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Monday, 21 February 2011

The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Twitter: Basic Species Identification

The people I meet on twitter excite, irritate, amuse, impress, inspire and infuriate me just like real people do, which caused me to have a bit of a think about twitter types. In a totally non-exhaustive way, here are the first three I came up with:

#1 The Blue Footed Booby

Twitter is the Blue Footed Booby's natural habitat. Twitter is their sky, their nesting site, their feeding ground. Commonly spotted with upwards of 45,000 followers they are prone to follow nearly all of them back. They check their twitter ranking on a hourly basis, squawking with panic if they find themselves below the top twenty.

An inherent self-publicist, the Booby is nevertheless liable to misfire occasionally (see picture). No randomly snapped iphoto, the Booby profile picture is a thoughtfully lit, digitally enhanced, suggestively posed portrait, closely akin, and often mistaken for, Viagra Spam.

The Blue Footed Booby is a scavenger, happiest when rooting around in other birds' left-overs, tweeting photographs of animals dressed up in silly clothes, light-weight, feel-good, psuedo-philosophical observations, and tit-bits from YouTube. Occasionally it may be spotted in its own habitat, exhibiting itself and its mate at play, almost unwatchable even by the most voyeuristic of twitcher.

The Blue Footed Booby might look like one of nature's anomalies, but it is as indispensible to the twitter ecosystem as plankton is to the sea, bacteria to the compost heap and guano to Peru.

#2 Mother Hen

The main function of this twitter species is to keep us up to date with the minute workings of their family’s timetable. A preliminary identification is often made through the twitter name, which may include a mothering reference, often self-deprecating. In lesser members of the species, there will be reference to parenthood in the profile.

The male of the species also tweets about his children, but ironically, commenting wryly on how clumsily he’s managing all on his own. The female reports her day to day life; the male tends to display new manhood.

Mother hen is not bothered about numbers of followers, preferring instead to congregate with the like-minded, or the actually liked, fellow mother hens living within a 2 mile radius, and usually integral to her child-minding or after school arrangements, many of which arrangements she makes, confirms and alters publicly on twitter.

Apart from these practical communications, the mother hen's distinctive call takes the form of twitpics of messy meals, advice on how to get wax crayon off walls, and ideas on where to go in half term.

#3 The Peacock

The peacock shares many characteristics with the Blue Footed Booby, but a quick glance at its follower numbers will confirm a genuine sighting. Size matters to the peacock – the size of the ratio. The peacock will be followed by far more than he follows, by at least 5 to 1, and growing. The ratio reflects the way the peacock sees his life generally. Put simply, the peacock considers himself more interesting to others, than others are interesting to him.

The peacock has a flamboyant profile, boasting several high calibre accomplishments, though a quick sift through his website indicates that his greatest gift is of the gab.

Fiercely territorial, the peacock is very particular whom he follows. The hopeful disciple must be a) famous, b) in the top 100 tweeters, c) likely to be useful in the peacock’s career, or d) a close relation. Being amusing, pleasant, having met him once or twice, or trying to make it in the same field, will get you nowhere. Especially trying to make it in the same field.

The peacock’s call is instantly recognisable - a mewing screech of social engagements, even more bigged-up accomplishments, reminders of invitation-only social events, name-dropping descriptions the next day of what fun was had, all interspersed with detailed and self-pitying accounts of the latest bout of peacock flu.

Binoculars at the ready for the Bird of Paradise, the Robin and the Ostrich, coming soon. Sightings and observations of your own most welcome.


  1. Having just followed you on twitter I'm concerned on how you view me. Nonetheless I'll take the chance since I think these are hysterical and oh so fun! What a darling blog! I love stalking both places as Peiple do for me... Oh how interesting and different both worlds are!

  2. Thanks for the comments. I've got my binoculars back out, twitter is an ornithologist's dream.