Birdwatching or birding is the observation and study of birds with the naked eye or through a visual enhancement device like binoculars. Birding often involves a significant auditory component, as many bird species are more readily detected and identified by ear than by eye. Most birdwatchers pursue this activity mainly for recreational or social reasons, unlike ornithologists, who engage in the study of birds using more formal scientific methods.cite book |last=Dunne |first=Pete |title=Pete Dunne on Bird Watching |year=2003 |publisher=Houghton Mifflin |location=Boston |isbn=0-395-90686-5 |oclc=50228297] cite book |last=Oddie |first=Bill |title=Bill Oddie's Little Black Bird Book |year=1980 |publisher=Butler & Tanner Ltd |location=Frome & London |isbn=0-413-47820-3 |oclc=8960462]

Birding, birdwatching and twitching

The term birdwatching was first used in 1901 while "bird" was introduced as a verb in 1918. [Merriam Webster ] The term "birding" was also used for the practice of "fowling" or hunting with firearms as in Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (1602) "She laments sir... her husband goes this morning a-birding". [Moss 2004:33] Birding and birdwatching are today used interchangeably. They are both used to refer to people who observe birds for pleasure.

The term "twitcher" was however reserved for those who travelled long distances just to see a rare bird that would be "ticked" off on a "list". The usage of the term "twitcher" began in the 1950s originating from a phrase used to describe the nervous behaviour of Howard Medhurst, a British birdwatcher. Prior to that the term used for those who chased rarities was "pot-hunter", "tally-hunter", "tick-hunter" or "tick-hunter". The practice of travelling long distances to spot rarities was aided by the rising popularity of cars. [Moss 2004:265]

The goal of twitching is often to accumulate species on one's lists. Some birders engage in competition with one another to accumulate the longest species list. The act of the pursuit itself is referred to as a "twitch" or a "chase". A rare bird that stays put long enough for people to see it is called "twitchable" or "chaseable". [cite book|author=Dooley, Sean|year=2007|title=Anoraks to Zitting Cisticola|publisher=Allen & Unwin|isbn=9781741752724|oclc=174092376]

Twitching is highly developed in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Finland and Sweden. The smaller regional size of these countries make it possible to quickly travel inside their borders with relative ease. The most popular twitches in the UK have drawn large crowds, such as a group of approximately 5,000 people who came to view a Golden-winged Warbler in Kent. Twitchers have developed their own vocabulary. For example, a twitcher who fails to see a rare bird has "dipped out"; if other twitchers do see the bird, he may feel "gripped off". "Suppression" is the act of concealing news of a rare bird from other twitchers.

The history of birding

The early interest in observing birds for their aesthetic rather than utilitarian (mainly food) value is traced to the late-1700s in the works of Gilbert White, Thomas Bewick, George Montagu and John Clare. [Moss 2004:10] Although the study of birds and natural history became fashionable in Britain during the Victorian Era, it was mainly collection oriented with eggs and later skins being the artefacts of interest. Wealthy collectors made use of their contacts in the colonies to obtain specimens from around the world. It was only in the late 1800s that the call for bird protection began leading to the rising popularity of observations on living birds. The Audubon Society was started to protect birds from the growing trade in feathers in the United States while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds began in Britain. [Moss 2004:72] The term "birdwatching" appeared for the first time as the title of a book "Bird Watching" by Edmund Selous in 1901. [Moss 2004:88] In the US, the identification of birds, once thought possible only by shooting was made possible by the emergence of optics and field identification guides. The earliest field guide in the US was "Birds through an Opera Glass" by Florence Bailey in 1889. [cite book|author=Barrow, Mark|year=1998|title=A Passion for Birds|publisher=Princeton University Press|pages=156–157] Birding in the United States was focused in the early and mid-20th century in the eastern seaboard region, and was influenced by the works of Roger Tory Peterson and Ludlow Griscom.

The organization and networking of those interested in birds began through organizations like the Audubon Society that was against the killing of birds and the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). The rising popularity of the car increased the mobility of birdwatchers and this made new locations accessible to those interested in birds. [Moss 2004:104-106] Networks of birdwatchers in the UK began to form in the late 1930s under the British Trust for Ornithology. The BTO saw the potential to produce scientific results through the networks, unlike the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds (RSPB) which like the Audubon Society originated from the bird protection movement. [cite journal|author=Macdonald, H.|year=2002|title=What makes you a scientist is the way you look at things: ornithology and the observer 1930–1955|journal=Studies in History & Philosophy of Biological & Biomedical Sciences|volume=33|issue=1|pages=53|doi=10.1016/S1369-8486(01)00034-6] Like the AOU in the US, the BOU had a focus mainly in collection based taxonomy. The BOU changed focus to ecology and behaviour only in the 1940s. [cite journal|title=The Ibis: Transformations in a Twentieth Century British Natural History Journal|author=Johnson, Kristin|journal=Journal of the History of Biology|volume=37|issue=3|year=2004|pages=515–555|doi=10.1007/s10739-004-1499-3] The BTO movement towards 'organized birdwatching', was opposed by the RSPB which claimed that the 'scientification' of the pastime was 'undesirable'. This stand was to change only in 1936 when the RSPB was taken over by Tom Harrisson and others. Harrisson was instrumental in the organization of pioneering surveys of the Great Crested Grebe. [Moss 2004:128]

Increased mobility of birdwatchers ensured that books like "Where to watch birds" by John Gooders became best-sellers. [Moss 2004:233-234] By the 1960s air-travel became feasible and long distance holiday destinations opened up and by 1965, Britain's first birding tour company, "Ornitholidays" was started by Lawrence Holloway. [Moss 2004:234-235] Travelling far away also led to problems in name usage, British birds like "Wheatear", "Heron" and "Swallow" needed adjectives to differentiate them in places where there were several related species. [Moss 2004:250] The need for global guides to birds became more relevant and one of the biggest projects that began was the "Handbook of the Birds of the World" which started in the 1990s with Josep del Hoyo a country doctor in Catalonia, Jordi Sargatal and ornithologist Andy Elliott. [Moss 2004:252-253]

The falling cost of air-travel made flying to remote birding destinations a possibility for a large number of people towards the 1980s.

Growth and economics

In the 1900s most of the birding activity in the US was on the east coast. The publication of Roger Tory Peterson's field guide in 1934 led to the initial increase in birding. Binoculars became more easily available after World War II. The 2000 publication of "The Sibley Guide to Birds" sold 500,000 copies by 2002. [cite journal|author=Cordell, H. Ken; Herbert, Nancy G.|title=The Popularity of Birding is Still Growing|year=2002|journal=Birding|pages=54–61|url=|format=PDF] but it was found that the number of birdwatchers rose but there appeared to be a drop in birdwatching in the backyard.cite book|author=Pullis La Rouche, G.|year=2003|title=Birding in the United States: a demographic and economic analysis. Addendum to the 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. Report 2001-1.|publisher=U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arlington, Virginia|url=|format=PDF]

About 4% of Americans were interested in birding In the 1970s and in the mid 1980s at least 11% were found to watch birds at least 20 days of the year. Kellert An estimate of 61 million birders was made in the late 1980s. Leary The income level of birders has been found to be well above average. [cite book|author=Kerlinger, P.|year=1993|title=Birding economics and birder demographics studies as conservation tools in "Proc. Status and Managem. of Neotrop. Migr. Birds. eds. D. Finch and P. Stangel"|publisher=Rocky Mntn For. and Range Exper. Station, Fort Collins, CO. USDA For. Serv. Gen. Tech. Rept. RM-229|pages=32–38|url=|format=PDF]

American birders were estimated to have spent as much as USD 32 billion in 2001. The spending is on the rise around the world. Kuşcenneti National Park (KNP) at Lake Manyas, a Ramsar site in Turkey was estimated to attract birders who spent as much as 103,320,074 USD annually. [cite journal|author=Gürlük, S., & Rehber, E.|year=2008|title=A travel cost study to estimate recreational value for a bird refuge at Lake Manyas, Turkey|journal=Journal of Environmental Management|volume=88|issue=4|pages=1350–1360|doi=10.1016/j.jenvman.2007.07.017] Guided bird tours have become a major business with at least 127 companies offering tours worldwide. An average trip to a less-developed country costs $4000 per person and includes about 12 participants for each of 150 trips a year. It has been suggested that this economic potential needs to be tapped for conservation. [cite journal|author=Sekercioglu, C.H.|year=2003|title=Conservation through commodification|journal=Birding|volume=35|issue=4|pages=394–402 |url=|format=PDF]


Most birdwatchers will keep an eye on birds around them at all times but will make specific trips to observe birds fulltime. The most active times of the year for birding in temperate zones are during the spring or fall migrations when the greatest variety of birds may be seen. On these occasions, large numbers of birds travel north or south to wintering or nesting locations. Early mornings are typically better as the birds are more active and vocal making them easier to spot.

Certain locations such as the local patch of forest, wetland and coast may be favoured according to the location and season. Seawatching is a type of birdwatching where observers based at a coastal watch point, such as a headland, watch birds flying over the sea. This is one form of pelagic birding, by which pelagic bird species are viewed. Another way birders view pelagic species is from seagoing vessels.

Weather plays an important role in the occurrence of rare birds. In Britain, suitable wind conditions may lead to drift migration, and an influx of birds from the east. In America, birds caught in the tail-end of a hurricane may be blown inland.cite book |last=Moss |first=Stephen |title=Birds and Weather A Birdwatcher's Guide |year=1995 |publisher=Hamlyn |location=London |isbn=0-600-58679-0 |oclc=33207495]

Many birders take part in censuses of bird populations and migratory patterns which are sometimes specific to individual species. These birders may also count all birds in a given area, as in the Christmas Bird Count or follow carefully designed study protocols. This kind of citizen science can assist in identifying environmental threats to the well-being of birds or, conversely, in assessing outcomes of environmental management initiatives intended to ensure the survival of at-risk species or encourage the breeding of species for aesthetic or ecological reasons. This more scientific side of the hobby is an aspect of ornithology, coordinated in the UK by the British Trust for Ornithology.cite book|year=2003|title=An introduction to birdwatching|publisher=Texas Parks and Wildlife Department|url=|format=PDF]


Twitchers and birders who are keen rarity-seekers will travel long distances to locate new and rare species, intending to add these to their list of personally observed birds. These lists often take the form of a life list, national list, state list, county list, or year list.

Some competitive birding events include:
*Big Day: teams have 24 hours to identify as many species as possible.
*Big Year: like a big day, but contestants are individuals, and need to be prepared to invest a great deal of time and money.
*Big Sit or Big Stay: birders must see birds from a circle of prescribed diameter (eg: 17-foot [Dunne, P. (2007). Big Day Big Stay. Birder's World, 21(5), 18-21. ] ). Once birds are spotted, birders can leave the circle to confirm the identity, but new birds seen may not be counted.

Networking and organization

Prominent national organizations concerned with birding include the British Trust for Ornithology and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the United Kingdom and the National Audubon Society and American Birding Association in the United States. Many state-wide or local Audubon organizations are also quite active in the United States. BirdLife International is an important global alliance of bird conservation organizations. Many countries have "rarities committees" to check, accept or reject reports of rare birds made by birders.

Equipment and technology

Equipment commonly used for birding includes binoculars, a spotting scope with tripod, a notepad, and one or more field guides. Hides or observation towers are often used to conceal the observers from birds, and/or to improve viewing conditions. Over the years optics manufacturers have learned that birding binoculars sell, and virtually all have specific binoculars for just that. Some have even geared their whole brand to birders.


Photography has always been a part of birding, but in the past the cost of good cameras and long lenses made this a minority, often semi-professional, interest. The advent of affordable digital cameras, which can be used in conjunction with binoculars or a telescope (a technique known as digiscoping), have made this a much more widespread aspect of the hobby.

Remote birdwatching

New technologies are allowing birdwatching activities to take place over the Internet, using robotic camera installations and mobile phones set up in remote wildlife areas. Projects such as CONE [] allow users to observe and photograph birds over the web; similarly, robotic cameras set up in largely inhospitable areas are being used to attempt the first photographs of the rare Ivory-billed Woodpecker. These systems represent new technologies in the birdwatcher's toolkit. [cite journal|title=“Well its remote, I suppose, innit?” The relational politics of bird-watching through the CCTV lens|author= Charlotte N. L. Chambers|doi=10.1080/14702540701624568|journal=Scottish Geographical Journal|volume=123|issue=2|year=2007|pages=122–134]


In the early 1950s the only way of communicating new bird sighting was through the postal system and it was generally too late for the recipients to act on the information. In 1953 James Ferguson-Lees began broadcasting rare bird news on the radio in Eric Simms' "Countryside" program but this did not catch on. In the 1960s people began using the telephone and some people became hubs for communication. In the 1970s some cafes, like the one in Cley, Norfolk run by Nancy Gull became centers for meeting and communication. This was replaced by telephone hotline services like "Birdline" and "Bird Information Service". [Moss 2004:267-275]

With the advent of the World-Wide Web, birders have been using the internet to convey information; this can be via mailing lists, forums, bulletin-boards, web-based databases and other media. [cite journal|author=Peter Montague and Maria B. Pellerano|title=Toxicology and environmental digital resources from and for citizen groups|journal=Toxicology|volume=157|issue=1-2|year=2001|pages=77–88|doi=10.1016/S0300-483X(00)00342-5] [cite journal|author=Kaisa Still, Minna Isomursu, Soili Vainamo|year=2005|title=Exploring the integration of community communication technologies: case birdwatchers|journal=International Journal of Web Based Communities|volume=1|issue=3|pages=346–359|doi=10.1504/IJWBC.2005.006932] While most birding lists are geographic in scope, there are special-interest lists that cater to bird-identification, 'twitchers', seabirds and raptor enthusiasts to name but a few. Messages can range from the serious to trivial, notifying others of rarities, questioning the taxonomy or identification of a species, discussing field guides and other resources, asking for advice and guidance, or organizing groups to help save habitats. Occasional postings are mentioned in academic journals and therefore can be a valuable resource for professional and amateur birders alike. [cite book|author=Hailman JP|title=Computer networking in ornithology "in" Computer Networking and Scholarly Communication in the Twenty-first-Century University (Eds. Teresa M. Harrison, Timothy Stephen)|pages=167–175|publisher=SUNY Press|year=1996|isbn=0791428532] [cite book|title=Ecology and Conservation of Owls: Proceedings of the Owls 2000, Canberra, Australia|author=Ian Newton, Rodney Kavanagh, Jerry Olsen, Iain Taylor|publisher=CSIRO Publishing|year=2002|isbn=0643067949|pages=353] One of the oldest, Birdchat [] (based in the US) has probably got the most subscribers, followed by the English-language fork of Eurobirdnet [] , Birding-Aus [] from Australia, SABirdnet [] from South Africa. Orientalbirding [] , India [] .

Code of conduct

As the numbers of birdwatchers increases, there is growing concern about the impact of birdwatching on the birds and their habitat. Birdwatching etiquette is evolving in response to this concern. [cite book|author=Bumstead, Pat|year=2004|title=The Art of Birdwatching|publisher=Simply Wild Publications Inc.|isbn=0-9689278-2-3|oclc=56329274] Some examples of birdwatching etiquette include promoting the welfare of birds and their environment; avoiding stressing the birds by limiting use of photography and playback devices; keeping back from nests and nesting colonies; and respecting private property. [American Birding Association [] ] The lack of definite evidence, except arguably in the form of photographs makes birding records very difficult to prove but birdwatchers strive to build trust in their identification. [cite journal|journal=Qualitative Sociology|title=Take my word for it: Trust in the context of birding and mountaineering|volume=17|issue=3|pages=215–241|year=1994|author=Donnelly, Peter|doi=10.1007/BF02422253] One of the few major disputes is the case of the Hastings Rarities.


Ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen considers birdwatching to be an expression of the male hunting instinct while Simon Baron-Cohen links it with the male tendency for "systemizing". [cite journal|author=Maddox, Bruno|year=2006|title=Blinded by Science: Birding Brains|journal=Discover|volume=27|issue=12|url=|pages=66–67] There have been suggestion that identification of birds may be a form of gaining status which has been compared with "Kula valuables" noted in Papua New Guinean cultures. [Liep, John 2001. Airborne "kula":The appropriation of birds by Danish ornithologists. Anthropology today 17(5):10-15] In a study of the motivations for birdwatching in New York, it was found that males were interested in sharing knowledge while females found it intellectual and challenging. [cite journal|author=Sali, M., Kuehn, D., & Zhang, L.|year=2008|title=Motivations for Male and Female Birdwatchers in New York State|journal=Human Dimensions of Wildlife|volume=13|issue=3|pages=187–200|doi=10.1080/10871200801982795] While, the representation of women has always been low, [Moss 2004:316-330] it has been pointed out that nearly 90% of all American birdwatchers are Caucasians with only a few African Americans. [cite book|author=Robinson, J.C.|year=2005|title=Relative Prevalence of African Americans among Bird Watchers. General Technical Report PSW-GTR-191|publisher= U.S. Department of Agriculture–Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. Albany, Calif.|url=|format=PDF]

Other minority groups have formed organizations to support fellow birders and these include the Gay birders [] and the Disabled Birders Association. [] [Moss 2004:316-330]

The study of birdwatching has been of interest to students of the sociology of science. [cite book|author=Law, J. and Lynch, M.|title=Lists, Field Guides, and the Descriptive Organization of Seeing: Birdwatching as an Exemplary Observational Activity in Representation in Scientific Practice. M. Lynch and S. Woolgar (eds.)|publisher=Cambridge: MIT Press|year=1990|pages=267–299]

Famous birders

There are about 10,000 species of bird and only a small number of people have seen more than 7000. Many birdwatchers have spent their entire lives trying to spot all the bird species of the world. [cite book|isbn=1419332996|author=Koeppel, Dan|year=2005|publisher=Hudson Street Publisher|title=To See Every Bird on Earth|oclc=68757783] The first person who started this is said to be Stuart Keith. [Moss 2004:261] Some birders have been known to go great lengths and many have lost their lives in the process. Phoebe Snetsinger spent her family inheritance travelling to various parts of the world while suffering from a malignant melanoma, surviving an attack and rape in New Guinea before dying in a road accident in Madagascar. [cite book|title=Birding on Borrowed Time|author=Phoebe Snetsinger|publisher=American Birding Association|year=2003] She saw as many as 8400 species. The birdwatcher David Hunt who was leading a bird tour in Corbett National Park was killed by a tiger in February 1985. [cite book|title=Through the Tiger's Eyes: A Chronicle of India's Wildlife|author=Stanley Breeden, Belinda Wright|publisher=Ten Speed Press|year=1997|isbn=0898158478|pages=173] [cite book|title=Confessions of a Scilly Birdman|author=David Hunt|publisher=Croom Helm|isbn=0709937245|year=1985|oclc=12080015|unused_data=|year-1985] In 1971 Ted Parker travelled around the United States and saw 626 species in a year. This record was beaten by Kenn Kaufman in 1973 who travelled 69,000 miles and saw 671 species and spent less than a thousand dollars. [Moss 2004:240-241] Ted Parker was killed in a air-crash in Ecuador. [Moss 2004:242] In 2008 the top life-list was held by Tom Gullick. [cite journal|author=Newton, Scott|year=2008|title=This birding life|journal=Australian Geographic|volume=90|pages=22–23]

Birdwatching literature, field guides and television programs have been popularized by birders like Pete Dunne and Bill Oddie.

ee also

*Butterfly watching
*List of birding journals and magazines
*Notable birding-related books of the 20th Century
*World Series of Birding



* Cocker, Mark (2002) Birders:Tales of a tribe. Grove Press. ISBN 0871138441
* Moss, Stephen (2004) A Bird in the Bush: A social history of birdwatching. Aurum Press. ISBN 1854109936
* Weidensaul, Scott (2007) Of a Feather: A Brief History of Birding. Harcourt, Orlando.

External links

;HistoryA six-part History of Birding Magazine, covering the period 1968-2006, appeared in "Birding" magazine in 2006. This six-part history was broken down as follows:
* [ 1968-1974] [ 1975-1980] [ 1981-1987] [ 1988-1993] [ 1994-2000] [ 2001-2006] ;General
* [ Surfbirds - the World Birding website]
* [ Fatbirder - run by Bo Beolens]
* [ American Bird Conservancy] ;Usenet newsgroups
* [ alt.birdwatching]
* [ uk.rec.birdwatching]

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