When you think of bird watchers an image comes to mind of an old, gray-haired man in a tacky beige vest and a khaki fisherman’s hat hiding in the bushes with a high-powered pair of binoculars. Sounds really creepy, doesn’t it? This stereotype may be the reason a lot of people think bird watchers are weird but are they really?
Bird watchers are not weird at all. In fact, they are everyday people who simply enjoy watching the fascinating and wonderous behavior of birds. Birdwatching is enjoyed by people of all ages, from young children to the elderly, both male and female. A person can learn a lot from watching birds.
In this post, we’re going to explore the world of birdwatching. I (an avid bird watcher myself) am going to present you with facts and anecdotes that may just change the way you view bird watchers. In the coming paragraphs, we will challenge the stigma and show that birdwatching is not the creepy or pervy activity some people seem to think it is.
What Does It Mean To Be Weird?
Ok, before we start calling people “weird” let’s define exactly what that word means.
The Oxford Dictionary defines weird as suggesting something supernatural; unearthly.
Can we really look at a person standing on the edge of a lake or marshland observing birds and say that what they are doing is “supernatural” or “unearthly?” I think that might be a bit of an over-exaggeration.
Is it “normal” to stand around with binoculars watching birds go about their business? Well, of course, it isn’t. It’s not as normal as say walking hand-in-hand through the park or sitting in a café sipping lattes while discussing the date you had last night that resulted in the best sex you’ve ever experienced. Those are things a lot of us do a lot of the time.
Birdwatching is to a lot of people an activity outside the realm of the conventional social norm. I believe this is why it has earned the undeserved stigma that it has.
But is this justified? I mean, exactly how many people engage in this birdwatching nonsense?
How Many Bird Watchers Are There In The World?
According to eBird, millions of people from all over the world are not only watching birds but also recording their sightings.
eBird is an online database of bird observations. It gathers information about bird sightings across the globe from amateur birders and shares this information with educators, scientists, and conservationists.
Millions of people every year are logging into eBird’s website or the eBird phone app to record their sightings, images, and audio of birds.
At the time of writing this article, the world population according to Worldometer was 7, 909, 851, 900.
According to Statista.com, in 2019, there were 12.82 million people enjoying birdwatching in the United States. That is just in the United States?! And since the pandemic, the popularity of birdwatching has increased.
If you read this article by Quartz, there has been a noticeable rise in the popularity of birdwatching since the lockdown based on the sales of birdfeed and bird feeders as well as huge spikes in the number of pageviews on various bird-related Wikipedia pages.
What am I trying to say here? If only a handful of people were participating in this activity you could safely say that they might be a bit strange. But nearly 13 million people?! And that’s just in the US! Birdwatching is also popular in the UK, India, and Australia to name just a few places.
What Type Of People Bird Watch?
So there are quite a number of people across the globe who enjoy watching birds. But what type of people are they? I mean they must be just nerds or tree-huggers right?! Nope…
- English Teacher
- ICU Nurse
- Graduate Student
- Stay-at-home Mom
- Healthcare Analyst
- Broadcast operations
- Proposal Specialist
- Crime Analyst
- Digital Marketing
- Construction Project Manager
- Visual Arts Student
- Massage Therapist
- College Student
- 3rd Grade Teacher
- Veterinary Technician
Bird watchers do indeed come from all walks of life.
Below is a response I received on birdforum.net. This particular person has been birding with a number of people over the years and recalled their occupations:
My birding and twitching carloads and friends over the years have been entirely varied and pretty much if you name a job, most who have been around the scene for several decades could name a birder to match the job:-
Doctor, Dentist, Fireman, Teacher, Policeman, Factory worker, Postman, MOD worker, Lawyer, Binman, Banker, University professor, IT programmer, Greengrocer, Charity Commission Worker, Proofreader, Freelance writer, Sports journalist, Ecologist, Accountant, Pest Controller, Etc
The demographic is less culturally diverse than I would like to see and more women and young people would make the hobby better but it has the problems of many hobbies in that regard. Money, time, and opportunity often travel together but there are some excellent examples where that is not the case providing a degree of hope.
All the best
What about me? Well, I have had many occupations in the past. Currently, I run this blog about birdwatching and bird photography and also a YouTube channel where I teach photography. Before this, I was a musician.
For many years I played guitar and sang in rock bands and also as a solo acoustic artist. I released a couple of albums independently (listen to them on Spotify) and played many live gigs in various venues.
I had always loved nature and especially birds so my transition into bird photography and birdwatching was inevitable.
As you can see, birdwatching is enjoyed by people from many different backgrounds and age groups. Are all these people weirdos? Not at all, they’re just normal people who enjoy spending time in nature watching beautiful and amazing creatures.
Why Watch Birds?
If you are the type of person who considers bird watchers to be weird, you may also be thinking “why watch birds anyway?”
Now, of course, I am a little biased here so I will try to keep my own opinions out of this section of the blog!
There is substantial scientific evidence that shows that spending time in nature doing activities such as birdwatching can help with stress, anxiety, and depression.
A study from the University of Exeter in February 2017 showed that people living in neighborhoods with more trees and birds are less likely to suffer from depression, stress, and anxiety. Birdwatching is a really calming activity.
This article from CNN Health entitled Birdwatching for peace of mind and better health states many other benefits of watching birds and also cites other scientific studies. The proof is all there – it’s a very beneficial activity.
Personally, I find it very calming as well as entertaining. Aside from being beautiful, birds do some fascinating and sometimes hilarious things. When I am out in nature watching a bird do its thing, I am not thinking about anything else.
It’s like a meditative state that lifts my energy and clears my mind.
Oh damn?! I was going to keep my opinion out of it! Sorry.
What Society Has Gained From Bird Watching
Birdwatching doesn’t just have significant health benefits either. Scientists and Engineers are learning so much from observing birds.
The most obvious thing we have gained from birds is the power of flight. Every plane we fly around in would not have been possible without watching birds. The Wright brothers studied birds before building the first-ever flying craft.
The Woodpecker has been studied extensively in the hope of copying the shock-absorbing design of their skulls and incorporating it in space shuttle design or even protective headgear for footballers.
Engineers have studied the way flocks of birds fly in V-shapes to conserve energy. They use this information to design better fuel-efficient aircraft flight strategies.
Scientists have also studied the clamp-like grip of Eagles and designed materials that can store energy in the same way. Called Auxetics, these materials collapse in all directions when squeezed, storing the energy inside to be released later.
Watching and studying birds is also providing us with information that could save our very lives. Birds are a good indicator of the effects of climate change. By studying them we are forming a picture of just how close we may be to the point of no return and also how to avoid that happening.
From all of this, you can see that birdwatching is not just something that benefits those who do it but also the whole of humanity.
Famous Bird Watchers
There are many famous people who enjoy a spot of birdwatching.
English comedian, writer, musician, songwriter, and artist Bill Oddie is one famous bird watcher. Most famous for his involvement in the British comedy series The Goodies which ran from 1970 to 1980 on BBC 2.
I remember watching The Goodies religiously when I was a child. Their crazy antics gave me many after-school laughs.
Bill has gained a reputation as a naturalist, conservationist, and wildlife television presenter. He even presented a TV program entitled Birding With Bill Oddie.
Sir Paul McCartney
Yes, that’s right, even a member of The Beatles likes to watch birds. This should come as no surprise as he did name his post-Beatles band “Wings.”
Paul and his wife Nancy enjoy a bit of birdwatching when Paul is in-between shows.
“I’ve always liked birds. It’s a theme of mine. I think they’re symbolic of freedom, of flying away.”Paul McCartney
American film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and editor Wes Craven is also a bird watcher.
Creator of the horror classic A Nightmare On Elm Street among other horror films, Wes has been a bird lover since childhood.
“Well, people are surprised I don’t live in a cave. Unfortunately, long before they knew I was interested in birds, they didn’t believe I was the guy who made all those scary movies, because I don’t look scary.”Wes Craven
American Hollywood actress Cameron Diaz even does a spot of birdwatching.
It’s not just the scene in the 2000 film Charlies Angels where Cameron Diaz shows knowledge and love for birds. Apparently, she also enjoys birdwatching in her private time too.
I’m sure if more men knew Cameron Diaz was into birdwatching, they might take it up?!
What Do You Think Of Bird Watchers Now?
If you have made it this far through the article, firstly I commend you and secondly, I’m curious to know if you have changed your view of bird watchers.
I have defined the word weird; discussed how many people enjoy birdwatching; shown you that bird watchers come from all walks of life; provided scientific evidence of the benefits of birding, and even presented you with some famous (and cool) people who enjoy it.
Have I changed your mind? Do you still think bird watchers are weird?
Honestly, my intention here was not to change your mind at all. Your opinion is valid and I respect it no matter what it might be.
There was really nothing I could have written in this article that could’ve made you feel any different about birdwatching or those who do it. I simply hope that you now have a broader knowledge of birdwatching and perhaps a deeper understanding of why so many people enjoy it.
The next time you are out in nature and see someone with a pair of binoculars or a camera with a huge zoom lens, perhaps take a second or two to view them differently.
Think about the background they may have come from or perhaps their reasons for being there watching birds. They’re not weird. They are simply an everyday person spending some time doing something that makes them feel relaxed and happy.
- The Wright Flyer’s warping wings – blogs.bu.edu
- Scientists design material that can store energy like an eagle’s grip – Frontiers Science News
- 11 Things Human Engineers Are Learning From Birds – Mental Floss
- Birds are the “canaries in the climate-change coal mine” – Australian National University
- Freddy Krueger Creator Wes Craven Loves Birds – Audubon.org
- Famous Birders – Guide to Current and Historical Birdwatching Celebrities – chirpbirding.com
- Birdwatching for peace of mind and better health – CNN Health