Thursday, 11 June 2020

Bring on Birding - an explanation of the joys of birding

My name is Ken Cross and I am a birder.

I wanted to get that confession out of the way early. Not that I’m embarrassed about it but I know some who are.

It is strange that some are ashamed of their hobby but in Australia, and perhaps elsewhere, to claim that you are a birdwatcher is to lose some serious credibility. Explaining that you are a birder or a bird watcher is not going to open too many doors socially. Even I would admit that walking around with binoculars is not perceived as cool. Birding is not something that many aspire to, like say, watching televised motor sports.

And all of that is quite sad.

Because Birding is not only defence-able, it is sellable.

It is a great hobby and interest that one can [and should] rationally defend.

First, before I explain its appeals, I need to quickly describe what it is. Birdwatching, I’m sure many would surmise, is watching birds. If, for example, you put seed out for your birds and sit and watch them [and gain decent pleasure from that] you are bird watching. And there is nothing wrong with that!

Birding, however, is something different, something more.

Birding involves actively seeking birds, identifying them by sight and song, savouring them, recording them, listing them, enjoying them and their habitats and then later, learning, reading and perhaps writing about them.

The way I see it there are seven joys of birding. And I admit being impressed by the explanation of these seven by New York City birder, Chris Cooper.

The first joy is the beauty of the birds.

Please think of some of our common but beautiful Australian birds; the pink and grey Galah, impossibly coloured but well named, Rainbow Lorikeets, Scarlet Honeyeaters; the males appearing as if they’d just been dipped head first in bright red paint. Imagine the no less attractive Emerald Dove, a small jade ground-loving pigeon with a faded pink head and chest. Picture, if you can, a silently sitting male Regent Bowerbird, an impressive mix of orange and jet black and, as it takes flight, another explosion of colour through its orange wings. Even the abundant Australian Magpie, when studied, is a handsome bird in fine black and white.

Birders tap in commonly to these common beauties that many, sadly, walk blindly past.

Regent Bowerbird

The second joy is the pleasure of being in natural places. 

Modern life and technology have robbed many of much of the sublime found in nature. Birding insists that time is spent in nature; the search for the diversity of birds opens the door to a variety of natural habitats and with that the promise of continued new experiences. And in Australia generally and the Sunshine Coast here in Queensland, we have some truly wonderful country to see.


The third pleasure is hunting, albeit without the bloodshed.

To see birds well, alert senses, stealth and, occasionally, patience, are needed. These are the skills of good hunters and these, too, are the skills of good birders. We share, too, the satisfaction of claiming our targeted prize. Where we differ is that we leave our quarry alive and in peace, the hunt rather than the kill, the source of satisfaction.

Please stick with me – Joy number four is the pleasure of problem solving.

One obvious challenge for a birder is to identify every species that they see; to answer the obvious question, “What is that?” Now some birds do not cooperate. They hide among the leaves and the foliage such that you only see part of them at any one time – demanding a sort of mental jigsaw. Still other birds are very similar to other birds, that is, the differences between them are, to say the least, subtle. As with most puzzles arriving at the correct solution is a pleasure.

Joy number five is the pleasure of collecting or, as it is sometimes described in North America, listing. 

Birders collect sightings and keep them as lists. Perhaps the ultimate aim for an Australian birder is to sight and then record every bird species within our continent. The world birder wants to see every one of the ten and a half thousand species or so on our planet. There are some in Australia who have a list of over 800 bird species, seen within Australia and its island territories and the seas between. [My Aussie list is more modest; some 660 species or so].  You can also collect lists for your yard - a yard list, this year – your year list, or your entire life – naturally a life list.

Ebird, an amazing on line bird data base, can help you record your list and keep track of all of your bird sightings.

Joy number six is the satisfaction of making scientific discovery. 

There are lots of birds and very few scientists and subsequently many, many unanswered questions. Every birder can contribute, at least, to helping answer the basic question of “Where are the birds?” And here again Ebird is an important tool. Ebird’s collected information about bird distribution and numbers is, of course, essential for conservation science.

Lastly, joy number seven, what I call the Lifer Effect. 

This pleasure needs a little explaining.  When you begin birding you read the bird books or Apps and see pictures of birds. The birds exist in your mind as merely ‘ideas’. One day though you see the real bird – the concept suddenly becomes reality and you are having an experience that you know that you have never had in your life before. You have just seen a Life bird, and experienced the Lifer Effect and it is, surprisingly, thrilling. [For a non-birder try to imagine the pleasure that could be gained by seeing a wild tiger in the wild, knowing that this experience has never happened before and may never happen again.]

Do you remember your first Superb Blue Wren?

So, there are the seven joys but there are other reasons. It is cheap, inclusive and it can be done anywhere, to varying degrees, on our planet.

It is cheap – one pair of binoculars and one field guide [an illustrated book describing all of the birds] and you are ready to go. Although I do encourage any and all to join their national Birding / Bird Conservation group; here in Australia  - Birdlife Australia.

It is inclusive - birding can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone of every generation and it is a hobby that can last a lifetime.

So try birding. 

Many of you will be glad that you did.

Click here to read about additional joys!



  1. You have brilliantly described what I've become over the past few years. I started bird watching and enjoying their antics, occasionally sharing that joy with others, either on Facebook, Instagram or Blog. Then I started photographing them and wanting to know more about what I was seeing. The pure joy of seeing and recording a bird I've never heard of before is quite something. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the very kind words! Please consider following our Blog and share with Birding friends.

  2. To experience a bird you have heard about but never seen, even if it is in your area, is like being given a gift you have always wanted. It lifts you for the whole day and often for far longer. To get a decent photo to cherish the memory and share the joy with friends is like the icing on the cake. It can happen any day you go out, occur in a quiet place, or in the centre of a town, which adds to the joy of birding. All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open.

  3. Thanks Helen for your comments. Please consider following our blog and sharing with your birding friends.