“Birding is hunting without killing, preying without punishing and collecting without clogging your home” - Mark Obmascik*1

 

The sheer joy of birdwatching (or birding) can be hard to explain to those who do not pursue it. In its simplest form, it is a celebration of nature. For many, it is the complete unpredictability of birding that makes it attractive. You can go out with a basic idea of what birds you might see, but you will almost certainly come back having witnessed something you did not expect to. You may chance upon an unusual bird species for the area, a familiar bird wearing an unusual plumage or exhibiting behaviour you have not seen before. Yes, the swallows leave in the autumn and return in the spring but year-to-year their arrival and departure dates will differ. They may have a good breeding season or completely fail. 

For some, birding is all about little discoveries: what is the date of your earliest Swift back from Africa for the summer? What is the biggest Oystercatcher flock recorded on the local beach? How close do Sparrowhawk breed to your house? For others it´s an expression of their primal hunting instinct: stalking the bird, using fieldcraft to make themselves near invisible, then (rather than killing the bird) achieving that perfect view or dream photo. For others it is the chase of rare and unusual species. Everyone considering themselves as birders or birdwatchers have an admiration for nature and a desire to see more, to understand more and to experience more. Birding is both connectedness and exploration.

*1(Obmascik, M.,The Big Year, 1 New York, Free Press, 2004)

Swift  (Photo: James O'Neill)

Swift (Photo: James O'Neill)

When we use the term “hobby” to describe birding, it is selling short the community of people who make learning about the identification, movements and behaviour of birds their life. Perhaps “counter-culture” or “tribe” is a more appropriate term. Better still: it is a lifestyle. Birding for many is a passion that extends far beyond hobby or pastime.

Worldwide birding is so large; it really does have its own culture. Many will describe it like being in one giant friendly club. It is quite normal to turn to a stranger next to you in the bird hide and strike up a pleasant conversation. “Anything good?” or “is it showing?” are universally understood questions within the birding community. Binoculars or a telescope are like ID badges, identifying yourself to other birders.

A 2011 study in the United States found there to be 47 million Americans who identified themselves as “birdwatchers”. To be counted as a birder in this study, an individual must have either “1) taken a trip one mile or more from home for the primary purpose of observing birds or 2) closely observed or tried to identify birds around the home”. 18 million (38%) fell into the first category, arguably the more “birder-ish” of the criteria. The figure is likely to be higher, since teenagers under 16 were not counted and the survey did not reach every citizen*2. 18 million was the figure of birders that were estimated to travel away from home within the U.S at least once annually.

In the UK, birding is a seriously popular pastime, or rather lifestyle. Within the UK, a national survey of 36,000 people in the UK April 2014 - March 2015 found 7.8 million people to have “an interest” in bird watching, 3.7 million said they went birdwatching occasionally and 1.9 million go birdwatching regularly (Sleight, A., Bird Watching Magazine, pers. comms., 2015)

It is rather hard to give a very accurate estimate of the number of birders in a country, as it varies a lot how formally the birding communities are organised. In the UK the number of people who support charities is high, and who consider themselves either to be birders, birdwatchers or keen nature enthusiasts. Most famous in the birding world is the RSPB or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The RSPB has over 1300 employees, 18 000 volunteers and more than 1.1 million members (including 195 000 youth members), making it the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe. The RSPB has many local groups and maintains 200 nature reserves.

In membership terms the RPSB is closely followed by The Wildlife Trusts, an organisation made up of 47 local Wildlife Trusts in the United Kingdom. The Wildlife Trusts, between them, look after around 2300 nature reserves covering more than 90 000 hectares. As of 2011 they have a combined membership of over 800 000 members. However many of these members are not necessarily dedicated birders. Many will be of the “lighter” category of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.

*2(Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2013)

Twitching (usually only done by very keen birders) is also very big within the British birding community. The British Isles are well placed to receive wind-blown vagrant birds from both the Far East of Asia, the Eastern Seaboard of America and practically everywhere in between. Of the approximately 600 bird species recorded in Britain, many are species which have occurred fleetingly, sometimes in numbers of less than 10 per year. When discovered, a rare bird may spark a twitch, generally attracting more birders the rarer it is. One of the most famous twitches in British birding history took place in February 1989 in Kent after a Golden-winged Warbler, an incredibly rare (and very lost) species that should have been in Central or South America for the winter, not a car park in the south of England. Thousands of British birders came to see it feeding in the bushes, and at one point the road was so crowded the local bus could not pass through!*3

*3(Loseby, T., pers. comms. 2015)

 

The birding world has become so large and well-connected internationally that there are a number of birding “trade-shows” held every year across the world. Largest of all is The British Birdwatching Fair (more commonly called The Birdfair) held annually in Britain at Rutland Water since 1989. The Birdfair goes one step further than being a place for companies and charities to exhibit themselves. It lays on back-to-back lectures and entertainment features, guided walks and bird ringing demonstrations. Its popularity has exploded and The Birdfair now hosts 25 000 visitors and over 400 exhibitors annually*4.The aim of most of these “trade shows” is to bring people together to go birding and celebrate a certain area. The Eilat Bird Festival champions all things birding in Israel. Participants pay to take part in guided tours around the birding hotspots and evening presentations. In 2014, 215 birders were registered taking part in the festival, with c.4000 birders visiting the area that spring*5. In Ohio, the Biggest Week in American Birding is a 10-day pilgrimage for many birders to THE place in the world to see the colourful North American wood warblers. Guided tours, lectures, ID workshops, birding celebrities and of course, fantastic birding are all part of the programme. The USA is well served with similar events occurring at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (Harlingen, Texas, 2288 visitors 2014*6), Cape May Fall Festival (Cape May, New Jersey, c.1500 visitors 2014*7) and Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival (Florida, c.5340 visitors 2014*8).

Birders' vehicles can give some impression of how passionate they are about the hobby!

Birders' vehicles can give some impression of how passionate they are about the hobby!

As is common in the birding world, these festivals become increasingly niche, with one American bird festival titled the Alaska Hummingbird Festival: celebrating the spring return of the hummingbirds to their state. In Louisiana, the Yellow Rails and Rice festival purely revolves around the harvesting of the rice fields, with birders following the machinery and watching any rails (small secretive waterbirds) that fly out from the crop - particularly the scarcely observed Yellow Rail. These are simple ideas that work extremely well.

With the hundreds of birding festivals around the world it can be hard to know which ones to attend if your primary goal is not to go birding, but rather to meet potential customers and to engage with other birding related businesses. To a large extent you can meet potential customers on any birding festival. The trick however is to be a birder yourself. That makes everything easier. After all, sharing an interest or passion for the topic at hand is what matters if you want to relate to people.

There are hundreds of birding festivals around the globe, but a much smaller selection of “trade shows” or “fairs”. This is where people in the birding business meet, exchange ideas, build relationships, make deals and much more. They are also often attended by a large number of birders who are there to be inspired, learn about new destinations to visit or check out the latest optics or books on birds and nature.

Key trade shows or fairs to visit are (covering the biggest markets today):

 •The Rutland Birdfair (The British Birdwatching Fair): The world’s greatest gathering of birders with 25 000 people attending over a weekend in August.

 • The Scottish Birdfair, still very big with over 6000 people attending over weekend in May.

 • The American Birding Expo, a newcomer to the scene, arranged for the first time in USA in October 2015. This sets out to become The Birdfair of USA. A much needed development, as the US birding scene seems very dispersed in a myriad of smaller festivals and businesses, but until now without a shared space to meet and mingle.

*4(Birdfair History, http://www.birdfair.org.uk/birdfair-history/, 2015)

*5(Meyrav, J., Israel Ornithological Center, pers comms, 2015)

*6(Mahathey, S., Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, pers. comms., 2015)

*7(LaPuma, D., Cape May Bird Observatory, pers. comms., 2015)

*8(Harris, N., Brevard Nature Alliance, pers. comms., 2015)

 

 

The categories of birders

Birdwatcher is an ambiguous term. They may simply look at the birds in their garden. They might take binoculars on walks in the park. They may go on a bird watching walk in nice weather. But apart from that, they do not have the obsession or dedication that birders do. “Birder” is a phrase that became common parlance in the American bird watching scene in the 20th century. Most serious birders now much prefer the term to “birdwatcher”. Birdwatchers will have binoculars, but not necessarily a telescope. Birdwatching is more of a hobby then a serious lifestyle.

Birders are birdwatchers who have made birds their life. They rise at 4am to catch the early bird, they are out in all weathers, they write notes on the birds they see and often record the calls of birds they hear. Free time not spent in the field is used reading books on birding, surfing the internet for the latest papers on bird identification or planning their next trip abroad. They use the term “to bird” as a verb- “Where are you going?” “Birding”. They will have binoculars, a telescope and a camera to document sightings. Birding is a lifestyle. 

Twitchers are birders who chase rare birds. They may travel vast distances to see vagrant birds, to study an unfamiliar species, to add the bird to their list (see glossary) or simply to be part of the birding “event” surrounding this birds occurrence. For twitchers, the thrill of the chase is often as important as seeing the bird. British birder Graham Gordon expresses the cocktail mix of panic and euphoria when a rare bird turns up. In this scenario he is stuck on a boat full of non-birders as he tries to travel to another island to spot a very rare bird that has been blown off-course by hurricanes from North America. “It wasn't just tension, you understand: it was the sheer, unadulterated joy within of being on Scilly when something BIG was happening. I just wouldn't have been able to put it into words for these humans. I needed to be with my own subspecies!”*9. Twitching can be an all-consuming lifestyle. 

Bird / wildlife photographers are often focusing on the creative side of birding, and use a camera to express his or her relationship with nature. However a birdwatcher/birder/twitcher can also fall under the umbrella of bird/wildlife photographer, often using the camera to document his or her finds. There are also people who are bird/wildlife photographers without being birders. There is a growing market for photographers, and they are very often willing to spend a lot of money on achieving their “dream” shot. They are attracted to places which offer the possibility of capturing spectacular wildlife in exciting circumstances. They may be less bothered about seeing rare birds or gathering a long list of species. For example, the White-tailed Eagle is a relatively common bird in Norway but is very popular with photographers. The eagles are impressive looking birds, and offer the possibility of being photographed in a range of scenarios. Bird / wildlife photography related products often offer opportunities to make a business outside of guiding or accommodation. Pay for photo hides are becoming more widely used. 

Active nature enthusiasts
are a very large group of people. They constitute the major bulk of RSPB´s membership. They are often families who are into nature, but not necessarily deeply into birding. They are an important group to cater to as they more often will need and / or benefit from more information and better presentations about nature. A large number of people worldwide will express a deep interest in birds and nature when presented to in a clever or very nice manner. This can be through use of guides, exhibitions in nature centres, nicely designed bird hides and wind shelters. Unlike the keenest birder / birdwatcher fraternity they will often not be actively engaging with the birding community on social media. This is one of the most underestimated benefits of the birders: when treated nicely they are your best PR people, through very active blogging and presence on social media. 

*9(Gordon, G., Days to Remember Northern Waterthrush on St Mary’s, http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=3195 2012)

 

Birding glossary

•Blocker: A twitcher´s term for a very rare bird species that has not been seen in an area for a long time. It has been “blocked” for the twitchers who did not see it before. When one finally turns up again and is seen by more people, it has been “unblocked”… “I was so glad Masked Shrike became unblocked last week!”. 

•Bogey bird: One species that a birder has always had trouble seeing, usually unique to each birder. “Another year and I still didn't see a Red-breasted Flycatcher. It´s become my bogey bird”.

•Dip/dip out: Failing to see a rare bird after attempting to do so. “We tried to twitch the Black Stork but we dipped”.

• Dude: A derogatory name used by birders to describe other birdwatchers who have little knowledge of birds or “all the gear no idea”.

• Jizz: The “feel” of the bird using a combination of movement, shape, behaviour etc. Expert birder can identify a bird in silhouette or from a great distance by its jizz. “At first I wasn't sure, but it moved with that classic Common Sandpiper jizz”

• Lifer: A bird species that the observer has not seen before. “I hope we get Corncrake on this trip. That would be a lifer”.

• List/lister: Listers are birders that keep lists of the birds they see e.g. Life list (every bird you see during your life, sometimes confined to your home country), year list (all the birds you see in a calendar year) with the aim of seeing more (having a longer list) than your fellow listers. Listers often adhere to rules set out by bird listing organisations on what they can and can´t “tick”.

• Patch: An area local to a birder where they regularly go birding.

• Scope/bins: Shorthand for telescope and binoculars.

• String: The act of making up a bird sighting (not mis-identifying). Birders who do this are “stringers”. “Have you seen this report of an Aquatic Warbler? Total string…”.

• Suppress: When a particular rare bird is found but its presence is not broadcast, whether it be for the good of the bird, the refusal of the land owner or the malice of the birder who found it. Birders who do this are suppressors. “I´m so annoyed with those suppressors in Norfolk, I was 10 minutes away from the Black-eared Kite and I had no idea it was there!”.

• Tick: The first time you see a certain species of bird, meaning (if you keep a list) you can “tick” it off. Divided further, for example year tick (first time you've seen the bird this year), country/county/garden tick (first time you've seen the bird within that given area).

• Twitch: When birders descend upon an area due to a sighting of a rare bird. e.g. “the Glaucous-winged Gull in Vardø sparked a big twitch”. People who twitch are called twitchers. They may keep a list of how many rare bird species they see, with the aim of seeing as many as they can. “There was a bunch of twitchers here yesterday ticking the Pacific Eider”.

• Vis-mig / viz-mig: The act of watching birds visibly migrating. There are many specific lookouts birders congregate at during the migration periods to watch this. “The viz-mig was crazy this morning - a thousand Bramblings came through!”.

Birding online

 

The invention of the internet has changed the game for birders. Limitless information can be found on millions of websites: optics equipment can be bought, photos browsed, holidays planned and bird sightings scoured. 

A lot of serious birders run a blog, it is the easiest way to share photographs, news and itineraries from birding trips. The world of birding blogs is wonderfully diverse - they go from the serious to the seriously silly. Most bird observatories have an official blog or website. The Spurn Bird Observatory (http://www.spurnbirdobservatory.co.uk/sightings/) blog list daily the bird species recorded in the area with no personal opinions or narrative. It received an average of 18518 page views a month in 2014, with a high of 31748 views for September (peak autumn bird migration).

Reservoir Cats is a satirical birding blog poking fun at recent news from the birding world. Reservoir Cats (http://reservoircatz.blogspot.no ) publishes news report parodies, for example “RSPB scientists to create new super predator”. The blog Gyr Crakes (the name a play on words of the band Dire Straits, but replaced with bird names) (http://lalarinho.webs.com/gyrcrakes.htm) contains cartoons and famous songs parodied to have birding themes. One song describes the history of British birding to the tune of “We Didn't Start The Fire” by Billy Joel. Another uses only bird names that rhyme with the lyrics from Queen´s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. On Facebook and Tumblr, one American birder creates parodies Bill and Jeff Keane´s The Family Circus cartoons that feature in thousands of newspapers across the world. Birding Family Circus*12 adds humorous captions that really only make sense if you´re a birder. These show that birding is so much more then just a hobby, when people spend their free, unpaid time making others in the birding community smile.

Social media is very popular within the birding community. This is because birders are, on the whole, extremely social. Birders are often not the “lone wolves” seeking solitude, although for many that is a part of it. They love to share news, to debate issues and learn from others. Rarely an unusual bird turns up now without being discussed at length online. The increase in smartphone use has meant a birder can be out in the field and notifying others of any birds they see at the same time.

*12(https://www.facebook.com/BirdingFamilyCircus?fref=ts)

Facebook is still the most widely used social media platform for birders. In the UK most counties or regional areas have their own Facebook group. Wildlife photographers share their images on personal pages. A niche within the niche group like the Facebook group “European Gulls” has 1177 members, purely discussing the identification, moult and distribution of gull species. There is even a car-sharing Facebook group for British twitchers to offer and ask for lifts to rare birds. It has about 250 members.*13 

 

Twitter has become increasingly popular, particularly with British birders. Birders now have a way to share their experiences with other birders instantly. Pre-internet, twitchers would pay a subscription for a rare bird news pager which would alert them to the discovery of rare birds. With Twitter, many rare birds are reported almost instantly and messages can be conveyed in a simple, concise format. 

A few twitter accounts worth following (if you want to get an idea of how the birding twittersphere works):

@Scillypelagics https://twitter.com/Scillypelagics

@_ieuan https://twitter.com/_ieuan

@punkbirders https://twitter.com/punkbirders

@BoyWonderBirder https://twitter.com/BoyWonderBirder

@BirdGuides https://twitter.com/BirdGuides

@MarkAvery https://twitter.com/MarkAvery

@robert_yaxley https://twitter.com/robert_yaxley

@NGBirders https://twitter.com/NGBirders

@nzbirds https://twitter.com/nzbirds

@BirdingBeijing https://twitter.com/BirdingBeijing

@DarrenNWoodhead https://twitter.com/DarrenNWoodhead

@RSPBbirders https://twitter.com/RSPBbirders

@cmbobirds https://twitter.com/cmbobirds

@Finnmarkbirding https://twitter.com/Finnmarkbirding

@TheBirdfair https://twitter.com/TheBirdfair

@KaneBrides https://twitter.com/KaneBrides

@BiotopeOffice https://twitter.com/BiotopeOffice

@_BTO https://twitter.com/_BTO

@birdingetc https://twitter.com/birdingetc

@sepponet https://twitter.com/sepponet

@RareBirdAlert https://twitter.com/RareBirdAlertUK

Most birding organisations have a Facebook and Twitter account, which are loyally subscribed to by a large number of birders. The RSPB has 258 000 Twitter followers of its main account, The Audubon Society´s account has 122 000 followers, BirdLife International has 57 000. On Facebook these organisations have 250 000, 1 073 000 and 300 000 “likes” respectively.*14 

Other social media has not been adopted so readily. Instagram, a platform for sharing photos, is not so widely used by birders. It is more widely used by some wildlife photographers to showcase their images. Others favour sites like Flickr, or even more commonplace have their own photographic websites where images can be displayed in higher resolution. A search on Instagram for the hashtag #birdwatching gave 355,819, #birding gave 217,266 results. The birding side of PinterestTumblrGoogle+ and Vine are relatively non-existent. For wildlife-based tourism companies, promoting themselves via Facebook and Twitter are the most sensible options, and can be engaged with a huge effect. Although as with all social media, being simply on it is not enough; it requires care, a good strategy and passionate engagement. 

On top of social media, there are several online resources for birders to share and gain information. Perhaps the biggest (and most notorious) is BirdForum. Launched in 2002 it currently hosts over 150,000 members who post and comment on a variety of threads (ever-changing but at 28/04/17 the figure was 318,387 threads) from bird ID queries to a discussion about Jackdaws nesting at Stonehenge. Everything bird related can and will be discussed.

*13(figures correct as of 11/09/2015)

*14(all figures correct as of 11/09/2015)

 

A few key online resources:

BirdGuides - Varied web resource for birders, partly operating as a rare bird news provider for subscribers. Also contains photo galleries, past records of rare birds, bird news and articles from rare bird finders. http://www.birdguides.com/home/default.asp 

Rare Bird Alert - Up to date news on rare and scare birds in the UK. http://www.rarebirdalert.co.uk

BirdForum - famous worldwide forum where users can post threads on anything to do with birds. Includes ID help forums, photo galleries and wikipedia-style entries for every bird species and birdwatching site. http://www.birdforum.net

Surfbirds - Contains news, photo galleries and forums where birders can submit their own photographs. http://www.surfbirds.com

Bubo Listing - Resource that allows users to keep track of their various bird lists and compares them in league tables against other birders. Lists can be made to fit various criteria e.g. World list, British list, 2017 year list, etc. http://www.bubo.org

eBird - American-based website where birders from across the world can submit their sightings. Includes features to view sightings of birds in areas and the data submitted is used to create bird migration “forecasts”. http://ebird.org/content/ebird/

BirdTrack - Similar to eBird but based in the UK and run by the BTO, most widely used by UK birders but also has a facility for global data entry. https://app.bto.org/birdtrack/main/data-home.jsp 

Tarsiger - A Finnish site dedicated to recording rare birds within the Western Palearctic (Europe, North Africa and Middle East) and beyond. Includes search features to look up occurrence of individual species, birds on specific dates and specific countries. http://www.tarsiger.com/home/index.php?sp=&lang=eng

Xeno Canto - A huge online database of bird songs and calls from around the world, a useful resource for birders and scientists alike. http://www.xeno-canto.org 

 

By birders, for birders

“By birders, for birders” seems to be the industry standard. The global birding business scene is made up of people who have made their passion their job. This in turn can make it difficult for a non-birder or a non-birding business to relate to the birding scene. This is a good thing. It is a means of securing quality throughout the scene. For example a tour operator specialising in birding tours could not do so successfully without intimate knowledge of birds, birding and birders. In mainstream tourism business you will every now and then be confronted with a product or service of low quality, in the sense that the provider is obviously in it simply for the money. The result can be charging a high price for a low quality product, but coated in a professional packaging (with nice brochures, websites etc.). If you are met with a product of lower quality in the birding world you will more often find that it is the presentation that is of low quality, but the products are often surprisingly good. However throughout the international birding scene there are an amazing number of very high quality businesses, catering to an often very quality minded audience. This ranges from specialised guesthouses, lodges, B&Bs and hotels often run by birders, or people whose interest in nature has become above average. Running a bird tour operator business and being a guide for birders is not something you base on a weekend course in birding. Your guests will expect you to be able to identify any bird in your region, by sight and by sound. Achieving these skills requires years of practice. The international birding scene is big enough to have a huge number of people who are great at both birding and business. The standards are high, but there is always room for more, newer and better. The key is to know your niche.

Birding can be done anywhere. But this does not mean everywhere is desirable for birders. Birders visiting from abroad make the effort to travel in order to see new bird species or have breathtaking wildlife experiences. Within Europe, or even the world, there are popular “must-see” destinations for birders. If you ask a group of birders in Western Europe their top travel destinations and you will hear many repeats, for example Morocco, Turkey and Hungary may high on the wish list, but Luxembourg or Macedonia probably not so much. Becoming a must-visit destination requires great birdlife and unique birding opportunities, and skilled people who can promote it. 

Thanks to readily available information and the desire of birders to see new and exciting birds, you can name a country and a birder will list the top places to go birding there. When you say “Romania”, they picture the Danube Delta, “Finland” gets them thinking about Oulu and Kuusamo; with “Iceland” it’s Mývatn. How do they know this. Online trip reports from other birders, guide books and birding tour operators have all helped to define certain areas as the places to see birds within a country/county/continent. It´s birding branding.

A strong birding brand is important in order to attract birders from across the world. Most often this will be based on a selection of bird species that are characteristic of the destination. For example birding in Finland is characterised by woodpeckers (7 species), owls (up to 10 species) and birds for which Finland is their toehold in Europe, such as Red-flanked Bluetail. While visiting birders will see many more birds than just these, they are the ones that they travel the distance for- these are the target species. You need a certain variety of species, but having iconic species is also important. Finland has become famous for being the best place in the world to see the Great Grey Owl. Similarly, birding in Iceland is characterised by species that are essentially of American or Arctic origin, but their distribution stretches to accessible Iceland. Harlequin Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, breeding Red Phalarope and Gyr Falcon are the main draws.

Harlequin Duck is one of Iceland's key draws for birders, and you can see why...

Harlequin Duck is one of Iceland's key draws for birders, and you can see why...

As previously mentioned birding is a worldwide culture. With that comes much more than just business. There are a wide range of other initiatives that are important. Bird and nature conservation is always very closely linked to the birding scene. There are a wide range of nature reserves, both private and charity owned, that consider it their job to protect and facilitate for nature to thrive, but with centres, shops, guided tours, etc. it is also a business model. 

In Israel, teams from across the world compete in the “Champions of the Flyway”, celebrating the position of Southern Israel as a major bird migration 'Flyway'. The main aim of the event is to raise money to prevent illegal killing of migrant birds across the Mediterranean. The event has really taken off, with teams from the USA, South Africa, China and even a joint Israeli/Palestinian team taking part, showing how birding can bring people together, no matter their background. In 2017, money went to the organisation Doğa Derneği (Birdlife in Turkey) to aid their work in preventing the illegal trapping and killing of migrant birds. The overall winning team is the one which records the most species of birds in the 24 hours. Similar well-known events occur with the World Series of Birding and the American Birding Association´s Christmas Bird Counts in the USA. These events of course also provide great PR for the destinations they are being held in.

Birding is in the literature scene as well, and there are several books that are near-essential reading for birders. American-oriented novels The Big Year by Mark Obmascik and Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman tell the tale of competitive year-listing, where birders travel far and wide to see as many bird species as they can within the USA during one year. Pete Dunne is widely regarded as one of the best “birding writers” out there and his books Golden WingsTales Of A Low Rent Birder, the sequel: More Tales Of A Low Rent Birder contain series of short stories, some true, some fictional, mainly revolving around Cape May Bird Observatory in New Jersey.

Not even popular culture is safe from birders. In 2002, they broke into Hollywood thanks to James Bond 007 himself. In Die Another Day Pierce Brosnan´s character went undercover as a birdwatcher in Cuba (a top birding destination). Birding takes centre stage in the 2011 film The Big Year (based on a book of the same name) as characters played by Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson compete to see as many birds in North America in one year as possible. Birds were also in the spotlight for the independent film A Birder´s Guide To Everything released in 2014, a coming-of-age story about four young birders on a road trip.

Across the world, there are thousands of organisations and charities committed to wild birds. The biggest of these is BirdLife International, a non-governmental organisation that brings together countries across the world to conserve birds and their habitats. Each country has its own organisation that represents BirdLife International as a “partner (designate)”.

The largest Birdlife partner is the UK´s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB); a world famous charity that runs over 200 reserves across the UK and supports a huge variety of projects that protect, celebrate and enhance Britain´s birdlife. They have over 1.1 million paying members who provide the majority of the charity´s funding through membership, donations and legacies.

Perhaps as (if not more) famous as the RSPB is the Audubon Society of the USA. Named after the “father” of American ornithology, John James Audubon, who published a huge book in 1838 documenting over 700 species of North American birds with life-size paintings. It has been dubbed the first proper “field guide” to North American birds, even if it stood a metre tall. Now the Audubon Society promotes birding and the conservation of birds, with each US state having their own Audubon Society branch. 

Despite its (largely false) image as a hobby for the older generations, the birding community is a rapidly increasing one, supposedly the second-fastest growing outdoor hobby in the U.S. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be 127.8 million birdwatchers in the U.S alone*10.

*10(Birding Expo, pers comms 2015)