to Tacky Topics
The Couch List
See also the Futon List
Watching birds from the comfort of my couch is a favorite morning
activity on the weekends. (February 2006)
Male downy woodpecker seen from my couch on February 11, 2006
Male downy woodpecker and a male cardinal seen from my couch on February
What a difference a day makes!
Most birders keep a life list. I keep a couch list. Here's why.
I am a birder, a watcher of birds. I hesitate to tell people this sometimes,
because non-birders don’t always understand the attraction of
birds, such as why someone would rise early on a cold winter morning,
and hike in the snow for hours, just because she’d heard a report
of a great-horned owl somewhere in Howard County.
Most non-birders have heard of a life list, a list that many birders
keep of every bird they've ever seen. When I am asked how many birds
are on my life list, I don't know what to tell them. I don’t keep
one. It's not a requirement of being a birder.
One person, a non-birder told me, that I was not a “real”
birder because I don’t keep a list. That’s just cuckoo.
When I see a bird I've never seen before, I know it. It's very exciting.
I don't need a list to tell me that! If I'm mistaken, and I have seen
it before, what kind of killdeer would expect me to check my list to
There's something Zen about bird watching. It's one of those things
that keeps a person in the moment. Sometimes I'll be tired and hungry
from hiking, and I think that all I want to do is go home. Then I'll
see a pileated woodpecker and I'll watch it happily for a half an hour,
not remembering the feelings of discomfort from minutes before.
The fact is, I do keep a list, but not of every bird I’ve ever
seen. I keep a couch list. This is a list of every bird that I’ve
seen from the comfort of my couch. Because although I live only a couple
of miles from the District of Columbia, I’m in a neighborhood
that hasn’t seen significant development in the past couple of
decades. There is also a system of storm water management ponds only
a block from my house. Birds find both these features appealing, and
so I can boast a wide range of birds that I’ve observed from the
comfort of my couch: herons, hawks, woodpeckers, and a variety of songbirds
such as cardinals, wrens, and sparrows.
But, even my couch list isn't a true list, since I have only been keeping
it in my head. So, for one full year (2006), I’m going to keep
a written list (like the so-called “real” birders do) of
just the birds I’ve seen from my couch. As of this writing, I’ve
got twenty species on the list, and I haven’t even gotten to the
spring migration season yet.
Couch List 2006
(links are to pictures from Cornell University's bird site)
red-tailed hawk (added 11/19/2015)
Great egret (added 8/31/2021)
Update 4/16/2006: I'm up to 30 species right now.
I'm particularly happy to have an Eastern towhee. It's a beautiful bird
about the size of a robin with bold patches of black, white, and rust.
If you've ever been outside and heard a bird that sounds like it's saying
"drink you tea," that's a towhee. Maybe that's why I'm so
fond of that bird. We are all delighted to get advice that we are already
willing to take, and tea is one of my favorite beverages (it's the other
I'll keep working on my couch list, even though I'll never be able
to equal my sister's accomplishment. There's an escaped peacock that
has been loose in her neighborhood for the past year, and he's often
been seen in her yard. No one has been able to trap it, because apparently
peacocks have a nasty temper.
The Futon List
November 15, 2011
Now that I have a newly-renovated addition with big windows and a comfy futon, I am going to start keeping a futon list.
Most birders keep a life list of all the bird species that they have ever seen. Not me…when I see a a bird that I’ve never seen before, I get excited. It’s one of the joys of birding. If I did keep a life list, and I were to see a bird that I thought was new to me, it would be a let-down to check my list and discover that it’s not. Not keeping a life list means I’ll have more exciting birding experiences, simply because my memory isn’t that great. Hey, I just discovered a silver lining to the aging process!
The futon list may not have as many birds on it as the couch list did. The window out the living room faces approximately five wooded acres and a system of storm water management ponds, which attracts many water birds. The window out the addition on the back of my house faces the backyard, as well as several of my neighbors’ backyards. The futon list will probably not include ducks, geese, or herons, but who knows? Stranger things have happened. The great thing about these lists is that they remind me of how much wildlife there is in my neighborhood. It’s like counting my blessings!
The Futon List (last updated December 10, 2013):
great blue heron