Explore the Outdoors! - A Guide to Birdwatching

For some people, observing birds in their natural habitat is both a fascinating and educational experience. Frequently, this turns into a hobby or favorite pastime in which people follow, take pictures and even make drawings of these small creatures. This pastime activity is what is called bird watching. Whether bird watching is for education or simple enjoyment, it typically stems from the participants appreciation of the beauty, mannerisms and sounds that are associated with birds. If a person is new to bird watching, he or she will want to understand as much as possible in order to get the most enjoyment from it. 

Bird watching has a history that dates back hundreds of years to the late 1700s. During these early years, the interest in birds was more violent than simple observation and documentation. Typically birds were hunted, mounted or feathered for identification purposes, the feather industry and for collectors. However, in the late 1800s laws to protect and conserve birds were developed and the interest in birds shifted more towards observation, or "watching." The actual use of the word bird watching came in the early 20th century in the form of a book written by Edmund Selous called Bird Watching.

There are several terms associated with bird observation, with birding and bird watching being the two most common. They are often used interchangeably when it comes to people who observe birds in nature and in essence they do mean the same thing. However, when it comes to some bird enthusiasts, the words may indicate different levels of experience or enthusiasm. Bird watching may be considered a title for people who are more casual in their interests and pursuit of avian observation. On the other hand, birding is thought by some to be term for people who are more dedicated, serious or avid in their participation of this pastime. Twitching is another term that is used for bird watching or birding. This however, is different in that it means to pursue and locate birds that are rarely seen. People who participate in twitching will keep extensive lists of rarely sighted birds and will travel long distances and to out-of-the-way locations in efforts to find these birds and check them off their lists. People who go twitching are often referred to as twitchers.

Once a person has some background in terms of bird watching, he or she may be anxious to begin. Prior to getting started however, having the right equipment and even funds may enhance ones experience. When a bird watcher wants to locate and observe more exotic species of birds outside of his or her local area, they will need to have the finances to travel. This can be as inexpensive as driving to the next state or as expensive as flying to another country. As a result, money is a major contributor to how far a person will be able to pursue bird watching as a hobby.

Regardless of where a person goes, he or she will want to carry, at minimum, a notepad, pen and pencil for notes and drawings. Investing in binoculars will allow watchers, or birders, to get close-up views without upsetting and disrupting the birds. Spotting scopes may be necessary for viewing birds at greater distances. These will typically provide over 20X magnification, which is helpful for seeing birds that are in flight, for example. For people who are interested in photographing the birds that they see, a camera is also a necessity. Although film cameras were once the norm, digital cameras are a popular choice as watchers can view their images almost immediately, without waiting for film to develop. Digital cameras can also work with spotting scopes for even greater magnification.

In the world of bird watching, there are several notable individuals who are famous for their contributions or accomplishments in bird watching. One of these famous bird watchers is Roger T. Peterson. He is the author of Field Guide to Birds which was published in 1934. George Stewart Keith is also a famous bird watcher for several reasons. Although he was one of the founders and the first president of the American Birding Association, he was also entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for having seen 4,000 different species of birds in the 1970s. Phoebe Snetsinger is a birdwatcher who is famous for having seen over 8,000 species of birds around the world, which is approximately 85 percent of known species. She began bird watching after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Originally given a year to live after the initial diagnosis, Snetsinger believed bird watching extended her life. When she died in 1999 it was not from cancer, but because of a car accident during a bird watching trip to Madagascar. Pete Winter is another famous birdwatcher who has seen 7,700 species of birds around the world. Both Snetsinger and Winter are from Missouri.

Bird watching is a hobby that allows participants to enjoy the outdoors and indulge their appreciation of birds. Depending on the person, it can be as casual or as serious as desired. Regardless of how serious a person chooses to take his or her observation of birds, it is beneficial to educate themselves about it. By doing so, future and even current birdwatchers can enhance their experience.

The following links contain further information about bird watching.