By the time you read this, I will NOT have seen a Spotted Towhee in my home province of Manitoba or a Wryneck in Europe. You may read this ten years from now (April 2010), and it’s likely that I still will not have seen them. These are my current jinx birds. I’ve been searching for them for years.
Jinx birds (some people call them nemesis birds) are those annoying species that all your birding friends have seen but you have not. To be a jinx, a bird must be uncommon but not rare, elusive but not impossibly so. It’s a bird that you should be able to find but just can’t – even with research, dedication, and professional help.
A person I know made nine trips all over the west, including Alaska and British Columbia, to find a White-tailed Ptarmigan. No luck, the last I heard. Bobwhites have unaccountably eluded people. Also Scaled Quails. Long-eared Owls. Mockingbirds.
For many, many years – far too many – my jinx bird was the Black-backed Woodpecker. I made at least two-dozen bird trips with this woodpecker as my specific target bird. All were in vain. I even enlisted the help of local experts who scouted appropriate areas (burnt over forests) ahead of time and promised that a sighting was guaranteed. No luck. For me the bird was “temporarily extirpated.”
It got so bad that I became the butt of jokes whenever birders got together. “Seen a Black-backed yet? Ha. Ha.” Or: “Oh. Oh. Walz is here. No Black-backeds today!” And it was true. I saw the more elusive American Three-toed Woodpecker long before I finally found his near look-alike, the Black-backed.
Sometimes I’d even be on an outing where people got ahead of the pack or fell behind, and they would see the bird. They’d yell out to the rest of us, but by the time we got to the place they saw the bird it would have vamoosed.Or they’d mention it at the end of the day. “Oh, by the way, did you guys see the Black-backed?”
The truly annoying thing is that once people hear about your particular jinx bird, they will line up to tell you about their own sightings of the bird. Usually they will mention how easy it was to find one or how often they’ve seen it.
Or they will offer advice. “Get to the appropriate habitat at the right time of year and look for OTHER birds.” Or: “Put the bird completely out of your mind, and it will come to you.” Right! Thanks.
Another maddening thing about jinx birds is that once you break the jinx, you will often see the bird everywhere you look. My previous European jinx bird was the Golden Oriole. A couple of years ago I heard one. So I abandoned my group and struggled through thick foliage and swampy grounds for 30 minutes before I tracked it down. When I made my way back to the group, scratched and muddy, I discovered that they had just seen six Golden Orioles from the comfort of a roadside rest!
It’s a cruel joke that my current European jinx bird is the Wryneck. After all, its Latinate name is Jynx torquilla. I kid you not!