Phoebe Snetsinger

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Phoebe Snetsinger (née Burnett; June 9, 1931 – November 23, 1999) was an American birder famous for having seen and documented birds of 8,398 different species, at the time, more than anyone else in history; she was the first person to see more than 8,000.


Birding on Borrowed Time (2003)[edit]

All page numbers are from the trade paperback first edition, published by The American Birding Association ISBN 1-878788-41-8
  • The triggers for turning points in one’s life are mysterious things. A whole spectrum of different factors with complex physical, intellectual, and emotional overtones is involved, and all of them have to merge in the same place and time to form the blinding white light that urges one along a new path. Sheer chance plays an enormous role, unless one is programmed to believe (as I do not) that it was all meant to be.
    • Chapter 1, “Beginnings” (p. 18)
  • “How can they ever get food into those fuzzy chicks without stabbing them to death with their bills?” Watching those creatures do what they had been doing successfully for millions of years, without any help from us, finally let me learn not to judge everything by human standards.
    • Chapter 1, “Beginnings” (pp. 18-19)
  • I desperately wanted to continue running my own life, because I was healthy and, physically, felt just fine. I accepted the fact that my life wasn’t going to last long, but I very quickly came to the conclusion that I preferred a short span of quality living under my control, followed by a quick death, to a longer life protracted by various all-consuming medical treatments and their effects, probably followed by a lingering death.
    • Chapter 5, “Turning Point” (p. 52)
  • Black-necked Cranes on the Tibetan plateau were my last of this family and left me with some unexpectedly ambivalent feelings—triumph at having finally seen them all, yet sadness that there were now no more left to look for.
    • Chapter 12, “A New Decade” (p. 122)
  • Chances are, if I can feel a lump, there has already been some spread to internal organs, in which case my time of health is probably limited to a few months. Now may well be my final opportunity to go birding on a foreign trip, and I can’t just throw that away. If it’s my last trip, so be it—but I’m going to make it a good one and go down binoculars in hand!
    • Chapter 12, “A New Decade” (p. 124)
  • Emotion and personal desire really do reign in all passionate endeavors, not objectivity and reason. And sometimes we’re just plain lucky enough to get away with it.
    • Chapter 21, “1998” (p. 212)
  • There were indeed human hazards in this country—but not to go there at all because of the possibility of encountering them? Unthinkable! It has become ever more clear to me that if I had spent my life avoiding any and all potential risks, I would have missed doing most of the things that have comprised of the best years of my life.
    • Chapter 21, “1998” (p. 212)
  • Of course, as my husband points out, this game never really ends. It’s simply a matter of perspective; as I see it, one of the wonderful aspects of birding is that it is endless. There’s always, as long as one lives, some new place to go, some exciting new thing to find. No one knowledgeable will ever say, “I’ve done it all – now what?”
    • Chapter 22, “1999-Beginning of the End” (p. 260)

Quotes about Phoebe Snetsinger[edit]

  • Phoebe was a legend among the professional bird guides who guided her around the world. A non-birder may imagine that high-level birding is just like regular birding except more expensive. In reality, birding at Phoebe’s level requires an Olympian’s level of concentration, dedication, and effort, along with a level of risk-taking that no non-birder could ever understand. She had some horrific experiences along the way, but the non-fatal ones never stopped her.
  • Phoebe did not hesitate for a second as she plunged off the trail and down into the thick undergrowth that filled the steep ravine. I hustled after her, and we swiftly picked our way into the darkness and unknown. In the end, the bird did not call again, and the fog was too thick, so the partridge eluded Phoebe that night. Regardless, I will never forget the wonderful time we shared. The sight of her disappearing down the ravine after the Long-billed Partridge sums up Phoebe for me—committed, fearless, and never looking back.
  • Phoebe’s legacy in the world of birding is larger than life. She possessed a hard-earned, near encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s birds. Her drive to observe, and observe well, as much of the world’s avifauna as possible, with a special emphasis on its diversity, is well-known, clear from her writing, and, in some circles, the stuff of legends.
    • Thomas Snetsinger, Epilogue to Birding on Borrowed Time (p. 272)

External links[edit]

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