Birding and birdwatching—what's the diff?

A birdwatcherBirding and birdwatching mean the same thing. The activity of observing wild birds. (Birds in cages or any form of captivity don't count.)

What do people do when they go birding?

Birdwatchers observe wild birds in their natural habitat. Birdwatching means learning to identify the birds and understand what they are doing. In North America, there are over 800 species of birds. Wherever you live, you'll probably find at least 100 species that are easy to find in your area. Life suddenly gets more interesting when you become aware of the varied bird life all around you.

Where do you watch birds?

BobolinkBirding is something you can do in your own back yard (it's a natural habitat too). Your local park. Anywhere you travel. Or on trips you take specifically to see birds that live in a certain environment, such as on a native prairie in North Dakota, or in the old-growth forest of the Pacific Northwest.


Who watches birds?

People of all ages watch birds. It's an activity you can keep doing all your life, in any part of the world.

Birding is the fastest-growing outdoor activity in America. According to a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 51.3 million Americans report that they watch birds. And more are taking it up all the time.

How can I learn more about birdwatching?

  • Join a local bird club and go for a walk with other birdwatchers.
  • Subscribe to a magazine devoted to birdwatching, such as Bird Watcher's Digest.
  • Order some DVDs or videos on birdwatching. But don't spend too much time watching the TV screen! Get outside and look at the actual birds.
  • By all means, get your hands on a good bird book (also known as a field guide). Or get two or three. Each one gives you something none of the others has.
  • Most important, start noticing the birds around you.

Why birds?

Birds have always delighted people all over the world because of their beauty and their power of flight.

Historically, they used to be considered omens. The ancient Romans believed that the flights and calls of birds could foretell the future.

Bald EagleToday, modern science still uses birds as a kind of oracle. Changes in bird populations can reflect the health of the environment.

Some birds are indicator species, like the USA's national bird, the bald eagle. They forecast environmental conditions. The knowledge of birds can help us plan a better, more sustainable relationship with nature.

What's in it for me if I start birding?

  • Fun. Big fun. Something deep seems to get fulfilled. A connection is made with the immense beauty of nature.
  • Satisfaction. Birding invokes our primeval hunting instincts. It delivers all the satisfaction of the hunt, even though the prey itself escapes unharmed. Birding is the perfect sport for the 21st Century.
  • Health. Birding gets you vertical. It gets you outside and walking. But it's effortless, because your attention is on the birds. Nevertheless, after a little birding, you've usually covered quite a bit of ground.
  • Dakota birdingFamily. Birding unites people across generations. By taking up birding, parents or grandparents can introduce their children to an interest in nature that will stay with them all their lives.
  • Companionship. Birding is the ideal social activity. A birder need never be lonely. Nearly every community has a birding club of some sort. And because birders love to share their knowledge, newcomers are always welcome.
  • Solitude. Birding is also the ideal solitary sport. There's a special pleasure in going out alone to bird. Your mind settles down. Your senses open up, and all nature seems to become your friend. Birding is a sport of many moods, and it serves the causes of companionship and solitude equally well.

Does birding matter to science?

Birding also fulfills another basic instinct—the quest for knowledge. Birding is about acquiring knowledge. Not just about birds' names, but also about their songs, their behavior, and how they relate to the rest of nature. It's a perfect opportunity to enjoy a unique human pleasure—the successful exercise of lore.

In fact, amateur birders often get to make real contributions to scientific knowledge. Today, much of what ornithology knows about birds has come from the observations of ordinary but dedicated birders.

What do I need to start birding?

Not much. A pair of binoculars, a field guide, and a hat. Maybe a little notebook you carry in your pocket. You might want to check out Diane's Birdwatching Starter Kit.

What kind of binoculars do I need?

Any binoculars are better than none. You can start with whatever you have. If you want advice on choosing the best binoculars for birding, you can look in our birding optics section.

Can I share binoculars with a friend?

You can. But every birder really needs his or her own binoculars. Sharing means one person doesn't get to see the bird before it flies away. This is hard on friendships.

Sibley Field Guide WestWhat's a field guide?

A field guide is a little book that's packed with information about birds. It's the next best thing to an expert birder by your side. It describes and shows pictures of the birds, and it tells you which details of each bird to look for.

A hat?

Any old hat will do. Birding is not a fashion contest. But the hat should shade your eyes and not interfere with using your binoculars.

What's the notebook for?

For your birding field notes. It lets you record what you see. It actually helps you to see, because when you try to write a description of a bird, that encourages you to observe carefully.

Is birding expensive?

Compared to other sports, birding is not expensive. A notebook, a field guide, and binoculars—all together will cost less than a good pair of athletic shoes. And they'll take a lot longer to wear out. We assume you have a hat.

Anything else?

Diane PorterYes. Birding is a quest. You set out to see birds - but the prize you come back with can only be described as happiness. Learning to bird is like getting a lifetime ticket to the theater of nature.

— Diane Cooledge Porter

Birding Stories by Diane
Birding Tips
Birding FAQ
Birding Optics
Birding Store