basically is used to describe a rare bird sighting. Often times, a zootie is a species of bird that is rare to the point that it is only seen once a year, or once every couple years in a particular area. And, something that is a zootie at one location or for one birder, is not a zootie at another location or for another birder.
True birders live for zooties. This is what makes the hobby of birding so appealing to thousands of people across the world. Birders truly do not know what they might see every time they go out to look at birds, and there are always surprises. Migration times of the year seem to offer more opportunities for zooties, as more birds are on the move and it is more likely that they will end up well out of their ranges.
This past May, some birders from Tennessee were in western Kansas at Scott State Park and observed, photographed, and reported a bird that has been seen in the United States fewer than 10 times, called a Piratic Flycatcher. As usually happens, word immediately spread across the birding wires about this bird, and people from as far as the east coast converged in western Kansas to try to see this bird.
Stories like this might be describing the ultimate zootie experience; however, most zooties are more of a personal challenge to find a bird new to you. While I did not go chase the Piratic Flycatcher, I have been fortunate to have found several personal zooties in Barton County during the last couple months. I’ve started keeping a list of birds that I have seen in Barton County, and while I am not even close to the number of species that many birders have seen, it makes it a fun, personal challenge to find new and rare species. And, I can guarantee that the satisfaction of seeing and identifying even a common bird for the first time can be about as satisfying as seeing a Piratic Flycatcher.
Whether you are an experienced birder or not, the Fall is an excellent time to get out to your local wetland, pond, or forest, and see what birds you can find. With a pair of binoculars and a bird field guide to help you identify birds, you can easily spend a whole day in nature; it is even better if you have someone to go out with and share the experience. And, who knows, you just might find a zootie!
As I write this article, I’ve just received an email about a possible zootie at Cheyenne Bottoms: a Pomarine Jaeger. That would be a nice bird to see. I guess it’s time to go out searching!