Birding, or birdwatching, has many levels of meaning. At its most basic, the place at which we all begin, it is the simple enjoyment of watching free wild birds. Everybody who enjoys birds in this way is a birder who has taken the first step on a fascinating journey. It is a journey that anyone can begin, unrestricted by income, occupation or age. However serious, sophisticated, passionate or obsessive our interest in birds may become, this principle of simple enjoyment remains as its foundation and renews it every day.
Birding as Wonder
Often our interest in birds is stimulated by something fleetingly seen or heard that reaches through the sensory filters guarding our brains, to touch something primal or childlike within.
It may be the sight of a Wedge-tailed Eagle soaring on shimmering desert thermals. It might be the haunting call of the Bush Stone-Curlew beneath a waning moon. It could be a Willie Wagtail nesting in a backyard garden.
Something we have ignored or taken for granted acquires a new value, and the moment is enriched. For some of us this enrichment lasts the rest of our lives.
Birding as Sport
Birding can be fun! Our competitive urges can be channeled into various bird-listing or counting activities. The term 'twitching' was popularized by comedian Bill Oddie in reference to the excitement felt by birders at seeing a new or rare species.
Birding as Recreation
We may watch birds alone from the comfort of our own homes and cars, or in the rugged ranges of a wilderness far from human habitation. We can be amused by the antics of city sparrows seen from a crowded tram, and awed by the effortless flight of an albatross from a lonely yacht on the open sea.
However, most birders (or birdos) enjoy birding, at least occasionally, as a social activity. Bird clubs cater for the social needs of birders to compare notes and share advice, learn about good birding areas, tell hair-raising stories about birding experiences and join in group projects. Bird clubs organize meetings, day outings and longer tours, and publish newsletters to keep members informed about bird-related issues.
Birding as Conservation
Although some of us may not realize it when we first start watching the birds around us, we are becoming environmentally aware. Birds are part of the ecological webs of natural habitats, and depend on the plants and the other animals for shelter, nest sites and food. Birds are also very visible, quite easily identified, and comprise a wide variety of species that reflect the broad range of their habitats and lifestyles.
Because of this, birds are the best general environmental indicators we have. Bird movements, and changes in numbers and distribution, tell us about the health of natural systems, and warn of dangers that could affect us too.
Birding as Life
Watching birds, and trying to understand their richness and variety, can be one of the most rewarding activities. Each of us, whatever our age, educational level, job or geographical location, can watch the birds around us, and so enrich our lives.
The lives of even the commonest and most familiar kinds of birds are full of mystery and magic. By watching them and getting to know them we can discover the solutions to some questions. However, each answer raises further questions, tempting us to range more deeply in our search for meaning.
Many birders become involved in long-term studies of particular kinds of birds through capture and banding projects. Others monitor the changes that take place in a particular area through regular counts. These projects may be individual ones or group efforts. They can all contribute to a greater understanding of how birds live.
A human lifetime is not long enough to fully understand the life of a bird, although a single moment of insight can start us on a lifelong journey towards that understanding.
Ultimately, birding means what you want it to mean. Be warned; it is at first glance an occasional or casual hobby that may occupy an otherwise weary hour.