What Is Recreational Birding? – How It Differs From Birding

a pair of binoculars resting on a wooden plank

You may have heard the terms Birding, Bird Watching, and perhaps even Twitching. If you have found yourself here at this article, I’m assuming you are wondering what Recreational Birding is. I am about to give you the answer, as well as explain how it differs from birding and how it relates to the other terms above.

Recreational Birding is the activity of watching birds for the purpose of recreation. This differs from Birding which is a more professional activity undertaken by passionate bird-lovers or ornithologists doing scientific research.

Now we will explore the differences and relationships between Birding, Bird Watching, Twitching and Recreational Birding. If you are a birdwatcher, by the end of this post you should be able to figure out which category you fit into.

What Type Of Recreational Activity Is Bird Watching?

If you like to watch birds simply for the enjoyment of it or because you are fascinated by birds, then you are said to be interested in Bird Watching.

a man using binoculars in a forest

Bird Watching is a type of recreational activity where wildlife is observed (in this case, birds), for the purpose of enjoyment or amateur scientific interest. Thus, it can be categorized as a wildlife observation activity.

Bird watching is done with the use of binoculars or a spotting scope. The bird watcher will use these things to get a closer look at birds in specific locations that are known for bird activity. Some birdwatchers will record or “tick off” the bird species they see and keep what is called a life list. Avid birdwatchers can see thousands of bird species in their lifetimes.

The world record according to surfbirds.com is 9761 species seen, held by Claes-Göran Cederlund. Considering there are around 11,000 species on the planet, that’s a good effort?!

If a person has a place or a number of places near their home where they like to watch birds, they might use the slang term “patch” or “local patch” to describe these. For example “I was down at my local patch today, looking at Sooty Oystercatchers.”

Discover all the gear you will need to birdwatch from home in this article.

What Is The Meaning Of Birding?

This is where things can get a bit confusing.

The Oxford Dictionary describes Birding as “the observation of birds in their natural habitats as a hobby.” Birding is however widely considered to be the professional term for bird watching; done with more dedication or as a profession.

a Blue-faced Honeyeater bird singing in a tree
Blue-faced Honeyeater – Sandy Beach, NSW, Australia. Image by Barry Callister Photography.

We can say that Birding is the act of watching birds however you might find that certain people in the world of bird watching disagree. Some might say they are going “birding” while others might say they are going “bird watching.”

It really is just a personal preference as to which term you use. Birding is considered the more technical term for it however you can also use the term bird watching. It is similar to how you may tell someone you are going “cycling” as opposed to “bike riding.”

What Are Birdwatchers Called?

a person using binoculars

So far we have discussed the activities related to watching birds but you may still be wondering what to call someone who does these activities.

A Person who watches birds is called a Birdwatcher. Other terms such as birder, ornithologist, or twitcher may be used to describe such a person. Twitcher however is the informal term for a birdwatcher who aims to collect sightings of rare birds.

So are you a birder, birdwatcher, twitcher, or ornithologist? Let’s explore these in a little more detail.


This is the informal term for someone who watches birds, or a birdwatcher. If you enjoy watching birds in your spare time, or you do it professionally, you might be called a Birder.


A more formal term for someone who watches birds. This term covers recreational birders as well as those who undertake the activity in a more professional manner.

a man standing holding a pair of binoculars


Often misused to describe any person who watches birds; Twitcher is actually an informal word used to describe someone whose main aim is to collect sightings of rare birds.

These are people who will travel great distances and spend quite a lot of money in order to sight new or rare bird species.


Unless you have studied Biology, Ecology, Zoology, or Wildlife Biology at University for 4 to 5 years, I’m sorry but you are NOT an Ornithologist.

An Ornithologist is a person who studies or is an expert on birds. To earn this title you must do a lot of studies. Find out the exact study path you must take to Ornithology in my post Can You Get Paid To Bird Watch? – You won’t believe the answer?!

What Is The Difference Between Birding And Bird Watching?

How dedicated are you to your bird watching? Do you simply head out to your local patch on the weekends to see what you can see, or do you pack your bags and drive 400 miles to view a Tufted Titmouse?

The difference between birding and bird watching is related to one’s dedication to the activity. Birding is done with a higher level of dedication or professionalism, whereas bird watching is considered to be more casual. The two terms are somewhat interchangeable.

a Pink Galah bird perched on a log
Pink Galah – Sandy Beach, NSW, Australia. Image by Barry Callister Photography.

So Where Do You Fit In?

Whether you are a casual weekend birder or a dedicated twitcher, you should now have more of an idea of where you fit in. It really doesn’t matter what you call yourself or what others call you as long as you enjoy watching birds and spend as much time as possible out in nature doing so.

There are many more articles here on my blog for birdwatchers and bird photographers alike:

Happy reading and happy bird watching. I hope to see you out there someday.

Barry Callister

Barry is a bird photographer and bird watcher with over 7 years of experience. He runs his own YouTube channel about photography and promotes his nature photography on his personal website barrycallisterphotography.com.au.

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