Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Birder v.s. Birdwatcher

I know I already posted today but I was reading a post on Wildbird on the Fly, and some of the comments really suprised me. Everyone was placing negative connotations on the phrase 'birder'. When did this come about?
I fully and completely consider myself a birder. I actively watch birds and attempt to I.D. them based off of field marks and vocalizations.That being said, I don't see them as another tick off on some list. In fact I barely keep lists beyond what I keep for my own memory purposes. I am actually interested in observing them and enjoying them. It seems to me like what they're saying is that calling onself a birder automatically implies that one is A) list-obsessed and B) doesn't bird to see the birds, but for the competitive aspect. Not true I say.
It might interest you to learn that Merriam-Webster Dictionary says the two are synonymous, the definition for both being - one who birds. My own definitions would be:
  • Birdwatcher - someone who causally looks at birds when the situation presents itself, but doesn't go on specific trips to see birds, and doesn't necessarily care to identify them. Casual being the opperative word here.
  • Birder - someone who actively seeks out birds, perhaps even chasing a species they care to see, and attempts to I.D. them through field marks and calls. May keep lists, but it isn't required to consider oneself a birder. This term implies more in-depth analysis, studying instead of merely observing.
On the subject of chasing, some people seem to dismiss it as being like twitching in the U.K. - a situation where someone travels to see a specific species, looks at it for a few seconds, ticks it off their list and moves on. Chasing however is not always like that. I have chased "rare" birds to see them because they are life birds for me, so I want to see it, not for the list, but because I have never seen it in my life and I enjoy seeing new species. Also because when a bird shows up someplace it doesn't belong it is a cause for investigation. The "little scientist" in me goes to work, questioning the situation that may have caused that bird to wander off course. It is a matter of interest, not listing that drives me.
Another thing, why is listing bad? Keeping trip lists gives you a record of what you saw on a certain date in a certain area. This is great to look back upon and compare the same place from one year to the next to study the trends in bird populations. Not to mention great for the memory, if I didn't keep day lists I wouldn't remember what I saw a week later, let alone years.
Now this is not to say that people don't abuse lists. I have met my fair share of listers and for some, that is how they enjoy birding. To each their own. I am just saying that not all birders are listers, and being dismissed as list-obsessive, and not a true bird enthusiast simply because I used one word instead of another was really suprising to me.
Birdwatcher, birder, call me what you will - I watch birds because I enjoy it. Nuff said.


Scott said...

That surprised me too...around the birding circles I hang out in, it's "birdwatcher" that has the negative connotation to it, representing the stereotypical little old ladies in their backyards enjoying the feeder birds. While on the other hand, "birder" signifies a more macho, more experienced level of person who actively travels, and uses a complex knowledge of identification skills to seek, enjoy, and (yes) twitch birds.

I definitely align myself closely with your definition yourself as a "birder". I like to actively pursue birds, debate identification, and although I don't twitch or hardcore-chase, I enjoy searching for and finding rarities, along with more mundane common birds. I also agree that some lists serve purposes, like trip lists after an overseas/overstates trip, or a long day birding, and I keep a global life-list as well.

I don't however, enjoy or see the point in compulsively compiling county lists, town lists, etc. Not that there's anything really wrong with it...just doesn't seem fun or a good use of time to me.

Leigh said...

exactly. that's interesting about the use of the terms in your area. thanks for sharing =)

Brian said...


Very interesting. Here in Utah it has not come to that yet. I definitely consider myself a birder but I do use the terms interchangably. A twitcher is definitely a different breed of people. I have been birding for, well, let's just say a long time, and "we" referred to those people as listers. I keep a life list and trip lists myself, but I'm like you; I study the bird.

Anonymous said...

-The majorty of birding that I do is roaming around local areas observing and taking primitive notes about the birds I see. The manner in which I observe them depends upon my mood at the time. I might feel a connection with nature one day and watch a Cardinal for 10 minutes before moving on. Other days I might just rush through an area only looking for something new or uncommon. Occasionally I chase a rarity if it's within driving distance. -I have noticed that a lot of birders seem to do a lot of self-analysis about their approach to birding.I also think that birders sometimes take themselves too seriously. After all, we are watching birds not because the world of science is counting on our valuable information but we enjoy it on some level. Most of us are not orthinologists. I will say this for serious listers.-Many of them are more skilled than someone who just birds at their local spots simply because they see more birds. They also have to look at a bird carefully in order to identify field marks so that they can add them to their lists.-I am excluding the select few who have a guide find birds for them and barely look at a bird before ticking it off.-anyhow-I guess that's enough of my rambling.

Leigh said...

glad to have the input. I definitely agree that chasers are often very talented because they need to be to pick out the uncommon from the common. great insight.