On Not Having a Nemesis Bird

Beloved Birders!

This weekend, a friend asked me about my current Nemesis Bird. Without thinking, I immediately blurted out, PILEATED WOODPECKER, but paused before I could finish the word “woodpecker.” And then I had to explain the slightly embarrassing reality that after drooling over Pileated woodpeckers for the past four years, I forgot that I had actually already seen one.

“So what now?” they asked me. And I paused again, because I hadn’t really thought of a back-up nemesis bird. I’ve now seen every single bird on my Sibley’s Backyard Birds poster — well every one except for the Brown-headed nuthatch, but I can’t seem to summon up the energy to transform the self-effacing, diminutive, neck-less nuthatch into a bona fide nemesis. It’s somehow too cute, too docile. A nemesis bird, in my mind, needs gravitas of one sort or another.

Photo from here.

Brown-headed nuthatch (Stitta pusilla). Not exactly nemesis material. Too cute, right? And, frankly, every nemesis needs a neck. Photo from here.

And so it appears I’m on the hunt for a nemesis bird, which feels particularly strange because I don’t feel the need for one right now. I’m at the stage in birding where I’m still ecstatic to see anything new that comes my way — most things still surprise and delight me. I’m still a sucker for flamboyant colors and birds that resemble slight accidents of nature, like the forever-pouting American Woodcock with eyes placed much to close to one another, my all-time avian-hero.


For some reason being happy with one’s lot — birdwise or otherwise — doesn’t make for exciting story material. There isn’t much conflict or tension or drama in being happy with whatever you see.

Maybe I’ll just answer the nemesis-bird question with Eskimo curlew or Ivory-billed woodpecker from now on. With extinct birds, I suppose I’ll never have to find a replacement nemesis again and won’t find myself in such a confounding predicament.

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