What is Bird Watching

Bird-watching is the practice of seeing and studying wild birds in their natural habitat. Birdwatching, also known as birding, is the practice of viewing birds as a pleasant hobby or as a sort of citizen research. A birdwatcher may observe using their naked eye, a visual enhancing device such as binoculars or a telescope, listening for bird sounds, or via public webcams.

Many bird species are more easily detected and identified by ear than by eye, hence birdwatching frequently includes a strong auditory component. Unlike ornithologists, who study birds using rigorous scientific procedures, most birdwatchers do it for pleasure or social purposes.

Twitching, Birding, and Birdwatching

The phrase “birdwatcher” was first used in 1891 bird was introduced as a verb in 1918.

The term “birding” was also used to describe 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.”Some people use the phrases birding and birdwatching interchangeably nowadays, while some participants prefer birding, partially because it incorporates the auditory components of loving birds.

Many birders in North America distinguish themselves from birdwatchers, and the name “birder” is foreign to most non-birders. The distinction is viewed at the most fundamental level as one of dedication or intensity, however, this is a subjective distinction. In general, self-described birders believe they are more knowledgeable of minutiae such as identification (aural and visual), molt, distribution, migration schedule, and habitat usage. Whereas serious birders may frequently travel particularly in search of birds, other enthusiasts define birdwatchers as having a more limited perspective, perhaps not traveling far from their own yards or local parks to view birds. Indeed, in 1969, Birding magazine published a Birding Glossary that included the following definitions:

Birder. The accepted term for someone who seriously pursues the pastime of birding. It could be professional or amateur.

Birding. A hobby in which people appreciate the challenge of bird study, listing, or other general bird-related hobbies.

Bird-watcher. A rather imprecise word used to describe anyone who watches birds for whatever reason and should not be used to refer to a serious birder.

— Birding, No. 2 (Volume 1)

Twitching is a term used in the United Kingdom to describe “the pursuit of a previously located unusual bird.” In North America, it is more commonly referred to as chasing. The term twitcher, which is frequently used interchangeably with a birder, refers to those who travel considerable distances to observe a rare bird, which is subsequently checked, or counted, on a list. The word was coined in the 1950s to describe the jittery behavior of British birdwatcher Howard Medhurst. [6] Pot-hunter, tally-hunter, and tick-hunter were previous terms for persons who sought out rarities. The primary purpose of twitching is frequently to add species to one’s list. Some birders compete to see who can have the most species on their list. The act of pursuing is referred to as a twitch or a chase. A rare bird that stays long enough for people to notice it can twitch or be chased.

Twitching is particularly popular in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden. Because these countries are small, it is possible to travel through them swiftly and easily. The most popular twitches in the UK have drawn big audiences; for example, nearly 2,500 people traveled to Kent to see a golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera), a North American native.  Twitchers have created their own lexicon. A twitcher who fails to see a rare bird, for example, has dipped out; if other twitchers do spot the bird, he may feel gripped off. The act of keeping news about a rare bird from other twitchers is known as suppression.

Many birders keep a life list, which is a list of all the species they have observed in their lives, generally with data such as date and place. The American Birding Association has strict standards governing how a bird species may be documented and recorded in such a list if it is submitted to the ABA; however, the criteria for the personal recording of these lists are highly subjective. Some birders “count” species identified audibly, while others only record species identified visually. Some people keep a country list, a state list, a county list, a yard list, a year list, or any combination of these lists.

Bird Watching Group

The Origins of Birdwatching

Photographers of bird watching in New South Wales, June 1921, AH Chisholm. The late 18th century works of Gilbert White, Thomas Bewick, George Montagu, and John Clare show an early interest in monitoring birds for their beauty rather than utilitarian (mostly food) value. During the Victorian era, the study of birds, and natural history in general, became increasingly popular in Britain, typically connected with the collection, with eggs and subsequently skins being the items of interest. Rich collectors used their connections in the colonies to obtain specimens from all around the world. Only in the late nineteenth century did the cry for bird protection lead to an increase in the popularity of observations on real birds. The Audubon Society was founded in the United States to protect birds from the expanding feather trade, while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was founded in Britain.

The phrase “bird watching” originally appeared as the title of Edmund Selous’ book “Bird Watching” in 1901.  The advent of optics and field identification guides in North America enabled the identification of birds, which was previously thought to be only attainable via shooting. Birds via an Opera Glass (1889) by Florence Bailey was the first field guide published in the United States.

In the early and mid-twentieth century, birding in North America was concentrated along the eastern seaboard, influenced by the works of Ludlow Griscom and later Roger Tory Peterson. Neltje Blanchan’s Bird Neighbors (1897) was an early birdwatching book that sold over 250,000 copies. It was accompanied by color images of stuffed birds.

The organizing and networking of bird enthusiasts began with organizations such as the Audubon Society, which was anti-bird hunting, and the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU). The increasing use of automobiles enhanced the mobility of birdwatchers, allowing them to visit new sites. In the late 1930s, the British Trust for Ornithology began to build networks of birdwatchers in the United Kingdom (BTO). Unlike the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which, like the Audubon Society, grew out of the bird protection movement, the BTO saw the potential for scientific discoveries to be produced through networks.

Like the AOU in North America, the BOU had a focus mainly on collection-based taxonomy. The BOU changed focus to ecology and behaviour only in the 1940s.[16] 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.

Because of the increased mobility of birdwatchers, books such as Where to Watch Birds by John Gooders became best-sellers. By the 1960s, air travel had become affordable, and long-distance vacation locations had opened up, resulting in the establishment of Britain’s first birding tour company, Ornitholidays, by Lawrence Holloway in 1965. Traveling far away also caused issues with name usage; British birds such as “wheatear,” “heron,” and “swallow” need adjectives to separate them in areas where multiple related species coexisted. As the cost of air travel fell in the 1980s, a great number of people were able to go to remote birding areas. The need for global bird guides grew more apparent, and one of the most significant efforts that began in the 1990s was the Handbook of the Birds of the World, which was initiated by Josep del Hoyo, Jordi Sargatal, David A. Christie, and ornithologist Andy Elliott.

Birdwatching began as a hobby in industrialized countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Since the second half of the twentieth century, a growing number of people in developing countries, such as Ethiopia’s Degua Tembien district, have engaged in this practice. Transnational birding has played a key role in this, as birders in developing nations typically take up the hobby due to the influence of foreign cultures with a birding history. The majority of transnational birders are middle-aged, male, rich, and from Anglophone or Scandinavian countries.

In the 1970s, about 4% of North Americans were interested in birdwatching, and by the mid-1980s, at least 11% were discovered to watch birds at least 20 days a year. In the late 1980s, 61 million birders were estimated. Birders’ income levels have been discovered to be significantly higher than the national average.

By 2002, “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” which was published in 2000, had sold 500,000 copies.The number of birdwatchers increased, although there appeared to be a decrease in backyard birdwatching. According to a survey conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, birders contributed $36 billion to the US economy in 2006, and one-fifth (20%) of all Americans are recognized as birdwatchers.

In 2001, North American birders were projected to have spent up to US$32 billion. Spending is increasing all around the world. The Kuşcenneti National Park (KNP) near Lake Manyas, a Ramsar site in Turkey, is expected to attract birders who spend up to US$103,320,074 per year. Guided bird tours have grown into a big business, with at least 127 businesses conducting excursions all over the world. A typical trip to a less-developed country costs $4000 per person and comprises approximately 12 participants for each of the 150 trips offered each year. It has been argued that this economic potential should be utilized for conservation purposes.

Birdwatching tourism is seen as a subset of nature-based tourism. Bird watching and other niche tourism industries are beneficial in terms of market diversity and minimizing the effects of seasonality in the tourism industry. It is estimated that birding ecotourism provides $41 billion to the US economy each year. The substantial sums made by birdwatching ecotourism have been proposed as a replacement for the tax money generated by birds hunting, which has fallen to its lowest levels in decades. According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 45 million Americans consider themselves birders.

Birding ecotourism businesses also contribute to conservation. Birding Ecotours, which offers both international and domestic vacations, donates at least 10% of its net income to bird conservation and the communities in which it operates. Hardy Boat, another tour operator, has donated $200,000 to Project Puffin, which seeks to protect Puffin populations off the Atlantic Coast.

One of the goals of ecotourism is that birders’ visits to a location will help to improve the local economy, ensuring that nature is respected and maintained. There are both beneficial and harmful effects of birding that have been found. Birds, the environment, local cultures, and the economy have all suffered as a result of the effects. Methods for reducing the negative impact and increasing the value of conservation are being researched.

Birding with Professionals

Bird Observation Activities

Many birders spend their time observing local species (birding in their “local patch”), but they may also travel to other locations to observe birds. The best times of year to go birding in temperate zones are during migrations in the spring and fall, when the largest variety of species can be seen. During these times, significant numbers of birds migrate north or south to wintering or nesting grounds. The birds are more active and loud in the early mornings, making them easier to spot.

Depending on the location and season, certain locations, such as a local patch of forest, marsh, or seaside, may be preferred. Seawatching, sometimes known as pelagic birdwatching, is a sort of birding in which watchers from a coastal watch point, such as a headland, view birds flying over the sea. This is a type of pelagic birdwatching in which pelagic bird species are observed. Birders can also observe pelagic species from seagoing vessels.

The weather has a significant impact on the occurrence of rare birds. In the United Kingdom, favorable wind conditions may result in drift migration and an inflow of birds from the east. Birds caught in the tail end of a hurricane in North America may be blown inland.

A. Monitoring

Birdwatchers may participate in censuses of bird populations and migration patterns, which are occasionally species-specific. These birdwatchers may also count all birds in a given area, like in the Christmas Bird Count, or they may adhere to carefully planned study protocols. This type of citizen science can aid in identifying environmental threats to bird well-being or, conversely, in evaluating the outcomes of environmental management initiatives aimed at ensuring the survival of at-risk species or encouraging the breeding of species for aesthetic or ecological reasons.

This more scientific part of the pastime is an aspect of ornithology, which is overseen in the United Kingdom by the British Trust for Ornithology. Many citizen-science initiatives are run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to track the number and distribution of bird species across North America. These surveys assist scientists in identifying important changes that may occur from year to year as a result of climate change, disease, predation, and other reasons.

B. Education on the Environment

Moroccan kids observe birds at Nador’s lagoon as part of the Spanish Ornithological Society’s environmental education efforts.Birds are an excellent tool for environmental education and awareness due to their accessibility and ubiquity. Birds easily transmit values such as environmental stewardship and the fragility of ecosystems.

C. Competition

Birdwatchers gather in Caerlaverock, Scotland, on June 6, 2007, to observe Britain’s fifth-ever white-tailed lapwing. Birding is organized as a competitive sport in certain parts of the world. Birding competitions urge individuals or teams to collect a great number of species within a set period or region while adhering to strict criteria. Some birdwatchers will also compete to add to their life list, national list, state list, provincial list, county list, or year list. Such events have been chastised, particularly those ostensibly promoting conservation but which may really conceal major environmental difficulties, or where competitive birdwatching entails a lot of driving.

The American Birding Association began as a club for “listers,” but it now serves a far larger audience. Nonetheless, the ABA publishes an official annual report of North American list standings.

Among the competitive birding events are:

The Big Day: is when teams have 24 hours to identify as many species as they can.

Big Year: similar to a big day, but contestants are individuals who must be prepared to devote a significant amount of time and money.

Big Sit or Big Stay: Birdwatchers must observe birds within a circle of a specific circumference (e.g.: 17-foot). Birdwatchers can leave the circle after spotting a bird to confirm its identity, but new birds seen may not be counted.

Bird Watching Professional | Sri Lanka

Technology and Equipment

Birders use a tower conceal to get a better view of the foreground vegetation. Liminka Bay is located south of Oulu, Finland.

Binoculars, a spotting scope with a tripod, a smartphone, a notepad, and one or more field guides are standard pieces of birding equipment. Hides (called blinds in North America) or observation towers are frequently used to protect spectators from birds and/or to improve viewing conditions. Almost every optics manufacturer makes birdwatching binoculars, and some have even devoted their whole brand to birders.

A. Audio Equipment

Recognizing bird vocalizations is an important weapon in a birder’s arsenal. Sound information can help in bird spotting, watching, identification, and sexing. Recent advancements in audio technology have reduced the size and cost of recording and reproduction devices, making them more accessible to a wider range of birders.

Because of the non-linear nature of digital audio technology, selecting and accessing essential recordings is significantly more flexible than in tape-based methods. It is now possible to take a recording of every birdcall you are likely to encounter in a particular

area out into the field and keep it on a device that fits in your pocket, as well as retrieve calls for playback and comparison in whatever sequence you want.

B. Photography

Photography has always been an element of birding, but the cost of cameras with super-telephoto lenses made it a minority, sometimes semi-professional, interest in the past. With the introduction of low-cost digital cameras that can be used in conjunction with a spotting scope or binoculars (using the technique of afocal photography, referred to by the neologism “digiscoping” or sometimes digibinning for binoculars), this has become a much more popular aspect of the hobby.

C. Videography

The advent of more small and affordable digital video cameras, similar to the arrival of affordable digital cameras, has made them more appealing and accessible to the birding community. Cross-over, non-linear digital versions are now available that can capture high-quality still images at acceptable resolutions while also recording and playing audio and video. The capacity to easily capture and duplicate not just a bird’s visual qualities, but also its patterns of movement and sound, has numerous applications for field birders.

D. Media Players on the go

This product category comprises devices that can play (and in some cases record) a variety of digital media, typically video, audio, and still image files. Many current digital cameras, cellphones, and camcorders are portable media players. Pocket-sized devices with the ability to store and play vast amounts of information allow a full birding multimedia library to be taken into the field, and mobile Internet access allows obtaining and transferring information in near real-time.

E. Remote Birdwatching

Birdwatching activities can now take place over the Internet thanks to new technologies such as robotic camera systems and mobile phones placed in isolated wildlife regions. CONE is a project that allows individuals to monitor and photograph birds through the internet; similarly, robotic cameras set up in remote locations are being used to attempt the first images of the uncommon ivory-billed woodpecker. These systems are new additions to the birdwatcher’s toolbox.

F. Communication

The only means to communicate new bird sightings in the early 1950s was through the mail system, and it was usually too late for the recipients to act on the information. James Ferguson-Lees began broadcasting uncommon bird news on the radio in Eric Simms’ Countryside program in 1953, but it did not catch on. Persons began utilizing the telephone in the 1960s, and some people became communication hubs. In the 1970s, several cafes, such as Nancy Gull’s in Cley, Norfolk, were gathering and communication hubs. Telephone hotline services such as “Birdline” and “Bird Information Service” have mostly supplanted this.

Birders have been utilizing the Internet to communicate information since the emergence of the World Wide Web, whether through mailing lists, forums, bulletin boards, web-based databases, or other media.  While most birding lists are geographical in nature, there are special-interest lists for bird-identification, ‘twitchers,’ seabirds, and raptor aficionados, to name a few. Messages might range from the serious to the frivolous, informing others of rare occurrences, challenging the taxonomy or identification of a species, discussing field guides and other resources, seeking advice and guidance, or creating organizations to help save ecosystems. Occasional postings are noted in academic papers, making them a significant resource for both professional and amateur birders. Birdchat (located in the United States) is one of the oldest, with the most subscribers, followed by the English-language fork of Eurobirdnet, Birding-Aus from Australia, SABirdnet from South Africa, and Orientalbirding.

Birding Sanctuary - Sri Lanka
Professional Bird Watching Trip in Sri Lanka

G. Code of Ethics

There is rising worry about the impact of birdwatching on birds and their environment as the number of birdwatchers grows. In response to this worry, birdwatching etiquette is changing. Birdwatching etiquette includes promoting the health of birds and their surroundings, restricting the use of photography, pishing, and playback equipment to reduce stress on birds, keeping a safe distance from nests and nesting colonies, and respecting private property. Birding records are difficult to confirm due to a lack of concrete evidence, unless possibly in the form of images, yet birdwatchers seek to create trust in their identification. The matter of the Hastings Rarities was one of the few important disagreements.


Birdwatching, according to ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen, is an expression of the male hunting impulse, whereas Simon Baron-Cohen associates it with a male inclination for “systemizing.” There have been speculations that bird identification may be a way of attaining status, similar to Kula treasures seen in Papua New Guinean communities.

A study of male and female birdwatching motivations in New York concluded that initial motivations were largely similar, but active male birders are more motivated by “sharing knowledge” with others, and active female birders are more motivated by their “intellectual” interest in studying birds, as well as the “challenge” of identifying new and rare birds and improving their skills.

Another study found that males favor competitive birdwatching while females prefer recreational birdwatching. While women have historically had a low representation, it has been noted that approximately 90% of all birdwatchers in the United States are white, with only a few African Americans. Other minority groups, such as the Gay Birders Club and the Disabled Birders Association, have founded organizations to help fellow birders. Students of science sociology have been drawn to the study of birdwatching.

Bird Watching Girl
Bird Watching Beginner

Famous Birdwatchers

Many birdwatchers have dedicated their lives to seeing all of the world’s bird species. Stuart Keith is considered to be the first to start this.

Some birders have been known to go to tremendous lengths, and many have died as a result. Phoebe Snetsinger traveled the world while suffering from malignant melanoma, surviving an attack and rape in New Guinea before dying in a traffic accident in Madagascar. She saw up to 8,400 different species.

In February 1985, a tiger killed birdwatcher David Hunt as he was leading a bird tour in Corbett National Park. Ted Parker traveled across North America in 1971 and saw 626 species in a year. Kenn Kaufman broke this record in 1973 by traveling 69,000 miles, seeing 671 species, and spending less than a thousand dollars. Ted Parker died in an airplane disaster in Ecuador.

Tom Gullick, an Englishman living in Spain, became the first birdwatcher to record over 9,000 species in 2012. Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, two British birders, quit their jobs, sold their home, and threw everything they owned into a year-long global birdwatching journey, about which they authored a book called The Biggest Twitch. On October 31, 2008, they recorded their 4431st species. Noah Strycker surpassed Davies and Miller with 6,042 species recorded in 2015. Arjan Dwarshuis set the world record for the most species spotted in a single year in 2016. Dwarshuis recorded 6852 bird species in 40 countries.

Birders such as Pete Dunne and Bill Oddie have promoted birdwatching literature, field guides, and television programs.


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