Red-tailed Tropicbird. “This clumsy, ungraceful bird was displeasing to observe” – Carol F.


Pelagic trips. There is nothing in birding like a pelagic…you never know what to expect. You can end up basking in a rare bird bliss that may linger for weeks, or you basically experience a living hell. Today I will give you all the reasons why you are better off riding the bow of your couch than a boat’s, complete with personal anecdotes from disgruntled pelagic birders.

First, there is the price….”cheap” pelagics go for around $125, and the price often runs much, much higher. In this economy, who can afford that? Are you the 99%? Do you want to send your kid to college? Is it worth getting a second mortgage to have a bunch of unsteady, aging birdwatchers stepping on your toes?

You want my advice? Save your money. Stick to your local patch. It’s just not worth it.

If you can somehow afford a boat trip, that simply opens yourself to a glut of other obstacles.

There are few things worse than being extremely seasick, particularly if you pay close to $200 for the experience. Puking your guts out while missing that rarity that flies by can bring about a terminal case of Fear and Loathing that could stay with you for the rest of your life. In the rare instances I have been seasick, I have more than once pondered that death would be preferable. The Great Listkeeper In The Sky would understand…right?


Tufted Puffin. “They are much more interesting on television than in person” – Martha C.

South Polar Skua. “This bird struck me as weak and mundane. Who cares if they nest in the Antarctic and eat penguins? They should stay there” – Dick B.


Even if you do not get seasick, there are plenty of other ways to be defeated. The distinct possibility exists that the boat you are on will be rocking so much and will be so packed with birders that you may be physically unable to see that Pterodroma that makes a 20 second pass by the bow before disappearing into a trough forever. It is completely normal for most pelagic participants to not see the rarest bird found on any given pelagic trip. Naturally, this causes dire misery and the heart to fill with hate. Why put yourself through this?

What’s even more fun is when disgruntled birders directly take out their rarity-rage on other people or the hapless leaders, who are doing their best to get everyone on every bird. I highly recommend this tactic, as it is obviously their fault, and never yours.


Thick-billed Murre. “Black and white? Really imaginative color scheme, you ugly, ugly bird” – Harriet L.

Long-tailed Jaeger. “A fat, unternlike, slovenly jaeger that should have gone extinct long ago” –  Bob W.

Pink-footed Shearwater. “My biggest regret in life was raising my binoculars to observe this monstrosity of a bird” – Ethel M.


Finally, there is the confusion of not knowing who on board may be a good birder or not. One typically does not know a lot of people on any given trip. Can Mr. X really tell a Tufted Puffin from a Rhinocerous Auklet? More than once I have called out distant birds that other people have failed to get on, and then bore witness to the condescending doubt that crept into their eyes afterward. The nerve! Those bastards! This is the downside of having eyes like an eagle, and is extremely aggravating. It is quite annoying to have a well-meaning leader carefully describing the field marks of a Pomarine Jaeger to you as one sails overhead…and all the while you ponder how many of these things you’ve seen in the past and that you’ve actually written a book on the subject (“I’ve Seen Thousands Of Pomarine Jaegers And Am Really Good At Identifying Them”, by Felonious Jive…it is now, sadly, out of print). But I suppose the situation is inevitable, even for the best birder in the world.

Even if you can get past the annoyances of being underestimated by everyone on the boat, there is the final obstacle of calling out birds out loud. If you misidentify something, you bring great shame and dishonor to both you and your family. Your friends will shun you and you will find that no one will go birding with you anymore. Is this what you really want?


Red-footed Booby. “I prefer the kind of booby more abundant on the internet” – Donald P.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this information, and will heed my advice. Please note that none of the given facts or quotes provided above have anything to do with the fact that most pelagic trips are in such high demand that they quickly fill up and have, on occasion, made it impossible for me to sign up in time. And no, as you read this, I am not on a boat miles offshore from Half Moon Bay, California, dauntlessly attempting to establish another North American record of Wandering Albatross. Nothing of the sort. I assure you.

Written by Felonious Jive
The Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive is indisputably the world’s greatest birder. As a child, Felonious was involved in a tragic accident that left him blind and crippled. Miraculously, he began regaining his faculties while parked at a window that faced his family’s bird feeder. Following his full recovery, he continued his pursuit of birds past his family’s yard and out across the globe. Now, his identification skills are unmatched by anyone living, dead, or unborn. Although considered a living deity in the birding community, his avian abilities have made him critical of his comparatively inexperienced peers. This has won him no popularity contests, although he remains much sought-after by birdwatchers of the opposite sex. His close colleague Seagull Steve writes of his exploits at Bourbon, Bastards and Birds.