Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What is Birding?

Vincent Mistretta recently had a thought-provoking post asking: Is there a difference between "birding" and "bird photography"? He goes on to explain that they "are NOT the same thing" as they generally require completely different preparation and frame of mind in the field. I get where he is coming from and agree with his explanations, yet I see "bird photography" as being one of the many fun activities under the greater birding umbrella. Rather than try to separate various bird related activities into separate hobbies or professions, I think of them as interrelated activities as part of the greater whole of "birding". From professional scientists studying minute details to the young child feeding birds in the backyard...from the obsessive Big Year lister to the patient and dedicated bird artist...these are all birders in my mind.

Maybe its because I personally enjoy and appreciate each of these birding activities that I feel it all belong under one umbrella. I'm sure you could come up with several more categories that fit under the umbrella of birding. When I think about the popular birding/birdwatching magazines, they share from all of these genres of birding. As Vincent suggested, certainly the mindset or focus one has in the field may be different for each activity, especially when a group is involved. I am surprised at how many of these activities can be done simultaneously.

There are of course extreme enthusiasts within each of the elements of birding. And there are some people who might claim to only belong to one of the categories and separate themselves - take themselves out from underneath the birding umbrella if you will. I suppose it doesn't really matter how people define themselves. I'd just hate to see a bird photographer feel excluded from wonderful world of birding in which he or she rightly belongs. I'm all for greater unity, cooperation, and inclusiveness, because each aspect of birding is fun!


  1. I consider myself a birder and a bird photographer. Going out with a birding group I have learned not to take my camera along - it's too frustrating to be loaded down with a fairly heavy camera and long lens and find little opportunity to use it. Generally I prefer to go out by myself - no talking, no distractions - and be both a birder learning about birds and a photographer hunting for a good image. That's bliss.

  2. Robert, for the most part I tend to agree with you but I have seen some bird phtotgraphers who will incessantly use bird calls to get a bird in close so they can get a good shot without any concern for the bird. In my opinion, I do not consider these people birders. True birders have the best interest of the birds at heart and would never do anything to harm or distress a bird. But, as you know from me and my blog, I do indulge in most or all of the activities that you have listed under the umbrella of birding and I am thankful that you choose to share your love and enthusiasm of birds with the world!

  3. Intriguing post Robert. I've found myself exploring lots of these different branches of birding at one point or another. Everyone has their different birding proclivities

    I think Kathie brings up a good point too--that the diagnostic way to identify a birder is by their predetermination to not bother, distress, or harm a bird. Of course I never want to harm a bird, but at times I'm left wondering where the 'disturbing' line is drawn.

    At what point has a birder gone too far into the bird's territory, or invaded its natural environment? If the bird flushes or startles and flies off, does that mean the indelicate observer has failed as a birder, even if it was unintentional?

    I think Kathie says it well, that it's having the bird's best interests at heart that makes one a true birder. There is a difference between appreciating the birds and loving the birds. It's ideal when the two can combine, but sometimes really loving the natural beauty and grace of the birds, and preserving it, abrogates any of the means for appreciating it (photography, etc.).

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. @Kathie & @Laurence - perhaps your're right in that a "bad" birder isn't worthy of the honorable name of "birder".

    Laurence, the fact that we exist means that we invade the natural (human-less) environment. But I believe humans are part of nature and the environment. I think the line to draw is "am I endangering the bird". For example, am I exposing the bird to predators, causing it to use up precious energy to flee from me etc. I think there is a lot of hypocrisy in this though. We must be careful not to judge one another too harshly. Feeding wild birds for instance can in many instances expose a bird to danger, perhaps more so than pishing for a bird to give you a better look. I've played calls to get a good photograph, but when doing so, a little voice in my head tells me when enough is enough. Hard to say if other birders internal voice speaks up at the same time as mine.

  5. This is an interesting topic that I am frequently conflicted about. I definitely see more of the birds when I just have binoculars and I'm less inclined to move closer to birds when I don't have a camera. However I really enjoy looking back at pictures and they can be very helpful with tough ID's - it's much harder to talk oneself into a "rarity/lifer that wasn't" when there's a photo to refer back to. On balance, I think photography has much more to offer than take away from birds and birding. Now that you've got me thinking about this, more to follow on my blog:

  6. Robert,
    Thanks for including me in one of your posts. I waited for a few days to reply because your post gave me an idea that I wanted to develop, more on that in a minute. As for the concerns about bird photographers and birders difference toward the welfare of the birds. The wildlife photographer I studied under had a saying that he shared on our first meeting, "No image is worth the welfare of the subject". I follow that religiously but I will admit I have seen birders and bird photographers that do not. Our only option is to educate those that don't do that right thing. As for my idea. Your umbrella was clearly more elegant than my example. What your post made me think of was creating a wildlife or birding directory where we could list all of those resources long with people in those fields so for example, if a wildlife biologist needed the help of a photographer, they could go to the directory and find someone local. This is very similar to what "ModelMayhem" is for the portrait industry. Just a thought.