The Birdchick helps makes bird watching badass

Sharon Stiteler brings her own brand of promotion to the world of ornithology.

Bird watcher and blogger Sharon Stiteler looks for birds in nearby trees on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013 outside the Bell Museum.

Holly Peterson

Bird watcher and blogger Sharon Stiteler looks for birds in nearby trees on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013 outside the Bell Museum.

Tom Johnson

In the all-ages world of bird watching, the Birdchick strives for a PG-13 rating.

At birding conferences, you may see her cracking a smile at the mention of the blue-footed tit or the master cock.

“I don’t know why ornithologists always seem to come up with such dirty names for things,” she said. “I feel like I’m 13 years old sometimes.”

The Birdchick, also known as National Parks Service ranger Sharon Stiteler, has been an activist for the birding world for years. She’s got all the geeky credentials: personal beekeeper to fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, co-owner of the “Disapproving Rabbits” franchise with her husband, and blogger at birdchick.com, where she writes and produces videos as a cheeky bird devotee.

Stiteler came into the world of birding quite by accident after taking a job in a birdseed store and landing a gig at KARE 11 as the resident “bird lady.” After a tattoo artist suggested she get her own website, Stiteler decided to change her style and adopt the “Birdchick” identity she uses today.

 “Birds are just the way I’m wired,” she said. ”I had no idea that I could make a career of it.”

Since then, Stiteler has traveled the world researching birds. She estimates that she spends approximately 40 weeks on the road each year doing everything from counting ducks from a plane to consulting about the effects of development on bird habitats and traveling to remote areas to determine whether a species exists.

On the rare occasions when she’s home, she’s proselytizing her craft to fellow birders, including the audience of the Café Scientifique program, a monthly conversation on rotating science-based topics. It’s organized by Kevin Williams and Leah Peterson of the Bell Museum of Natural History and held at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis.

This month’s program runs alongside an exhibit, which opened this month, featuring the Bell’s collection of early explorer John James Audubon’s bird drawings. Williams and Peterson, like Stiteler, are trying to dispel the thinking that their science isn’t as cool or approachable as it should be.

“We try to get real science out to the public in a venue where you can drink,” Williams said. “Being in a venue like the Bryant Lake Bowl lets speakers be more candid than they could be on campus.”

In particular, said Peterson, the Birdchick was a perfect way to bridge the gap of bird watching as “something for grandfathers with binoculars with this amazing thing that an adventurous, self-made woman is involved in.”

For Stiteler, one of the appeals of bird watching is its accessibility as a hobby. You can do it pretty much anywhere, even in the middle of an urban college campus, she said.

The Mississippi River is a major bird migration corridor, and “if you look, you’ll always find something cool,” Stiteler said. “It’s like an Easter egg hunt, except the eggs move and sometimes change color.”

 

 

What: Café Scientifique: Birding for These Modern Times

When: 7-9 p.m., Tuesday

Where: Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis

Cost: $5-12 on a sliding scale