Differences Between Birdwatching & Birding – which One’s Right For You?

Inside: An in-depth comparison of birdwatching and birding along with why you would choose to pursue one over the other.

As you sit in your backyard, watching the local wild birds, you start to become intrigued by their behaviors and beautiful appearances. You want to learn more and understand these birds further. Sure, you can look your questions up on the internet. But, to fully understand and observe these birds, you need to investigate them personally.

You can turn this interest into a hobby by choosing to start birdwatching or birding. Both options can seem similar, but they are actually very different. To figure out which one you should start, you need to understand what they are.

Birdwatching vs. Birding

Birdwatching and birding stem from the interest in observing birds, making this their only similarity. There is a list of things that differentiate them from each other drastically. But before comparing the two, let’s look at what each activity is.

Birdwatching

Birdwatching is exactly what you think it is. It involves watching birds and observing their behaviors, and simply admiring them. It’s a fun, relaxing activity, and most people consider it a hobby.

Is Birdwatching One or Two Words?

You can use birdwatching and bird watching interchangeably. Some dictionaries use one word, while others use two words. It is more of a matter of preference.

What Do Birdwatchers Do?

Birdwatchers typically observe birds in their native environment from afar, sometimes with the help of binoculars. Anyone can be a birdwatcher as most people have birds in their yards, at their offices, etc. 

Birding

Birding is a much more professional and adventurous version of birdwatching. This activity requires much more commitment, studying, and traveling. 

What Do Birders Do?

There are about 45 million birders in the United States. Birders typically have professional binoculars, scopes, and other outdoor gear. They study birds intensely, and most travel hundreds to thousands of miles to study certain species. 

What Is Twitching? Why Is Birdwatching Called Twitching?

Twitching is essentially a scavenger hunt for rare birds. Someone who twitches will drop everything they are doing to find these rare birds. They typically go looking for the birds themselves or go searching after hearing about the birds through fellow birdwatchers and birders.

What Else Are Birdwatchers and Birders Called?

Some other words for birdwatchers and birders include:

  • Ornithologists (academic professionals in wildlife)
  • Listers (people who list the species they see)
  • Twitchers

Key Differences Between Birdwatching and Birding

With these short definitions in mind, you can learn about the differences between birdwatching and birding. Let’s dive a little deeper into these two activities. Here are some things to compare when deciphering them.

Dedication Levels of Birdwatching Vs. Birding

Birdwatching is a leisure activity that most people do in their free time. You can watch birds from home, at a park, and even at work if you have windows. It’s a fun mystery game watching birds at feeders and trying to identify them. Because birdwatching is low-key, you don’t need to put commitment into this activity. 

Birding, on the other hand, is almost like a job. Birders will often drive hours to wildlife sites to view, listen to, and record information about specific species of birds. Birding is about gathering data and using that data to better understand birds. 

Birding consumes a lot of your time. Birders spend hours and days observing birds, while birdwatchers spend a few minutes a day at most. Birding is a lifestyle.

Pursuit Types of Birdwatching Vs. Birding

You can consider bird watching as a passive pursuit. Passive means that you go with the flow and accept things for the way they are. Birdwatchers don’t go out searching for birds. They typically stay in whatever location they are in and hope to see some birds fly by. Sure, they want to see the birds. But, if none come along, that’s okay.

Birders will purposely seek out birds, making it more of an active pursuit. They will hop in their cars and drive to various places to observe and study them. Locating birds, identifying their songs, and counting their flock size, among other things, are all active activities involved in birding. Birders, in a sense, stalk birds.

Competitiveness of Birdwatching Vs. Birding

Birdwatching is one of the most non-competitive activities you can do. It is slow-paced, unlike competitive activities that are usually fast-paced. And most of the time, people like to birdwatch alone. For something to be competitive, you need more than one person involved.

Birding is highly competitive, similar to the competitiveness of sports. Many birders keep a birder life list. It is like a bucket list or giant scavenger hunt around the world for every species of bird. The longer your list, the more dedicated you are. Birders need to fill up that list with as many species as they can in their lifetime.

It might sound crazy, but birders will travel globally specifically to fill up their list. But, there are nearly 18,000 species of birds on our planet, so you might need a few generations to fill the list.

There are even birder competitions. One of the most well-known is the World Series of Birding in New Jersey. Similar to a birder life list, teams go around creating a list of bird species they see or hear within a timed 24-hour period. The whole idea of this competition is to raise money for environmental organizations.

The Cost of Birdwatching vs. Birding

Birdwatching can cost you absolutely nothing. You can sit on your front porch and watch birds without fancy equipment. But, if you wanted to, you could invest in a cheap pair of binoculars.

Birding can cost quite a bit of money. Some things that birders spend money on for their endeavors include:

  • Travel
  • Clothing
  • Investigating gear such as binoculars, scopes, and cameras

Binoculars and cameras alone can cost a couple of thousand dollars. The good news is that these are usually one-time purchases unless something breaks. However, travel will be a recurring cost that can fluctuate constantly. Plane tickets, gas, and hotel rooms can put a dent in your wallet, especially if you travel to go birding often.

Final Thoughts

At first, when hearing the words birdwatching and birding, you would probably think they are different terms for the same activity. But, they are extremely different from each other, varying in intensity and even price. Use this as a guide to determine if you want to get into the low-key side of birdwatching, or the intense, fast-paced world of birding.

More than 20 years ago, Tammy put her first bird feeder outside her kitchen window. Since then she learned how to attract wild birds to her backyard. Studying the meaning & symbolism of wild birds is also a passion of hers.