Two terms that are often conflated in the eyes of the general public are “Birdwatcher/Birder” and “Twitcher”. But these are two very different things. You can be both, but being one doesn’t automatically make you the other.
I’m going to try explain this without upsetting either side.
Birdwatching/Birding is a hobby, a recreational activity. A birder may keep lists of what they’ve seen (I do), but they’re not predominantly interested in the list. The actual watching (and listening) to birds, any birds, is the main feature of the hobby.
Twitching is a more driven occupation, focused on seeing new species, and growing a list ever longer. Many twitchers subscribe to rare bird services, and will travel around the country just to see a new bird. The most devoted twitchers have bird lists for the UK that enter the hundreds, with a great many non-native species that will only once or twice have been in the country.
Personally, I’m not a twitcher. I’ve seen rarities, and I have a list that covers over 200 species. But I’ve never travelled any significant distance to see a rare bird. If I hear about one nearby, I’ll try and see it (for instance, while living in Bolton a Pied-Billed Grebe was on a lake near Rochdale for a while, so I headed over to see it. It was underwhelming). But it’s opportunistic.
Twitchers have a bit of a bad reputation, and I’ve certainly encountered some that are surly, and seem uninterested in birds. They arrive, get a photo, add to their list, and move on. Some have even caused problems for the birds, so desperate to get the best photo that they end up disturbing birds and habitats. They’re a minority, fortunately.
I’ve met far more that will happily chat to young birders, and I’ve benefitted in the past from their tips (my first Slavonian Grebe was thanks to a twitcher in a Scottish B&B when I was about 11).
In this blog, I’m trying to convince you to watch all wildlife, to enjoy being outside and watching wildlife. I’m not trying to encourage you to be a twitcher. If you decide that’s for you, that’s brilliant, and I hope you get plenty of good birds for your list (this is the right time of year). But hopefully you’ll retain the general enthusiasm for nature and not become one of the minority that cause problems.
If you get serious, and become a professional birder, then you are an ornithologist. That’s a whole other world…
So, are you a ‘birder’, a ‘twitcher’, or both?