I started photographing license plates related to birds and birding in 1979 when I lived in New Jersey. The first plate I "collected" in this manner simply read "BIRDER" on a plate from Connecticut that I noticed in the staging area at Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge north of Atlantic City.

I started paying closer attention to license plates on cars at birding hotspots and at events that attracted birders, like the New Jersey Audubon Society annual convention in Cape May, or whenever a reported rarity would draw in eager birders trying to see it. The rarer the bird, the more plates I'd find and they'd often be from more distant places. The Ross's Gull that was discovered in Baltimore, MD, was a good example of this, and I collected many plates there - it helped compensate for missing the gull.

National Audubon published some of my photos in the March 1988 issue of Audubon magazine, with the title "A License to Bird." I wish I'd have thought of that title! Its such a good title, in fact, that another birding magazine stole the title and concept for a feature article a few years later (with no reference to my spread from 1988).

When I moved from NJ to AZ in 1994 I was hoping to find many more plates from the western states, but it has been harder to find them here because there aren't as many birders.

There are almost 240 plates in this collection. Some of these show the same characters from the same state, but the plate has changed color or design: think of these as "alternate plumage." A few plates are repeated in two galleries; I started setting them up before I had all the images together so some were put in early galleies before they should have been. I've placed them a second time to group them as appropriate. I'll eventually get this straightened out and drop the duplicates, but it will take time to get to this chore.

Birders have shown a lot of imagination in picking a plate, so there's lots of variety in species. There's also some clever abbreviations employed to fit long names into 6-8 characters. It also helps to be familiar with the scientific binomials for species (STRIX V above translates to Strix Varia for Barred Owl), or to know that Magnificent Hummingbird used to be called Rivoli's Hummingbird. A few of plates use a word in a language other than English.

Please note that all plates have been photographed under actual field conditions: they show real world life, highway dirt and weather, varying light, and often cramped shooting conditions in tight parking lots. In many cases they were taken in a great hurry since the priority was seeing the rare bird that attracted the birders (and me) in the first place. A growing number have been donated by friends who know about my collection or by people who have discovered this collection on the web. So, image quality varies: in all cases it is the content that overrides quality.

Yes, I have a vanity plate as well, and it is included in one of these galleries. Here it is on the front of my Toyota.

I may eventually remap all the plates to make them easier to find and to balance the size of the galleries.