In 2016 there was a study in New Ideas in Psychology entitled On the Nature of Creepiness. An online survey of 1341 individuals asked what appearances and behaviors by others made them feel creepy. Perhaps not surprisingly, the top three occupations listed as creepy are clown, taxidermist, and sex shop owner. The least creepy was meteorologist.
I have met several taxidermists and don’t find them creepy at all. Clowns, maybe a little. I have only met one sex shop owner, and he was uber-creepy. (I was not frequenting his business, by the way.) I’ve known a few meteorologists and they tend to lean more towards boring than creepy.
The study says: “Easily, the most frequently mentioned creepy hobbies involved collecting things. Collecting dolls, insects, reptiles, or body parts such as teeth, bones, or fingernails was considered especially creepy. The second most frequently mentioned creepy hobby involved some variation of “watching.” Watching, following, or taking pictures of people (especially children) was thought to be creepy by many of our participants, and bird watchers were considered creepy by many as well.”
So birdwatchers are considered creepy by some? Well, I have to admit that I have been stopped by several people, including police, because I was wandering around with my binoculars, especially when in urban and suburban areas. I’m convinced I would not have attracted any attention if I didn’t have binoculars. (Or maybe I look creepy or suspicious in any case….). Really, do you ever run into anyone who is looking through binoculars that is not a birdwatcher (unless they are at a ballpark or opera using those funky 8 x 20 mini binocs)? Well, I guess peeping Toms do; there’s even a website reviewing binoculars for that particular creepy behavior.
The average birdwatcher, depending on what you read, is a 56-year-old woman of above average financial means. This fits with my perception of attendees at bird festivals and Audubon meetings. But I’ve seen all sorts. I’d characterize them this way: average or below average weight and height, rarely overweight, very casually dressed in khaki or dull clothing, layers of jackets, sweaters, and vests, very worn boots or high-top shoes, binoculars and maybe a harness, water bottle, bird guide, funky hat and appearing just generally unkempt. (At least that’s what I look like.)
According to a study in the Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, creepiness was associated with an ectomorphic body type (long and lean) and a disheveled appearance. That sort of fits, although men are far more likely to be deemed creepy than women. I’ve met thousands of birders and none struck me as creepy. Some are eccentric, some over-the-top cringe-worthy enthusiasts, some braggarts, and some hapless, but all basically nice people.
But there’s the guy who, during what he calls a Punk Rock Big Year, saw 234 bird species and intends to get tattooed with the scientific name of each one. Now that’s creepy. He’s only had 15 done so far so I don’t know how serious he is.
By the way, according to California Law at least, it is not illegal to look in someone’s house or apartment if you are standing on public property, even with binoculars. I don’t recommend it, though, because being considered creepy is bad enough without your proving it.