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The Eco Trek

What Is the Difference Between Birding and Birdwatching?

I’ve always loved birds and recently I’ve been considering taking up birdwatching as a new interest. However, I’m shocked that what I’d thought was a casual hobby for many is actually much more. There are levels of interest in birds that I had no idea about – ranging from mild pleasure to an entire lifestyle consumed by travel, competition, and equipment.

What’s the difference between birding and birdwatching? Although the interest is the same, what separates birding from birdwatching is the level of commitment. Anyone can be a birdwatcher – a birder is an individual who dedicates a great deal of energy and finances to the observation of as many birds as possible in their lifetime.

Wondering where you fit on this broad spectrum? Read on to learn more about the unusual world of the modern birder and see for yourself where your level of interest lies.

What is Birdwatching?

Coined in 1891, the word birdwatching means just that – the peaceful pastime of watching birds. In order to become a birdwatcher, all that’s required is for a person to stop, take a breath and enjoy watching a bird. It’s that simple. So simple in fact, that approximately 48 million people in the United States alone do so on a regular basis.

The majority of these ‘birdwatchers’ harbor only a minor interest in the birds in their neighborhood or surrounding green spaces. Some of them may have even purchased feeders or water features to draw local species to their backyards. And who can blame them? Is there anything more innately peaceful than taking a few moments of your day to sip a cup of coffee and enjoy the song and antics of your local avian friends? The sound of their various calls at twilight and dawn can be a great joy not to mention a source of meditative comfort in our busy world.

A birdwatcher will always allow the bird to come to them. It is a passive pursuit where the watcher can enjoy a few moments of silence while they contemplate nature. Very little equipment is required – in fact some don’t even bother with binoculars.

A birdwatcher may take a few moments to identify the species around their feeder when they have time – but generally, their interest does not go beyond that. They are satisfied with dipping their toe into the sea of birds – maintaining an interest perhaps throughout their lives but never developing that interest into anything else.

Birding: When Interest Becomes an Obsession

It’s passion and obsession with birds as a species that separates the birders from the birdwatchers. Sociologists believe that this unusual branch of the interest is the natural result of the suppression of mankind’s hunting urge.

As a species, we only truly developed when we began to actively hunt in organized packs as opposed to picking at the kills of other animals. Of course, we no longer have to chase prey for days in order to feed our families. Most of us will never know the thrill of hunting and are as far removed from killing our own food as possible. In fact, for many of us, finding a drive-thru is as close as we’ll get to fulfilling our innate predator script. In studying dedicated birders, however, sociologists determined that their incredible drive to ‘catch’ as many birds as they can is directly connected to our Neanderthal ancestors.

Unlike a passive birdwatcher who prefers to allow their bird friends to come to them, a birder is an active predator of sorts. They will leave their homes in order to seek out various species, sometimes traveling across the world to observe and record their chosen birds. They will not think twice about spending their life earnings on plane tickets to the Amazon or the latest extreme zoom lens for their equipment. Whereas a birdwatcher is likely satisfied with whatever pair of binoculars they have on hand, a birder will go into debt in the blink of an eye to purchase whatever equipment they need to ‘capture’ their bird of choice. For most, this means snapping photographs, but for others, it is audio recordings as well. Simply put, they’ll do whatever it takes to add their ‘prey’ to their lists.

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