Birding? Twitching? Lifelist? What Do These Things Mean?


Bird-watcher. A rather ambiguous term used to describe the person who watches birds for any reason at all, and should not be used to refer to the serious birder.

- Birding, Volume 1, No. 2

It can seem like splitting hairs, but there are a few different terms used to describe the art of looking at birds. Yep, I just said the art of looking at birds. That's because I believe that like with a canvas and a brush, there are many different approaches to enjoying bird watching and over time people develop their own unique ways of doing it as well as specialties for what they enjoy looking at (I'm getting into finches myself).

So, without further adieu, here are some common and need to know bird terms:

Bird-watcher - An amateur, someone who identifies birds by sight only. I prefer to describe myself as a bird-watcher even though I pursue it as a serious hobby because it's a more inclusive term when talking to non bird-watchers. And since we're all about getting people excited enough to start noticing birds, we love how universal it is.

Birder - Amateur or professional, but someone who identifies birds by both sound and sight. Think: "Coo-ee!"

Twitcher - People love using this British term, but it's almost always misapplied. A twitcher is not the same thing as a bird-watcher or a birder. It means someone who travels long distances to see a rare bird to tick of their life list. The act is called a twitch or a chase. Fun fact: it was named after a very nervous birder....

Twitchable or Chaseable - A rare bird that stays still long enough for people to see it. For example, when we were in Canberra a couple of weeks ago, there was a Powerful Owl at the Australian Botanic Gardens, which is super rare for that area even though we have them in Sydney. We. raced. right. over. 

Chaser - North American for 'twitcher' and what I'll need to call myself when I go home to New York for Christmas (for twitcher definition, see above).

Life list - A list of all of the species a birder has seen in their life, usually with details about the sighting such as date and location. I use an app here in Australia called 'Aus. Birds' - it was around $30, but allows me to quickly add birds I see to my list while I'm out in the field. There is a free app called 'Aust. Birds,' which I also recommend for identifying Australian birds.

Hides - Observation towers or used to conceal bird watchers from birds or to improve viewing conditions. Known as blinds in North America.

When I first started bird watching / birding, I felt intimidated by the fancy equipment, local expertise of some birders and the whole list of terms above. Just remember, as long as you are not harming the birds or their habitat there is no literally wrong way to do it.  Whether you're just starting out or well on your way to 700 birds in Australia, bird watching is something that can be enjoyed by us all. As long as you have eyes, ears and a bit of patience you're bound to see some pretty amazing things here in Sydney and throughout Australia.




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