1. Home
Send to a Friend via Email

Discuss in my forum

Birdwatching or Birding?

It's All About Intensity



Are you a birdwatcher or a birder?


Serious birders are occasionally offended by the term birdwatching, while birdwatchers don't always see the difference between what they do and what birders do when everyone is observing the same bird. So what is the difference between birdwatching and birding, and are you a birdwatcher or a birder?

The People Who Bird

There are many types of people who enjoy birds, but the two most common are birdwatchers and birders. Realistically, the two terms are interchangeable and can be used for anyone who observes and studies birds, no matter what their experience level or the passion they exhibit. Dedicated bird lovers, however, often have strong opinions about how they refer to themselves.

Historically, the term “birdwatching” is older and was first recorded in 1901, while the term “bird” was not used as a verb – as in, to go birding – until 1918. Ever since both terms have been in common use, however, there is debate about which is appropriate for different people who share the same passion for birds. Birding is often the preferred term for individuals who treat the hobby with more intensity and seriousness, though the term birdwatching is more easily recognized by those who are not as involved with the birds. Birding is also considered a more inclusive term, since bird “watching” excludes birding by ear, which can be a key part of the hobby for many individuals.

In general, a birdwatcher, or someone who enjoys birdwatching, treats the hobby with more casualness. While they may enjoy many birds no matter where they are, they are less likely to plan explicit hikes or extensive travel only to see birds. They may spend less money on field equipment such as binoculars or field guides, and they may not take steps to refine their field skills as thoroughly. At the same time, they can enjoy and appreciate the hobby for many years, always learning more about the birds they see and taking steps to attract and feed them in their own backyards.

A birder is a more intense hobbyist. Birders frequently spend more money and are more avid about seeking out new birds. They may travel great distances to see a vagrant bird or attend a birding festival, and they may be more actively involved in the local bird community by leading bird walks, organizing lectures, promoting conservation, or encouraging bird-related events. If they also feed backyard birds, they may do so with homemade recipes or birdseed mixes, or they may promote specific types of food or shelter to attract certain bird species.

Are You a Birdwatcher or a Birder?

How can you tell whether you are a birdwatcher or a birder? You can be whichever you like no matter how you practice this popular hobby, but common guidelines include...


  • Own one or two field guides and won't replace them until they fall apart.
  • Don't mind using older optics or less expensive binoculars.
  • May keep a life list or a yard list but don't usually have multiple records.
  • Enjoy any birds they see on vacation, but don't specifically travel just to see birds.
  • Try to identify birds but aren't upset if they are mistaken; they enjoy the birds anyway.


  • Own several field guides and other bird reference books, and may buy updated editions.
  • Spend more money on optics and may have several different scopes and binoculars.
  • Keep multiple records, including life, yard, trip, season and year lists, and may archive lists from year to year for comparison.
  • Travel extensively to see birds, often visiting bird festivals or arranging birding tours.
  • Take great care to accurately identify birds they see, and are disappointed when they miss a bird that others have identified.

One person can be both a birdwatcher and a birder. Many bird lovers change their style of birding from day to day, some days more casually enjoying their familiar backyard birds, while other days focusing on chasing that new lifer or identifying a unique visitor. What both types have in common, however, is a love of birds that withstands any name rivalry.

Photo – Birder © paulwan8

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.