What is this fascination so many people have with birds? Why do so many people spend so much money, time and effort observing them? Why do you watch birds? These are questions I’ve been asked more than once.
The answers to these questions are many and varied. People take up birdwatching for a variety of reasons. To begin with, the word watch is not really appropriate since listening is equally important. The term “birding” is more commonly used.
For some the activity seems to be a desire for knowledge, a desire to be able to put names to things they see. Quite often these people can also put names to the trees, flowers and animals. Furthermore, learning to visually identify all the species with their sometimes subtle differences is quite a challenge. Learning to identify birds by their songs is even more challenging and can turn into a life-long pursuit.
Some birders are “listers,” continually trying to see species they haven’t seen before. They will keep a list of birds seen in BC, birds seen in Canada, birds seen in their back yard or birds seen this year, the different lists that people keep seems to be endless. I know one birder who keeps a list of birds seen on TV! This type of birding can at times become more like a competitive sport than a hobby.
Some people take a more scientific approach and are continually collecting data on some aspect of birding. It may be behaviour, habitat preference, causes of decline or a variety of other topics. I have met people who have devoted an entire lifetime to studying a single species and written entire books on that bird.
For some, photography becomes an integral part of the hobby. Photographing birds is not an easy thing to do. Some birds are very small, some won’t sit still, some stay hidden, some stay in the air, some only come out at night, all making this aspect of birding both difficult and frustrating.
Most birders seem to incorporate more than one of these pursuits into their birding. Personally, I have at times done all of these things. Since coming to the Kootenays I have spent many years documenting the distribution and frequency of species to be found here. At the same time, I continue to hone my identification skills, maintain several lists and find more and more excuses to spend money on photography equipment.
So what at first seems to be one hobby, is, in fact many different activities which can satisfy everyone from the hardcore researcher to the person who pursues the hobby from the living room window watching birds at their feeder. It is this wide appeal that makes birding the second most popular outdoor recreational activity in North America. (The first is gardening!)