While everyone has a strong opinion on the best ways to get into birding and learn the most, there are really many correct ways to get out and enjoy birding. Every birder, birdwatcher, naturalist, and ornithologist has their favorite style, and gravitates towards a style of birding that suites their particular interests. It’s the diversity that keeps everything interesting, because different styles of birding are more likely to discover different things due to their focus.
Check out some of the main styles of birding below, and let us know what resonates the most with you!
1. The behavioralists
This birder enjoys watching the daily goings on in the bird world, from the nesting cardinal pair in their backyard to the now ubiquitous webcams of Bald Eagle nests. You might think that most of the behavioralistas are stay at home birders, more interested in watching the birds than identifying them, but you would be very mistaken. Stand next to any of the keen young birders when they are scanning through shorebird flocks, or twitching a rare vagrant and you’ll be treated to an enlightening flow of commentary on unique behaviors they are seeing that they think might be useful for future ID’s.
Behavior is such a key part of a birds existence. The diet, wing loading, bill shape, weight, and more, all effect little aspects of a birds behavior that are simultaneously interesting and extremely useful for identification. Is that accipiter flying down the ridge bouncing all over the place as little bursts of wind push it around? It’s probably a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
2. The rarity chasers
The ubiquity of rare bird alerts (e.g. NARBA, eBird, BirdsEye, and Facebook groups) have made it increasingly easy to get out and see rare birds. Gone are the days when you had to know someone who knew someone, or get on an exclusive phone chain to hear about the interesting birds in your area. Whether it’s a notable county bird, or the first record for the ABA area, these birders are in tune with the latest vagrants and are constantly searching for a vagrant of their own to report.
These birders are probably the most disparaged group any type of birder, and are often looked down on as mere ‘collectors’ rather than actually appreciating birds. It could be said (well, it is said) that the rise of birding in pop culture has fueled this rarity-chasing madness, but I think the truth is that people have always been chasing birds since the beginning of birding, and social media and other sharing technology like eBird has just made it more obvious how many birders there actually are.
3. The spectacle seekers
Fall passerine flights in Cape May, the epic spring Broad-winged Hawk flights along the south shores of Lake Ontario, cranes and waterfowl along the Platte River in Nebraska, the epic hawk migrations in Veracruz and Israel, warblers at Magee Marsh in northwest Ohio. All of these events draw large numbers of birders because the sheer volume of birds make for an amazing experience. These major spectacles are scattered across the world, and happen at different times of the year, so you can travel from one to the next, enjoying some of natures finest phenomenons.
4. The socializers
These folks might be tag along spouses, might be new to birding and unsure what to do in a large crowd of birders, or birders reconnecting with friends they only run into occasionally. Birding is notable for the many extremely friendly people who enjoy the sport, and some of these birder gatherings can take on the feeling of a reunion. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t know anyone, you already have a shared interest with all the other birders, so there is a lot of interesting things you can chat about that you will both find interesting.
If you are really into the social aspect of birding, don’t be afraid to start attending some festivals where you can rub shoulders with other like-minded people, or organizing a birding or social gathering in your own area. Birds and Beers events are being organized across the country, and can be a great time to meet new birders in your area.
5. The hawk counters
This is a special breed of birder who spends long days sitting in one spot as raptors (and other birds) fly past. Sounds great, right? However, the most dedicated of these individuals are out at the hawk watch every single day, in almost any type of weather.
What draws these individuals to return day after day is the unlimited potential for something interesting to come along, however this requires an insane amount of patience and is not for everyone. Raptors are long distance migrants, and so the possibility of picking up something rare at a hawk watch is higher than just birding around your local park. The best hawk migration points are also great for watching other species, as the same conditions that are funneling hawks past one spot is also concentrating shorebirds, gulls or songbirds.
There is also a bit of the socializer and spectacle seeker in the hawk counter, but they take it to another level.
So, which style of birding resonates the most with you, or is there a style that I missed?