Mark Chappell , Jan 21, 2005; 10:55 a.m.
I do a lot of wildlife photography and I do think your judgement is off (but maybe not completely). Believe me, a big telephoto lens, even on a tripod at 'normal' daylight shutter speeds, benefits a lot from stabilization. It's true that the 80-400 VR system isn't happy on a tripod, but other stabilization systems are, and the difference in sharpness is pronounced -- especially if it's at all windy, or you're trying to track a moving subject, or your tripod isn't on the firmest footing. Maybe if you get up in the 1/2000 second exposure range it's less important, but that short an exposure is not routine (especially with the two relatively slow lenses you are considering). Sometimes a fast AF is crucial (like for flying birds or running animals), but usually much less so.
If you are interested in photographing birds and animals, my recommendation is to not bother with any zoom lens but go directly to the longest telephoto prime you can afford.