Defining Birders – Same Love, Different Goals
Bird watchers, birders, twitchers: they may all love birds, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. Within birding, birders can be split up into several categories depending on the reasons and ways in which they bird. Not all groups of birders see eye to eye a lot of the time, with more passive bird watchers often having a negative view of the competitive twitchers and those who are heavily focused on listing. All twitchers are birders, but not all birders are twitchers.
It is important to remember that no particular group of birders is superior to the other, and one should not judge another group simply because their intentions and goals in birding to not align with your own. Sure, you may not understand it, it may even confuse you a little. However, it is important to respect every birder who respects birds, and that is after all the most important aspect, regardless of which group you fall under.
In the eyes of many, more purist bird watchers; it is a strange concept to travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometers to spend 5 seconds looking at a bird. While to listers, they often hear of individuals who have travelled across the subregion birding, but have never proactively listed, or sought to target particular birds in the areas they have visited. It is not uncommon for shaming to even take place between certain groups of birders, with some using the word “twitcher” as a derogatory term, as though one should be offended when called it. Of course, to a twitcher, there is no shame in the title and it is something that is worn proudly.
Bird watchers are the most passive, and one could say ‘pure’ of the birding group. Their intentions lie solely in seeing and experiencing a bird. Their interest is birds is based solely of adoration and lacks the same adrenaline that comes with other forms of birding. Bird watchers will be content sitting at a garden feeder for several hours without the concept of a rare bird ever crossing their mind during that period.
Bird watchers tend to be slightly older individuals, when compared with twitchers, who have a much larger youth (under 30) following than bird watching typically does. A larger number of bird club members in Southern Africa fall under this category.
Birder is a blanket term which can be used to describe anyone with an active interest in wild birds. Including but not limited to listers, twitchers or bird watchers. Bird photographers are another group of birders, who fall under the bracket of birders in most situations, but don’t always fall in line with the definitions of twitchers, listers or bird watchers. While bird watching is based heavily on the animal itself, bird photographers will often focus more on ‘getting the shot’ than about experiencing the bird. In many cases however, bird photographers transcend categories and you will find twitchers who also consider themselves to be bird photographers.
While it remains true that a bird watcher can easily fall into the category of a birder, for the most part the term birder would suggest someone who is more active in their birding than a bird watcher. For example, bird watchers will often simply enjoy the bird life in a location where they find themselves. Birders however, are still likely to go to places with the specific intent of seeing birds.
Listers often also receive a bad rap from some of the bird watchers. They place heavy value on the listing aspect, keeping track of how many birds they have seen in a variety of geographical break downs. Subregion, Country, Province, City and even their own garden. Listers are often driven by a competitive nature, and will focus heavily on achieving higher listing numbers than others, all while maintaining integrity while doing so.
There is often a notion put forward that listers are too focused on the competitive side and thus their intentions aren’t as pure. However, all individuals who were very list-focused that I have met in the field, have shown nothing but true admiration for birds, as well as in many cases being heavily involved in conservation efforts. While all listers are birders, not all birders are listers.
Twitchers are the most hardcore of birders, for a twitcher it’s often far more of an emotional journey than simple bird watching, or even listing. As a twitcher, you are driven by both competition and adrenaline, the thrill of seeing a special bird that may never be seen in the country again. Being one of the first to see a particular bird in the subregion… For twitchers, they are willing to drop their plans and even call in an emergency sick day to see a bird. For some, not even their own honeymoon could keep them away from a good rarity.
And while again, it may sound like twitcher’s intentions aren’t pure. Rest assured that the majority of twitchers are bird-lovers first, with many focusing heavily on conservation efforts and being involved with local fund raisers.
While you will find that vast majority of twitchers are also listers, there are certainly exceptions.
No One Is Better
No one particular group of birders is better than the other. Birding is a very personal activity, and regardless of what our intentions are when birding, so long as we respect the bird, practicing proper etiquette and think about how our actions in the field play a part in the natural habitat, do not feel ashamed of identifying as a twitcher. Likewise, if you find that listing is your thing, don’t feel as though competition is a bad thing, no matter what the driving factor is, it’s getting you outside to enjoy the birds and in many cases supporting nature reserves in the process. For bird watchers, don’t feel as though you need to become competitive. If passive birding is what makes you most happy, embrace it.