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What Are Bird Watchers Called? (Explained)

If you have taken the time to watch birds feeding or flying around, you’ll probably recognize they have fascinating behaviors. Birds also display their intelligence in various ways, whether they are out in groups or solo. There’s little surprise people have taken up observing birds as a hobby or career to learn more about them. However, not everyone likes to be called a bird watcher.

So, what are bird watchers called? And are there any differences between the different terminologies? Read on to find answers to these questions and more about bird watching!

What are bird watchers called?

Bird watchers spend time looking at birds and learning more about them. They observe the behaviors of birds and often take quality photos of birds in their natural habitat. However, not all bird watchers like to be called bird watchers. Everyone prefers different names, including:

  • Birders
  • Ornithologists
  • Bird enthusiasts
  • Twitchers
  • Listers
  • Tickers
  • Nature-lovers

Most of the time, the specific term used depends on their level of knowledge about birds and how much time they spend looking at birds or researching information.

What is the difference between birding and bird watching?

The terms birding and bird watching are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference for serious birders. Bird watching is more passive, where you watch birds casually as you see them flying around or coming to your feeder.

Birding is more active and can be considered a sport. If you are a birder, you are actively finding birds in their natural habitat and working to improve your bird-searching skills through classes or field trips. Birders are also more likely to recognize different bird species and carry expensive binoculars or spotting scopes when they seek out birds.

Image: nickfish03 |

What is an ornithologist?

An ornithologist is someone with a degree in ornithology, which is the study of birds. They might also have a biology Ph.D. but focus on a particular type of bird. Generally, ornithologists work at zoos, museums, universities, or nature centers to help learn more about birds and conserve them for the future.

You might hear some bird watchers call themselves amateur ornithologists. Typically, they are people who observe and learn things about birds similar to an ornithologist. They might also compile information about particular species and their behaviors.

What is a twitcher?

A twitcher describes someone who is trying to spot as many birds as possible to add to their life list. They will sometimes take part in events such as a “rarity chase” to find rare birds or other competitive events. Some people consider twitchers a type of birder since they will travel long distances to find new birds.

What are the different types of birding?

A common type of bird watching is known as backyard birding, where you simply observe the birds you attract in your backyard. You can put out feeders, have plants they enjoy, or a birdbath to watch birds that pass by your property. This is sometimes referred to as “armchair birding.”

However, bird watching or birding can be more involved and require planning to travel to watch birds. Local birding is when you travel to nearby reserves, parks, or natural parks to search for birds in their wild habitats. You will need field skills to track and find birds successfully.

Birding travel is another type of birding where you travel longer distances, especially to see specific species. Having some ornithology knowledge is helpful as it allows you to identify and appreciate the differences between bird species you find.

What are bird watching competitions?

In most bird-watching competitions, the goal is to increase the number of birds species you’ve seen on your list. The three main types of bird-watching events you can participate in are:

  • Big day: where you aim to see as many species as possible within a 24 hour period. The person with the longest list wins.
  • Big year: where you compete to have the longest list within a year, from January 1st to December 31st.
  • Big sit or big stay: where a team of birders spot birds in a specific 17-feet diameter area for 24 hours.

Birding is also considered a competitive sport through some major events in the U.S. For example, the World Series has been an annual event since 1984 where teams observe birds in the “Big Day” format. It occurs in New Jersey during May when migratory bird sightings are at a peak. Two other popular events are the New York Birdathon and Great Texas Birding Classic.


Bird watchers go by various names depending on how they define their bird-watching activities. For example, birding vs. bird watching differs around how active someone is in searching for birds to watch. A birder will actively travel to see birds while bird watching is more passive. Now that you know the different terminologies, you’ll better understand how you want to define your bird-watching habits! If it sounds like fun to you, check out our article all about beginner bird watching.