The conversation for me always seems to start at "So, you just really like birds?"
"Err..." I always say. "Not exactly..."
This is awkward because I don't actually really like birds--I mean, I really like dogs, I quite like cats, I dearly love the idea of wombats (even if I wouldn't want to share the house with one) but I don't have that kind of burning affection for birdkind. I would never own a bird. They are beautiful creatures, I can stare at a scarlet macaw or a peach-faced lovebird for hours, but give me a dog any day. There are lots of pets that I don't have the lifestyle to accommodate, but while I feel a pang for my inability to keep a Rottweiler happy, I feel no such pangs over the fact I can't have a parrot. I am a mammal-ist.
And while I think birds are neat, and I wish them the best of their tiny little avian lives, birdwatching is not motivated by the same sort of affection that governs many of our interactions with animals. I love birds, but it's a broad abstract love.
The best I've ever managed to explain is that it's like collecting. It's not really the bird so much as the joy of the chase, the surprise, whatever. If you collect comics, if you are a particular kind of collector, you may know that issue #741 has mediocre art and a lousy story, but that's not the POINT. The joy of having #741 turn up while you're flipping idly through the boxes at an estate sale remains.
And of course, with birds, there's no storage required of anything but binoculars.
Anyway, I thought of all of that because I read a great blog entry by a non-birder who lives with a birder, and who made the comic collection analogy, and it cracked me up. Also, just read the Birdchick Blog in general, it's cool and has bird banding and bees.