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Birdwatchers vs. Twitchers

Updated on April 16, 2012

A Timeless Hobby

Birdwatchers gain pleasure from simply watching birds, regardless of whether they are rare or common. Believe it or not, this man is birdwatching in Central Park, New York.
Birdwatchers gain pleasure from simply watching birds, regardless of whether they are rare or common. Believe it or not, this man is birdwatching in Central Park, New York. | Source

Birdwatchers

Birdwatching is a truly wonderful hobby enjoyed by millions around the world. Its appeal lies with the fact, that virtually anyone can do it; regardless of whether you’re 8 or 80. It can be as cheap or as expensive as you like and its timeless appeal means that it can transcend the generation gap in a way that virtually no other hobby can. By doing this, it helps to bring us all closer together as human beings. Unlike many aspects of our culture, it’s pretty certain that we will still be watching birds the same way in a hundred years time, and possibly using the same equipment, and going to the same places, provided they still exist at that time.

Although not generally recognised by mainstream culture, there are in fact two distinct kinds of people who love to watch birds. Firstly, you have the regular birdwatchers; basically that’s anyone who simply loves watching birds regardless of where they are. It doesn’t matter what species it is, it could be the local robin that comes to your bird table everyday or taking a trip to the local pond, observing the waterfowl and mentally recording their personalities and antics.

There are some birdwatchers, like me who go a little further and invest in a pair of binoculars and perhaps some appropriately coloured clothing. We also take pleasure in watching birds in our gardens and parks, but we also occasionally take trips out into the countryside, mostly to quiet nature reserves where for several hours we can immerse ourselves in avian heaven and forget all of the stresses that often plague us in our everyday lives.

Other birdwatchers go a little further by investing in more expensive equipment, such as a high magnified telescope. These can be fantastic for getting really close views of a bird that you would normally never be able to get close to. But, for me birdwatching is all about freedom, and relieving yourself of burdens, and the idea of lugging around a huge telescope that’s cost more than a thousand pounds holds very little appeal. I suppose I’m really quite a casual birdwatcher, I rarely if ever take notes, just in case I miss something. To be honest, calling myself a birdwatcher is actually quite inaccurate; the term wildlife watcher is more appropriate to me, as I have a very broad interest in the natural world, and am fascinated by everything from the smallest beetle to the tallest tree.

There is another kind of birdwatcher, one that behaves very differently from those already mentioned, they are the twitchers or chasers, as they’re known in the US, and I shall proceed to explain exactly what they are.

The Hunt for Rarities

These twitchers are observing a sandhill crane in Southern England. Sandhill's are native to North America and parts of Siberia.
These twitchers are observing a sandhill crane in Southern England. Sandhill's are native to North America and parts of Siberia. | Source

Twitchers

Twitching or chasing is basically the pursuit and observation of rare birds, particularly if they appear in an area where they’re not commonly found. For many people it becomes a total obsession, with some even chartering private aircraft at short notice to reach some far flung corner of the Earth to cross that all important species off their list. It can consume lives, ruin marriages, relationships, friendships work/career prospects and decimate any financial savings.

It’s a form of birdwatching that divides opinion more than anything in the wildlife world. Some birders, including myself resent being referred to as a twitcher, while those in the fraternity are very proud of their obsession. The media however, often simply label anyone who enjoys watching birds as a twitcher

Very often, the life of a twitcher involves standing around, often for hours in all kinds of weather. Their instincts may plead for them to come to their senses and give up, but they've probably travelled a long way to see that elusive bird so they stay put. The life of a twitcher can be exhilarating, I can personally attest to that, because I’ve experienced those same exhilarating feelings whenever I’ve stumbled across a rare bird, so I can understand why people may get sucked into the obsession. Amazingly, twitching seems to be a primarily male pursuit, maybe down to the fact, as a twitcher, you are chasing after an animal, effectively hunting it. So maybe twitching serves as an outlet for the hunter gatherer within. However, as every hunter knows, you can’t be successful every time, and often twitching can be very infuriating. For instance, sometimes you may arrive the morning after the rarity was last seen, and the others are already leaving the area, your hearts sinks when you realise that your quarry has gone.

So how do twitchers come to know of any rarities in the first place; most of them nowadays sign up for websites such as Birdguides.com and subscribe to message alerts sent to their mobile phones. I remember having a lengthy conversation with a self confessed twitcher at work, and his phone was going off virtually all of the time. He found it hard to understand why I hadn’t been caught by twitcher fever, surely there’s nothing better than sighting a rare bird. But I explained to him, that I had general all around adoration for nature and wasn’t too interested in statistics and competition. Twitching is a very competitive hobby, and there are various competitions in both the US and UK that reward those who spot the most amount of species in a year.

Becoming a Twitcher

Becoming a birdwatcher is easy; all you need to do is pay attention to the birds that live all around you. If you wish, you can go a little further by investing in a pair of binoculars, some appropriate clothing, and maybe a guide book. If you have the cash to spare, then maybe think about a decent telescope, so you can get some close views. Then, look up nature reserves and other birding areas as places to visit. Once there, not only will you experience the joy of observing nature in all her glory, but you’ll also meet many like minded people and maybe make new friends.

But what about becoming a twitcher? Well, firstly you need to get on those websites, such as the one mentioned earlier, and subscribe to text alerts, so that you can be among the first to know of a rare bird. It’s probably best to befriend other twitchers, so that you can share travel and transport costs. More importantly, you’ll need a sympathetic partner who will tolerate your obsession, even if it means abandoning them on their sickbed just so you can tick off that Eskimo curlew that you’ve never seen.

Don’t worry about swotting up on birds initially as you can learn from more experienced twitchers, but it is beneficial in the long term to ‘gen up’ on the species you want to chase, so that you can recognise them when you see them.

The most important thing to remember about being a twitcher is remember to always put the welfare of the bird first, and never stress it out by getting too close or attempting to flush it out of cover. Remember, it’s a wild creature, that’s probably hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from home. Also, remember to respect the land you are on, also the local residents too. This is important stuff to remember, because twitchers often get bad press and can suffer vilification in the media. I remember reading a story several years ago of a rare American tree sparrow that turned up in Britain, and of course the twitchers flocked from all over the country. Eventually, the poor thing was so exhausted from the pursuit, that it simply collapsed and died. So, remember don’t forget why you got into twitching in the first place, because you love birds, always put them first.

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    • clairemy profile image

      Claire 5 years ago

      Now i have learnt something new. I truly thought birdwatchers and twitchers were the same thing.

      Whichever you are though it sounds extremely interesting.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks claire, yes both do sound very interesting. I will admit that I did indulge in a little bit of twitching when I was younger, but never to a great extent. Nowadays I'm content enough just to enjoy the birds around me. Thanks for dropping by.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Voted awesome and up. I never knew the term twitcher, but I do have friends that travel all over the place to see birds that they haven't before, all with very expensive professional cameras.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks aviannovice, I know a few twitchers as well, one of them took out a bank loan just so he could buy a top of the range telescope, he also used the money to travel to Africa on a twitching holiday. That's what you call obsessive. Thanks for dropping by.

    • vwriter profile image

      vwriter 5 years ago from US

      Great hub. I actually learned something today. I never heard the term twitcher. Voted up.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks vwriter, the term twitching seems to be something used more in Britain. In America, I believe its called chasing, basically its competitive birdwatching. Anyway, I appreciate you taking the time to drop by. Thanks very much.

    • Jennifer Stone profile image

      Jennifer Stone 5 years ago from the Riverbank, England

      Great hub, thanks! As a keen birdwatcher myself I'm very lucky because I live near a river, fields and woods, so the range of different birds to watch is amazing and the dawn chorus in spring can be deafening in places! :-)I've never described myself as a twitcher, because like you, I see no need to spend thousands on equipment to enjoy the nature around me. Voted up!

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Jennifer. Wow, your area sounds idyllic. I've heard the dawn chorus many times, and yeah, it can be deafening at times. Personally, I love just observing wildlife wherever I am. Yesterday, I saw a toad crossing the bridle path near my local patch, heading for a lake. Wished I'd had my camera with me. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Jennifer Stone profile image

      Jennifer Stone 5 years ago from the Riverbank, England

      I love toads... not seen one round here for a while, I did see a weasle the other day though! lol :-)

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago

      Hello Jkenny,

      This was a great hub explaining the difference between Birdwatchers Vs. Twitchers.

      I had a great view today of two crows doing the mating dance.

      I was too far away to get it on camera. I have never seen this behavior.

      It was fascinating to watch, a very elaborate dance.

      I think I am definitely a birdwatcher.

      PS In case anyone thinks crows are dull. Crows are considered some of the smartest birds in the avian world.

      Great hub voted up and sharing this socially.

    • geoffclarke profile image

      geoffclarke 5 years ago from Canada

      Great hub - as a keen birdwatcher I enjoyed it immensely - thanks for the great links! Have you seen the movie "The Big Year" with Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black? Now those guys are definitely twitchers! Check it out!

      Geoff

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      This is the first I have ever heard of twitching. Interesting concept Great Hub!

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi James.

      I always feel very sorry for these rare birds that just end up in our country. Most of them probably only live for a few weeks and they have no chance to breed, because they are on their own.

      Thanks for a really interesting article.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Really! That's pretty cool. I haven't seen many weasels to be honest, although I remember seeing a wild polecat about two weeks ago.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hello molometer, thanks for dropping by. I know what you mean about crows, their intelligence is phenomenal, they can even remember human faces, so its best that you never tick them off in anyway, because you could live to regret it.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Geoff, I haven't seen that film, but if it's got those three guys in it, then it should be funny. I'll definitely check it out. Thanks for dropping by.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi rebecca, its definitely interesting, but also a little disturbing. I always feel sorry for the rare bird, who ends up getting pursued by loads of obsessive twitchers. Thanks for dropping by.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Christopher, I know what you mean; whenever I see a report on the news, I always think 'that bird's living on borrowed time,' It's a shame to think that it has to live it out its life being pursued by twitchers. Thanks for dropping by.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Hi James, I learned something new here. I had never heard the term 'twitcher' before. Thanks for enlightening me. I am like you, lugging heavy equipment is not my thing. A peaceful walk in my woods with my camera in hand is much more to my liking. I also love to watch all nature, as was taught to me by my grandfather many years ago. He helped me to find fascination in even the smallest bug. Thanks for a great article. Voted Up, Interesting and Useful!

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 5 years ago from Southwest England

      Hi James, an amusing and well observed article. I love watching birds, but definitely fall into the "birdwatcher" camp, twitching is just that little bit too obsessive for me :)

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi grandmapearl, your grandfather sounded like a fine man. Yes I would take a peaceful walk in the woods any day over twitching, far more enjoyable. Thanks for dropping by.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Imogen, there's no way I could be a twitcher, its more of a sporting contest than actual birdwatching. I watched a programme about it a while ago, and they actually have league tables of who's seen the most birds. They set it out in the same way as the football tables, so you can see why its mostly a male pursuit. Thanks for dropping by. Take care.

    • pateluday profile image

      Uday Patel 5 years ago from Jabalpur, MP, India

      As a freelance guide I have been birding since decades in Central India. (Kanha Bandhavgarh Bharatpur Pench, North India). It is now that I have learned what is twitching. Thanks for the info!

      Your hubs are very well written and informative keep the good work going.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi again patel, sounds live you have a very interesting job you have there. My mom went to India recently and sent me a photo a white throated kingfisher, she told me that they are as common as sparrows, which I found extraordinary. Thanks for dropping by.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I have not heard of the term "twitcher" before. Is that in common use around the world, or is it just confined to the UK. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Aurelio, as far as I know its a European term. In America, the term used is 'chasing' although I'm told that gradually 'twitching' is replacing it. Thanks for dropping by.

    • profile image

      summerberrie 5 years ago

      Hi, JKenny, somehow I missed this hub of yours. Glad I found it. Very nice read. My son is a wanna be "twitcher". He loves to collect things, coins, stamps, National Geographics, ect...it is almost as if getting a bird on his list is a form of collecting. Maybe someday he will make it to England to "stalk" some of your beautiful birds.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks summerberrie, oh dear, I can imagine your son stalking birds all across the world hahaha! Who knows maybe he will grow out of it. I must admit I leant more towards twitching when I was a kid.

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