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Conventional Guide to Birds of a Feather

Dyrli picks up where Audubon left off, with a lighthearted look at the wildlife characters we all en

A professional convention is a bustling biological community in which each individual plays a highly specialized role. Among the various species are predators, scavengers and, alas, prey. The following is an introductory guide to the major birds that one is sure to encounter at a first convention or a fiftieth.

Perhaps the best place to spot species is in the commercial exhibit habitat. Admission to the preserve is limited to those who have been duly registered, proof of which is an official name badge. Stern, uniformed guards are stationed at each entrance to check for badges to protect the commercial flyways. Careful observers will be amazed by the richness of the life within the sanctuary and will want to be on the lookout for the conventioneers described here.

Competitive Junk-Packer

Junk-Packers love to return home with as many promotional giveaways as possible, and compete among themselves to get multiple copies of company name-emblazoned pens, t-shirts, caps, mugs, mouse pads and plastic rulers imprinted with slogans such as "Beat 'em by a mile with ...!" Packers also hide soaps, lotion and shampoo bottles in their hotel rooms each day, so they always get new ones to collect.

Natural items of a region are particular favorites with out-of-state Junk-Packers. For example, southern firms have found that non-southerners have an almost insatiable desire to acquire pieces of Spanish moss, especially if distributed in small plastic bags (states that have trouble getting rid of industrial wastes would do well to learn this lesson).

Upon returning home, Junk-Packers customarily give their hard-won treasures to friends and family in lieu of gifts that cost anything. In about a week, the cycle completes itself as recipients use a variety of methods to return the materials to the soil.

Flitting Credentials-Flasher

This vociferous bird will seize on any and every opportunity to crow about a believed claim to fame. Since it is absolutely impossible to quiet a Flasher, it's best to enjoy its song, which can be quite amusing. Subtle flashes, such as "As president of our administrative organization, I have never ..." will probably slip by the less observant. A full flash-"When I was taking summer courses at Harvard ..."-is difficult for even the uninitiated to miss. Credentials-Flashers are found everywhere, and are harmless.

Over-Clustered Honch

A transient species that seldom stays put long enough to be studied carefully, the Honch is a self-important bird that makes grand, sweeping, split-second appearances non-stop through all conference facilities, including lobbies and corridors. The Honch always leaves for home the second morning of any conference. Honches love to be listed in convention programs, but sightings are usually a matter of luck.


The Stroker is a bird that keeps a running list of every conference ever attended, files old conference programs and name badges, and squeezes visits to multiple conventions into the same trip. The Stroker is usually sighted "on-the-wing" and will often try and share a cab to the airport with an Over-Clustered Honch.

Dashing Out-Runner

Another difficult-to-spot species, the Runner registers early and stays through the entire convention but rarely sees more than a token number of exhibits, and only for future conversation purposes. Runners spend almost all their time taking tours, visiting points of interest, attending sports and entertainment events, and shopping downtown. Upon returning home, the Runner usually calls in sick.

Commercial Collar-Glommer

Basically nocturnal, Collar-Glommers descend upon large-company booths as the dinner hour draws near, to try and glom a fancy meal and a night's free entertainment. Collar-Glommers are convinced that sales representatives have unlimited entertainment budgets and are hard-pressed to find enough people to treat. Glommers persist in the juvenile stage, and scurry about with open beaks.

In the presence of a Glommer, salespeople talk about how tired they have suddenly become and how a vending-machine sandwich and a restful evening of TV sound appealing. Glommers, however, hear only big-ticket words, and once they choose a company group, they follow it throughout the night. Once in a great while a carefully contrived story about a competitor's night-club tour from an adjoining hotel will shake a Glommer, but it can also cause it to return the next two nights to talk about unsuccessful attempts to find the departing revelers.


Members of this gentle species perform their valued services quietly and efficiently, seldom bothering anyone. In fact, a strong population of Pamphlet-Stuffers can really "make" a conference, since they generate so much inspiring activity. Pamphlet-Stuffers carry plastic bags and take copies of almost every piece of commercial literature available. They trace aisle routes carefully and systematically and seek to complete the serious business of amassing mountains of literature on the very first day. Invariably, however, the Pamphlet-Stuffer cannot resist making additional forays to get more on subsequent days, in spite of valiant resolutions to leave plastic bags in the hotel room. Pamphlet-Stuffers are divided into two subspecies, according to nest behaviors:

"Halvers" go through their literature each evening and divide the pamphlets into two nearly equal piles, keeping one in a drawer and leaving the other for the hotel housekeeping staff. This process is repeated at the end of each day, and one final time prior to checking out of the hotel.

"Whole-Dumpers" also work a two-pile process but almost immediately decide to dispose of the entire trove. Evenings are particularly difficult for Whole-Dumpers, who become overly introspective about the ultimate importance of their efforts.


This common predator stops at every booth and wants a sample of every product sent home. Sample-Grubbers represent themselves as soon-to-become key purchasing decision-makers, but their cry is never true. Since even mature Grubbers typically walk off with display materials, salespeople must watch these birds carefully. A more effective defense used by exhibitors against Grubbers is the "Santa Dialogue," where they simply write down every item requested. For example, "... and I want a sample electronic whiteboard, a video-projector, software for every grade level, and oh yes, you better throw in a multipurpose color printer too, etc." The list is discarded as soon as the bird leaves the booth, and within minutes the Grubber and the grubbee have forgotten the exchange.

Lesser Claim-Jumper

This convention lightweight will go to great lengths to avoid paying even a modest registration fee. But because winning the game motivates this bird, rather than saving money, Lesser Jumpers proudly display their gate-crashing success for all to see (a perpetual sly smile is often a dead giveaway). Birds seen repeatedly without convention credentials may be Jumpers, but attendees sporting badges with names from the opposite sex are most certainly members of the species.

Greater Claim-Jumper

Similar in many ways to the lesser variety, Greater Claim-Jumpers are noted for asking everyone they meet if there is a spare bed in one's hotel room. Claim-Jumpers-large and small-never make reservations. If it becomes necessary, a Greater Claim-Jumper will spring for the price of a rollaway bed, though to do so is considered to be a significant personal defeat. The word spreads quickly to avoid Greater Claim-Jumpers, until they have secured nesting sites in rooms of less-suspecting prey.

Odvard Egil Dyrli,, is editor-in-chief and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.