"me too-itis": a behavioral condition afflicting groups of bird watchers, especially on birding mailing lists. This disease usually takes the following course. A single rare bird is reported to the bird mailing list and all of a sudden everyone else and their brother reports the species in all sorts of places.
For instance, in the West, Semipalmated Sandpipers are fairly rare. And smaller shorebirds ("peep") are notoriously difficult to identify--especially for beginners. Nevertheless, every fall, as soon as someone reports a bird on the local birding list, several other "me too" posts appear over the next couple of days.
What does one make of this? It seems there are several possibilities.
It could be that these birders actually are observing and correctly identifying a rare bird. After all, many persons go looking for the same individual bird reported at the correct location. They could be seeing the exact same bird at the same location.
Migration takes place at approximately the same time for the same species. Weather conditions enable or limit migration such that if one rare bird shows up, it is possible several could have traveled the same route.
A third possibility is that more inexperienced birders are actually seeing rare but regular species but feel unsure of their ID until "encouraged" by other reports.
This last possibility could easily morph into birders who are encouraged by other reports into "seeing" birds that aren't really there--mistaken identification.
I am sure that all four of these possibilities account for "me too" reports. But I don't know the ratio, which one is most frequent, if any.
Here are more examples of "me too-itis" that I have noted.
Dark-eyed Juncos are abundant winter visitors to towns in the Pacific Northwest. They are found in towns such as Portland, Oregon in high numbers, before migrating north or upslope in the spring. Many "me too" reports come for the "first" birds of the fall at backyard bird feeders. The trouble is, Dark-eyed Juncos are also uncommon permanent residents in Portland and most towns in the Willamette Valley. Just because the local birds have been secretive during the nesting season before bringing their offspring to the local feeders in fall does not mean they are the first migrants from far away.
A rare bird is reliably reported daily for several days or weeks at a location. Yet there is always a report a week or two after all others could no longer find it. "Me too" wishful thinking?
Here is a famous extreme example. An odd bird in California was identified as Smith's Longspur by 7 members of the California Records Committee and numerous other expert California birders for four days(!) before being correctly identified as a Eurasian Skylark. Though both are rare birds and plumage characters were similar, larks and longspurs have quite different bills. How could so many expert birders make this mistake? It was called "group hysteria" at the time, but "group hypnosis" may have been more correct--the power of suggestion, especially when it comes from authority. (Read the Skylark Story by Don Roberson.)
In Massachusetts comes the report of a Pacific Loon, very rare for that area. There were numerous "me too" reports, some from the same time in different areas. A call was made to submit photos to see if there were more than one bird. The result? Photos by many people revealed most had photographed odd-plumaged Common Loons and not the single Pacific Loon. (More on the MassBird forum.)
Concerning this loon and mass mistaken identification, Jeremiah Trimble wrote, "One pitfall that many of us can fall into when chasing a rarity is failing to critically identify the bird on our own. In other words, we go to the location where a rarity was reported and see a bird (maybe THE bird) and simply accept that we are seeing the reported rarity."
Kaufman's Field Guide to Advanced Birding (2011) has a section on "common pitfalls of field identification." Pitfall 1 is expectation and desire. "Our subconscious drive to find a rarity can genuinely alter our perceptions," he wrote.
The final example of "me too-itis" resulted in a rare bird NOT being accepted by the Bird Records Committee. An Eastern Phoebe was reported with detailed description from a rest area in eastern Oregon near Malheur NWR. This was during the Memorial Day weekend when the desert there is swarming with birders looking for rare Eastern vagrants. Word got out that afternoon and by dawn the next morning scores of birders had descended upon the rest area. Everyone reported the Eastern Phoebe in the same trees and acting just like had been reported the previous day. Many photos were obtained. The later examination of all photos turned out to be Willow Flycatcher, a common bird in the area that really doesn't look that much like a phoebe. Now, was the original sighting an Eastern Phoebe or was the original ID incorrect too? The "group hypnosis," the desire for it to be a rare bird, made analyzing the original sighting without bias impossible.
So, let's be determined when viewing a previously reported rare bird to follow Jeremiah Trimble's admonition and "critically identify the bird on our own"!