Bird watching is called birding. The first term birding was used for the practice of fowling or hunting with firearms. Bird watchers are also called twitchers in some parts of the world.
More and more people are travelling long distances to spot rare species of birds. Bird watchers and twitchers usually have goals of spotting different species on their own life list. Some bird watchers look at bird watching as a healthy competition. They aim to get or accumulate the longest species list. The act of pursuing a rare specie is called a “twitch” or a “chase”.
Interest in observing birds can be traced back to the early 1700’s in the works of Gilbert White, Thomas Bewick, George Montagu and John Clare. In Britain, during the Victorian Era, it was fashionable to collect eggs and later skins as artifacts of interest. Wealthy collectors even had contacts in colonies that would collect and ship the artifacts for them.
By the 1800’s, many thought that collectors went too far. Bird hats were all the rage. But, Harriet Hemenway took the lead in fighting the millinery trade or feather industry. She went on to shut down the interstate bird skin trade. She later founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
Rosalie Edge, another bird watcher and naturalist, went as far as to buy Hawk Mountain, in Pennsylvania, and turn it into the first sanctuary for birds of prey.
The call for bird protection began in the late 1800’s. Observation of living birds became more popular. The Audubon Society was started to protect the birds from the growing bird trade. The term bird watching was first written in the title of the book “Bird Watching” by Edmund Selous in 1901.
The rising popularity of bird watching and the use of cars increased the mobility of birdwatchers. New locations were made more accessible to those interested in birds. Networks of birdwatchers in the UK began to form in the late 1930’s under the British Trust for Ornithology. The BTO saw the potential to produce scientific results through the networks, unlike the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds (RSPB) which like the Audubon Society originated from the bird protection movement.
With the falling cost of air travel in the 1980’s, many interested and avid bird watchers were flying to remote birding destinations to spot many different and unique species of birds. There are an estimated 80 million Americans into bird watching. More and more people are showing an interest in taking part in this recreational activity.