Monday, July 10, 2006

"Birdwatcher" or "birder"?

Have you come across other folks wearing binoculars and/or providing seed in backyard feeders who say something like "I'm not a birder but..."? I've noticed the phrase in letters to WildBird, too.

That made me wonder: Why do the writers prefer to distance themselves from that word? How does "birder" differ from "birdwatcher" in their personal dictionaries?

My definitions might be considered rather literal. I was under the impression that a birdwatcher enjoys and identifies birds by sight only while a birder also uses sounds to identify the hidden buggers.

Is there more to it than that? Is it the level of activity or the extent of the pursuit of the critters? Is there a value judgment involved with the labels?

Please share your thoughts.


Blogger Rick Wright, said...

Yep. "Birder," a term invented by those fearful of the connotations of the old word "birdwatcher," nowadays carries with it associations of expertise that are accurate in, statistically speaking, only the rarest cases. Your average everyday birder refuses to call him- or herself a birder because it raises expectations, unfairly so.
You wouldn't believe how many of my clients get off the plane and offer as their greeting the disclaimer "We're not really birders"! And of course they are, good birders, most of them; but they are intimidated by the burden the word carries with it.

July 10, 2006 7:44 PM  
Blogger Shawn Kielty said...

I never imagined there was any difference between the two terms, but then ... I am not really a birder.

July 10, 2006 8:22 PM  
Blogger Clare said...

I have personal definitions of the words, and of the two I consider myself a birdwatcher. To me, a birder is someone who puts a lot of stock in lists... life lists, yard lists, ABA lists, big lists etc. While I keep a life list it's not that important to me, I'll not rush off from watching a bird just because someone sees something new.

To me it is a matter of preferance, not so much a value judgment. To each their own.

A few years ago the people I knew that described themselves as birders were somewhat dismisive of the term Birdwatcher and would correct you if you called them one. Now not so much.

July 10, 2006 10:47 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

I've also gotten the impression that "birder" implies a more active pursuit of avifauna than the relaxed, take-what-comes style of a "birdwatcher." Birder just seems more exciting and ambitious, which is probably what turns so many watchers off.

July 11, 2006 8:02 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Thanks, gentlemen, for your thoughts. So if I understand correctly, "birder" generally carries connotations of expertise and listing, while "birdwatcher" conveys a more casual approach. Interesting.

I consider myself a birder (because I use sounds to find and I.D. the boyds) but am not an expert and do not list. Most of my birding takes place during morning dorkwalks, observing and listening to the neighborhood critters, but I still consider myself a birder. Certainly there are others like me?

If we enjoy watching birds, then we're bird-ers, in the same way that folks who enjoy golf or running are golf-ers and run-ners, no?

July 11, 2006 11:31 AM  
Blogger John said...

(Reposting what I tried to post as Blogger was shutting down earlier...)

I understand "birder" to mean someone who actively seeks out birds and keeps records of sightings, with at least a slight hint of list obsession. By actively seeking out birds I mean travelling to specific places to see specific birds or types of birds. "Birdwatcher" would be a more casual observer who looks at birds mostly locally and does not worry too much about seeing new ones. A backyard birder could fall into either category, depending on obsessiveness.

I self-identify as a birder.

July 11, 2006 9:11 PM  
Blogger Leigh said...

I feel like everyone is placing negative connotations on the phrase 'birder'. When did this come about? I fully and completely consider myself a birder. I actively watch birds and attempt to I.D. them based off of field marks and vocalizations.

That being said, I don't see them as another tick off on some list. I barely keep lists beyond what I keep for my own memory purposes. I am actually interested in observing them and enjoying them.
It seems to me like calling onself a birder automatically implies that one is A) list-obsessed and B) doesn't bird to enjoy the birds, but for the competitive aspect. Not true I say. My definitions would be more along the lines of birdwatcher - someone who looks at birds when they present themselves but doesn't go on specific trips to see birds and doesnt care to identify them. Birder - someone who actively seeks out birds, and attempts to I.D. them through field marks and calls. just my opinion.

July 12, 2006 6:50 PM  
Blogger Shawn Kielty said...

I have a life list -- I have made trips specifically to bird. I haven't managed to get to any of the great birding spots in AZ, or even managed to see a Harris hawk, despite having been here for two years. I always have a bird I want to see in a list in my head. I have seen a few rare birds and even listened to birdsongs more than once.

So maybe I am a birder after all. I never thought of a birder as someone so crazy about bird listing or counting or audio ID's. I always just thought of them as someone I might be able to get along with.

I have to admit that it's hard for me to imagine a world where people don't know what a bluebird nestbox looks like. Go figure. What do you mean that you've never spent a week in the desert sun trying to find a Phainopepla? What are you doing with your life? Yeah -- go figure.

I just don't see the difference.

July 13, 2006 1:23 AM  
Blogger Lynne said...

I've always considered myself a backyard birdwatcher. I try to ID birds around me using song and field marks, but mostly I enjoy watching behavior. I keep binos and a field guide in the car and I am always more aware of birds than the rest of my family. I don't really keep lists and the only bird trip I've taken was to see the Great Gray Owls during the last irruption. I am impressed and admitedly a bit intimidated by people who can pick up on field marks and quickly ID birds (birders). I just really enjoy watching birds be birds (birdwatcher).

Amy- I think using your definition, I could call myself a birder. Yes! Come on birdwatchers! We can be birders too!

July 13, 2006 6:47 AM  
Blogger John L. Trapp said...

I grew up in a world in which there were no "birders," only "birdwatchers." Perhaps the greatest field ornithologist of all time, Ludlow Griscom, proudly considered himself a birdwatcher. I trace my first exposure to the term birder with the formation of the American Birding Association in about 1970-1971. I was initially (and still am, to some extent) turned off by the ABA's emphasis on listing. Among the birding elite, a birdwatcher may be viewed with some disdain as someone who is less accomplished or sophisticated in the identification of birds, even though that person may be extremely knowledgeable about the birds of their backyard or neighborhood. I lean more towards the scientific, rather than recreational, study of birds. These days I generally identify myself as a birder (not wanting to be derided as one of those birdwatchers!), though I remain much more interested in watching (and listening) than in mere listing.

July 17, 2006 11:54 AM  

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