- Bird-watching, General

Birding 101: The Amateur Birder

Are you interested in becoming a birder? Here is my perspective as an amateur birder and perhaps even some tips to consider when exploring this diverse and interesting hobby.

First off, what is it? How do we define it? What is a birder, birding, and bird-watching? Birders are people, professional or amateur, that go searching for birds. Birding is the hobby itself and consists of making lists of birds, studying them, and other general activities surrounding our feathered friends. A bird-watcher, on the other hand, is someone who watches birds for any reason. It has been said that you should never refer to a birder as a “bird-watcher.” It seems almost an insult I would imagine, to a serious birder. Birders aren’t “just” watching. Birders have a goal in mind and are only satisfied when they meet that objective.

I have recently proclaimed myself to be an amateur birder. I feel that birders are patient people and I’d like to cultivate more of that trait into my own existence. I also feel that birding is a rather relaxing hobby and drives us to spend more time in nature where peace is in ample supply. In short, my first goal as a birder, is to experience more of the natural world around me.

As a birder, I do not watch and wait. I choose to walk and listen. I am actively searching for birds in my yard and waiting for the perfect photo opportunity and the perfect moment where I can capture a bit of nature with my camera lens. My eyes are typically up and scanning the trees. I walk slowly and listen and keep an eye out for movement. I also typically am drawn to their song or call. Keep in mind, you’ll typically hear a bird before you see them. I have also found that if you walk toward them slowly and then stand and wait, the bird will move closer to you. Perhaps because you are not acting in a dangerous or threatening manner.

Once you decide to go in search of birds, you should then decide on what the end result is you’re looking to achieve. Why do you want to become a birder? Are you looking to capture a moment with your lens? Are you interested in seeing a bird whether with your own naked eyes or through the eyes of a set of binoculars? Are you interested in hearing their call and knowing what type of bird makes such chirps or chitters? Are you interesting in cataloguing birds and creating a “life list,” meaning a list of the birds you have seen in your lifetime complete with the date and location of each sighting?

I feel a “true” birder is in it, just for the birds. To see them, to hear their call, to experience them in nature and then to go home content that they saw something that is now a part of them forever. I, on the other hand, am driven by the “perfect” shot. I do not want to simply see them; I want to capture the moment.

Perhaps I am deluded in this thinking and lack the true essence of birding? Although recently I announced a birding rule that I created for myself and even publicly announced in my social circles. If I see something neat and I do not have my cellphone in hand to capture the moment, I should just enjoy the moment. Simple as that!

This came about because I was recently in my home and walking by my bedroom window and low and behold a beautiful hawk swooped down and landed just outside! In my excitement to “capture” the moment, I lost the ability to appreciate the moment. I left to grab my phone and when I returned, the bird was gone. Nowhere to be seen.

In summary, being a birder has various levels of involvement and engagement suitable for any level of interest. I do recommend keeping your objective in mind as you explore this wonderful hobby. Birds are fascinating in a myriad number of ways and will keep you coming back to learn, see, and experience more of what they have to offer as a species. I am thoroughly enjoying my journey as a birder, and I think you will too. Happy birding!