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Birdwatching or birding is the observation and study of birds with the naked eye or through a visual enhancement device like binoculars. Birding often involves a significant auditory component, as many bird species are more readily detected and identified by ear than by eye. Most birdwatchers pursue this activity mainly for recreational or social reasons, unlike ornithologists, who engage in the study of birds using more formal scientific methods.

Birding, birdwatching and twitching

The term birdwatching was first used in 1901 while "bird" was introduced as a verb in 1918. The term "birding" was also used for the practice of "fowling" or hunting with firearms as in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602) She laments sir... her husband goes this morning a-birding. The terms 'birding' and 'birdwatching' are today used interchangeably, although many participants prefer 'birding', both because it does not exclude the auditory aspects of enjoying birds, and because it does not have some associated negative connotations.

The term 'twitcher', sometimes misapplied as a synonym for birder, is reserved for those who travel long distances to see a rare bird that would then be "ticked", or checked off, on a list. The usage of the term twitcher began in the 1950s as a phrase used to describe the nervous behaviour of Howard Medhurst, a British birdwatcher. Prior terms for those who chased rarities were "pot-hunter", "tally-hunter", or "tick-hunter". The main goal of twitching is often to accumulate species on one's lists. Some birders engage in competition to accumulate the longest species list. The act of the pursuit itself is referred to as a "twitch" or a "chase". A rare bird that stays put long enough for people to see it is "twitchable" or "chaseable".

Twitching is highly developed in the United Kingdom, the Netherlandsmarker, Denmarkmarker, Irelandmarker, Finlandmarker and Swedenmarker. The size of these countries make it possible to quickly travel inside their borders with relative ease. The most popular twitches in the UK have drawn large crowds; for example, a group of approximately 5,000 people travelled to Kentmarker, Englandmarker, to view a Golden-winged Warbler. Twitchers have developed their own vocabulary. For example, a twitcher who fails to see a rare bird has dipped out; if other twitchers do see the bird, he may feel gripped off. Suppression is the act of concealing news of a rare bird from other twitchers.

The history of birding

The early interest in observing birds for their aesthetic rather than utilitarian (mainly food) value is traced to the late-1700s in the works of Gilbert White, Thomas Bewick, George Montagu and John Clare. Although the study of birds and natural history became fashionable in Britain during the Victorian Era, it was mainly collection oriented with eggs and later skins being the artefacts of interest. Wealthy collectors made use of their contacts in the colonies to obtain specimens from around the world. It was only in the late 1800s that the call for bird protection began leading to the rising popularity of observations on living birds. The Audubon Societymarker was started to protect birds from the growing trade in feathers in the United States while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds began in Britain. The term "birdwatching" appeared for the first time as the title of a book "Bird Watching" by Edmund Selous in 1901. In North America, the identification of birds, once thought possible only by shooting was made possible by the emergence of optics and field identification guides. The earliest field guide in the US was Birds through an Opera Glass (1889) by Florence Bailey. Birding in North America was focused in the early and mid-20th century in the eastern seaboard region, and was influenced by the works of Ludlow Griscom and later Roger Tory Peterson.

The organization and networking of those interested in birds began through organizations like the Audubon Society that was against the killing of birds and the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). The rising popularity of the car increased the mobility of birdwatchers and this made new locations accessible to those interested in birds. Networks of birdwatchers in the UK began to form in the late 1930s under the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). The BTO saw the potential to produce scientific results through the networks, unlike the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds (RSPB) which like the Audubon Society originated from the bird protection movement. Like the AOU in North America, the BOU had a focus mainly in collection based taxonomy. The BOU changed focus to ecology and behaviour only in the 1940s. The BTO movement towards 'organized birdwatching', was opposed by the RSPB which claimed that the 'scientification' of the pastime was 'undesirable'. This stand was to change only in 1936 when the RSPB was taken over by Tom Harrisson and others. Harrisson was instrumental in the organization of pioneering surveys of the Great Crested Grebe.

Increased mobility of birdwatchers ensured that books like Where to watch birds by John Gooders became best-sellers. By the 1960s air-travel became feasible and long distance holiday destinations opened up and by 1965, Britain's first birding tour company, Ornitholidays was started by Lawrence Holloway. Travelling far away also led to problems in name usage, British birds like "Wheatear", "Heron" and "Swallow" needed adjectives to differentiate them in places where there were several related species. The falling cost of air-travel made flying to remote birding destinations a possibility for a large number of people towards the 1980s. The need for global guides to birds became more relevant and one of the biggest projects that began was the "Handbook of the Birds of the World" which started in the 1990s with Josep del Hoyo a country doctor in Catalonia, Jordi Sargatal and ornithologist Andy Elliott.

Growth and economics



In the 1900s most of the birding activity in North America was on the east coast. The publication of Roger Tory Peterson's field guide in 1934 led to the initial increase in birding. Binoculars became more easily available after World War II. The practice of travelling long distances to see rare bird species was aided by the rising popularity of cars.

The 2000 publication of "The Sibley Guide to Birds" sold 500,000 copies by 2002. but it was found that the number of birdwatchers rose but there appeared to be a drop in birdwatching in the backyard.

About 4% of North Americans were interested in birding In the 1970s and in the mid 1980s at least 11% were found to watch birds at least 20 days of the year. An estimate of 61 million birders was made in the late 1980s. The income level of birders has been found to be well above average.

North American birders were estimated to have spent as much as USD 32 billion in 2001. The spending is on the rise around the world. KuĊŸcenneti National Park (KNP) at Lake Manyas, a Ramsar site in Turkey was estimated to attract birders who spent as much as 103,320,074 USD annually. Guided bird tours have become a major business with at least 127 companies offering tours worldwide. An average trip to a less-developed country costs $4000 per person and includes about 12 participants for each of 150 trips a year. It has been suggested that this economic potential needs to be tapped for conservation.

Activities

Most birdwatchers will keep an eye on birds around them at all times but will make specific trips to observe birds fulltime. The most active times of the year for birding in temperate zones are during the spring or fall migrations when the greatest variety of birds may be seen. On these occasions, large numbers of birds travel north or south to wintering or nesting locations. Early mornings are typically better as the birds are more active and vocal making them easier to spot.

Certain locations such as the local patch of forest, wetland and coast may be favoured according to the location and season. Seawatching is a type of birdwatching where observers based at a coastal watch point, such as a headland, watch birds flying over the sea. This is one form of pelagic birding, by which pelagic bird species are viewed. Another way birders view pelagic species is from seagoing vessels.

Weather plays an important role in the occurrence of rare birds. In Britain, suitable wind conditions may lead to drift migration, and an influx of birds from the east. In North America, birds caught in the tail-end of a hurricane may be blown inland.

Monitoring

Many birders take part in censuses of bird populations and migratory patterns which are sometimes specific to individual species. These birders may also count all birds in a given area, as in the Christmas Bird Count or follow carefully designed study protocols. This kind of citizen science can assist in identifying environmental threats to the well-being of birds or, conversely, in assessing outcomes of environmental management initiatives intended to ensure the survival of at-risk species or encourage the breeding of species for aesthetic or ecological reasons. This more scientific side of the hobby is an aspect of ornithology, coordinated in the UK by the British Trust for Ornithology. In the United States, the Cornell Lab of Ornithologymarker hosts many citizen-science projects to track the number and distribution of bird species across North America. These surveys help scientists note major changes from year to year which may occur as a result of climate change, disease, predation, and other factors.



Competition

Birding as a competitive event is organized in some parts of the world. These are found to be more exciting by some. These competitions encourage individuals or teams to accumulate large numbers of species within a specified time or area with special rules. Some birders will also compete by attempting to increase their life list, national list, state list, provincial list, county list, or year list. There have however been criticisms of such events especially when they are claimed to aid conservation when they may actually mask serious environmental issues.

Competitive birding events include:
  • Big Day: teams have 24 hours to identify as many species as possible.
  • Big Year: like a big day, but contestants are individuals, and need to be prepared to invest a great deal of time and money.
  • Big Sit or Big Stay: birders must see birds from a circle of prescribed diameter (eg: 17-foot). Once birds are spotted, birders can leave the circle to confirm the identity, but new birds seen may not be counted.


Networking and organization

Prominent national and continental organizations concerned with birding include the British Trust for Ornithology and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the United Kingdom, the National Audubon Societymarker in the United States, the Cornell Lab of Ornithologymarker and the American Birding Association in North America (USA and Canada). Many state-wide or local Audubon organizations are also quite active in the United States, as are many provincial and local organizations in Canada. BirdLife International is an important global alliance of bird conservation organizations. Many countries and smaller regions (states/provinces) have "rarities committees" to check, accept or reject reports of rare birds made by birders.

Equipment and technology

Equipment commonly used for birding includes binoculars, a spotting scope with tripod, a notepad, and one or more field guides. Hides or observation towers are often used to conceal the observers from birds, and/or to improve viewing conditions. Over the years optics manufacturers have learned that birding binoculars sell, and virtually all have specific binoculars for just that. Some have even geared their whole brand to birders.

Sound equipment

Recognition of bird calls and noises is an important part of a birder's toolkit. Sound information can assist in the locating, watching, identification and sexing of birds. Recent developments in audio technology have seen recording and reproduction devices shrink in both size and price, making them accessible to a greater portion of the birding community. The non-linear nature of digital audio technology has also made selecting and accessing the required recordings much more flexible than tape-based models. It is now possible to take a recording of every birdcall you are likely to encounter in a given area out into the field stored on a device that will slip into your pocket, and to retrieve calls for playback and comparison in any order you choose.

Photography

Photography has always been a part of birding, but in the past the cost of good cameras and long lenses made this a minority, often semi-professional, interest. The advent of affordable digital cameras, which can be used in conjunction with binoculars or a telescope (a technique known as digiscoping), have made this a much more widespread aspect of the hobby.

Videography

As with the arrival of affordable digital cameras, the development of more compact and affordable digital video cameras has made them more attractive and accessible to the birding community. Cross-over, non-linear digital models now exist that take high quality stills at acceptable resolutions, as well as being able to record and play audio and video. The ability to easily capture and reproduce not only the visual characteristics of a bird, but also its patterns of movement and its sound, has wide applications for birders in the field.

Portable media players

This class of product includes devices that can play (some can also record) a range of digital media, typically video, audio and still image files. Many modern digital cameras, mobile phones, and camcorders can be classified as portable media players. With the ability to store and play large quantities of information, these often pocket-sized devices allow a full birding multimedia library to be taken into the field with a minimum of fuss. In the case of modern mobile phones with browsing capabilities, providing you have reception where you are birding they make possible the accessing and/or transmitting of image, video, and audio information via the internet.

Remote birdwatching

New technologies are allowing birdwatching activities to take place over the Internet, using robotic camera installations and mobile phones set up in remote wildlife areas. Projects such as CONE [26234] allow users to observe and photograph birds over the web; similarly, robotic cameras set up in largely inhospitable areas are being used to attempt the first photographs of the rare Ivory-billed Woodpecker. These systems represent new technologies in the birdwatcher's toolkit.

Communication

In the early 1950s the only way of communicating new bird sighting was through the postal system and it was generally too late for the recipients to act on the information. In 1953 James Ferguson-Lees began broadcasting rare bird news on the radio in Eric Simms' Countryside program but this did not catch on. In the 1960s people began using the telephone and some people became hubs for communication. In the 1970s some cafes, like the one in Cley, Norfolk run by Nancy Gull became centers for meeting and communication. This was replaced by telephone hotline services like "Birdline" and "Bird Information Service".

With the advent of the World-Wide Web, birders have been using the internet to convey information; this can be via mailing list, forums, bulletin-boards, web-based databases and other media. While most birding lists are geographic in scope, there are special-interest lists that cater to bird-identification, 'twitchers', seabirds and raptor enthusiasts to name but a few. Messages can range from the serious to trivial, notifying others of rarities, questioning the taxonomy or identification of a species, discussing field guides and other resources, asking for advice and guidance, or organizing groups to help save habitats. Occasional postings are mentioned in academic journals and therefore can be a valuable resource for professional and amateur birders alike. One of the oldest, Birdchat (based in the US) has probably got the most subscribers, followed by the English-language fork of Eurobirdnet, Birding-Aus from Australia, SABirdnet from South Africa. Orientalbirding, India.

Several websites allow users to submit lists of birds seen, while others collate and produce seasonal statistics, distribution maps.

Code of conduct

As the numbers of birdwatchers increases, there is growing concern about the impact of birdwatching on the birds and their habitat. Birdwatching etiquette is evolving in response to this concern. Some examples of birdwatching etiquette include promoting the welfare of birds and their environment; avoiding stressing the birds by limiting use of photography, pishing and playback devices; keeping back from nests and nesting colonies; and respecting private property. The lack of definite evidence, except arguably in the form of photographs makes birding records very difficult to prove but birdwatchers strive to build trust in their identification. One of the few major disputes is the case of the Hastings Rarities.

Socio-psychology

Ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen considers birdwatching to be an expression of the male hunting instinct while Simon Baron-Cohen links it with the male tendency for "systemizing". There have been suggestion that identification of birds may be a form of gaining status which has been compared with Kula valuables noted in Papua New Guinean cultures. In a study of the motivations for birdwatching in New York, it was found that males were interested in sharing knowledge while females found it intellectual and challenging. While, the representation of women has always been low, it has been pointed out that nearly 90% of all birdwatchers in the United States are Caucasians with only a few African Americans.

Other minority groups have formed organizations to support fellow birders and these include the Gay birders and the Disabled Birders Association.

The study of birdwatching has been of interest to students of the sociology of science.

Famous birders

There are about 10,000 species of bird and only a small number of people have seen more than 7000. Many birdwatchers have spent their entire lives trying to spot all the bird species of the world. The first person who started this is said to be Stuart Keith. Some birders have been known to go great lengths and many have lost their lives in the process. Phoebe Snetsinger spent her family inheritance travelling to various parts of the world while suffering from a malignant melanoma, surviving an attack and rape in New Guinea before dying in a road accident in Madagascar. She saw as many as 8400 species. The birdwatcher David Hunt who was leading a bird tour in Corbett National Parkmarker was killed by a tiger in February 1985. In 1971 Ted Parker travelled around North America and saw 626 species in a year. This record was beaten by Kenn Kaufman in 1973 who travelled 69,000 miles and saw 671 species and spent less than a thousand dollars. Ted Parker was killed in an air-crash in Ecuador. In 2008 the top life-list was held by Tom Gullick, an Englishman who lives in Spain.

Birdwatching literature, field guides and television programs have been popularized by birders like Pete Dunne and Bill Oddie.

See also



References

  1. Merriam Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/birding
  2. Moss 2004:33
  3. Moss 2004:10
  4. Moss 2004:72
  5. Moss 2004:88
  6. Moss 2004:104-106
  7. Moss 2004:128
  8. Moss 2004:233-234
  9. Moss 2004:234-235
  10. Moss 2004:250
  11. Moss 2004:252-253
  12. Moss 2004:265
  13. Schaffner, Spencer (2009). Environmental Sporting: Birding at Superfund Sites, Landfills, and Sewage Ponds. Journal of Sport and Social Issues 33:206-229
  14. Dunne, P. (2007). Big Day Big Stay. Birder's World, 21(5), 18-21.
  15. Moss 2004:267-275
  16. http://www.k-state.edu/audubon/chatguidelines.html
  17. http://physis.pnw.fi/mailman/listinfo/ebn
  18. http://www.shc.melb.catholic.edu.au/home/birding/index.html
  19. http://lists.nu.ac.za/mailman/listinfo/sabirdnet
  20. http://www.orientalbirdclub.org/news/emailgroups.html
  21. https://lists.princeton.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A0=nathistory-india
  22. Birds & Birdwatching http://bird.ly
  23. http://www.avianknowledge.net/content/
  24. http://www.worldbirds.org
  25. http://www.birdpost.com
  26. http://www.birdstack.com
  27. http://www.globaltwitcher.com
  28. American Birding Association ABA ethics
  29. Liep, John 2001. Airborne kula:The appropriation of birds by Danish ornithologists. Anthropology today 17(5):10-15
  30. Moss 2004:316-330
  31. http://www.gbc-online.org.uk/
  32. http://www.disabledbirdersassociation.co.uk/
  33. Moss 2004:261
  34. Moss 2004:240-241
  35. Moss 2004:242


Books

  • Cocker, Mark (2002) Birders:Tales of a tribe. Grove Press. ISBN 0871138441
  • Moss, Stephen (2004) A Bird in the Bush: A social history of birdwatching. Aurum Press. ISBN 1854109936
  • Weidensaul, Scott (2007) Of a Feather: A Brief History of Birding. Harcourt, Orlando.


External links

History
A six-part History of Birding Magazine, covering the period 1968-2006, appeared in Birding magazine in 2006. This six-part history was broken down as follows:
General


Usenet newsgroups



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