What Is Bird Watching Called (other Names)

What Is Bird Watching Called (other Names)

There are many names for bird watchers, some sweet, some practical and some down right derogatory. It seems to be a human trait to ridicule anything we don’t understand and for some, bird watching falls into that category. Like all hobbies and all hobbyists, bird watchers fall into two types, serious bird watchers and listers.

Listers have long lists of birds situated all over the world and set themselves the goal of seeing each bird on their list before they die. They’re not interested in habitat or length of time under surveillance, just the physical act of spotting the next bird on the list. Then they’re off in search of the next bird down on the list.

What Is The Scientific Name For A Bird Watcher?

The scientific study of birds is called ornithology and the people that study birds scientifically as a profession are called ornithologists. There are of course other names for birdwatchers and sometimes the use of such words can get slightly confusing.

It’s All In The Name

For instance, what’s the difference between a bird watcher and a birder? These two terms are often used to describe the same person but they have two distinct meanings. A bird watcher is someone that notices birds whilst travelling, whereas a birder travels to notice birds. Both watch birds for fun but birders have a far greater knowledge and understanding of birds than the average bird watcher will. 

Birding is a hobby that requires a certain level of commitment and dedication, whereas bird watching just happens. Birders travel many miles to spot birds they’ve never seen before, often camping out for whole weekends just to spot that one, elusive bird.


Bird watchers and birders will all take exception to being called twitchers, this is seen as a seriously derogatory term. Twitching implies a shallow bird watcher whose only interest is adding a new, often rare bird to their seen list. Many twitchers give no thought to the bird in question, or the fact that it’s a rare sight in this country because it’s probably been blown off course by bad weather.

Very likely the poor bird is tired, and hungry but cannot feed or rest because it’s surrounded by cameras, binoculars and spotting scopes along with all of the twitchers just itching to get a glimpse to add to their list. Twitchers are so called because of a British bird watcher from the 1950s called Howard Medhurst who had a nervous twitch.


Listers are serious bird watchers who set themselves the target of spotting every bird on their list. This is often a lifetime commitment and takes the lister to many countries in search of that elusive bird. Many listers are well educated on the habits of their listed birds and recognise the habitats they will be found in. 


Another derogatory term applied to bird photographers whose entire purpose is to take the best photo of the bird in question. Toggers are said to have no interest in the birds habitats or behaviours, just on obtaining that all important photograph. With many luring the birds with food to get the perfect shot at the perfect angle.

Then they’re off in search of their next photo opportunity. Listers frown upon the activities of toggers because for listers the bird and it’s well being is important.


Another name for a lister, is a ticker. A lister ticks boxes on their list to prove which birds they have seen. A ticker is one who ticks those boxes. Earlier names for tickers include; pot-hunter, tally-hunter and tick-hunter.

Avian Enthusiasts

Avian means related to birds, so an avian enthusiast is a bird watcher or birder. In much the same way as a housewife is a domestic engineer.

Amateur Ornithologist

As they observe the life of birds and learn about their habits and feeding requirements, many birders refer to themselves as amateur ornithologists. To be a fully fledged ornithologist you would need to have a degree in the study of ornithology or a related field. So they use the term amateur to distinguish between an actual ornithologist and an enthusiastic amateur.

Bird Watcher

A bird watcher is anyone that watches birds. From the casual glance when passing woodlands to sitting in the park feeding the sparrows, that’s bird watching.


The distinction between a bird watcher and a birder is, a bird watcher notices birds as they travel. Whereas a birder travels to see birds. 

Bird Watching Terminology

All hobbies develop their own terminology and bird watching has many terms peculiar to this pastime. They include;

  • Bins
    This is a slang term for binoculars.
  • Crippler
    A rare bird that leaves you crippled after seeing it either by its beauty or how rare it is.
  • Dip
    To miss out on seeing a bird that everyone else saw but you missed.
  • Dude
    A term used to describe someone who is a novice bird watcher that is only really interested in getting photographic proof of the bird.
  • Flight Initiation Distance (FID)
    As close as you can possibly get to a species of bird before it will take fright and fly away.
  • Flush
    An action that spooks a bird into taking flight either deliberately or accidentally.
  • Field Mark
    A particular characteristic like an eye ring, feather pattern or other feature allowing a positive ID.
  • Giss
    This stands for the General Impression, Shape & Size of the bird.
  • Hammer
    The act of obtaining numerous high quality photographic images of a bird.
  • LBJ (Little Brown Job)
    A generalisation of small dull, brown songbirds that are difficult to identify.
  • Lifer
    The very first time of spotting a bird.
  • Leucistic
    A condition which means a bird lacks pigment in its plumage and has white patches or is nearly but not quite, completely white.
  • Mega
    An extremely rare bird.
  • Migrant  
    A bird that seasonally migrates from country to country.                           
  • Nemesis Bird
    A particular species of bird that constantly escapes spotting by an individual bird watcher.
  • Patch
    A location that is often visited by a birder.
  • Pelagic
    Concerning the open sea, a way of describing ocean going birds.
  • Pish
    A sound used to induce mobbing by songbirds in order to observe them, the sound mimics the alarm calls of certain birds.
  • Resident
    A species of bird that remains in one area its entire life.
  • Siesta Time
    The time of day when birds are at their least active (usually around midday).
  • SOB
    Refers to the wife/husband or partner of a birder, literally “spouse of birder”.
  • SP.
    The abbreviated form for species.
  • Spark Bird
    The bird responsible for sparking one’s interest in birding.
  • String
    The intentional act of misleading others about the presence of a bird.
  • Stringy
    A report of a bird greeted with scepticism.
  • Stringer
    One that frequently misleads others about bird sightings intentionally.
  • Tick
    A new bird added to one’s list.
  • Trash Bird (Dirt Bird)
    A bird so common to a particular area as to appear to be annoying.
  • Twitch
    The act of long distance travels to find a particular bird.
  • Vagrant
    A bird spotted a long way away from its normal area.
  • Warbler Neck
    This refers to a pain in the neck caused by prolonged periods of looking up high in trees for birds.

Bird Watching Organisations

There are two main bird watching organisations in the UK, they are;

  1. British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)
    Founded in 1933 the BTO[1] recognised the potential of co-operative bird watching to inform conservation.
  2. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
    First conceived in 1889 what is now known as the RSPB[2] was set up to oppose the use of bird feathers in fashion which was threatening egrets, great crested grebes and birds of paradise with extinction.

Both of these organisations can be supported by donations and by volunteering. Follow the links for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a birder?

Someone that watches birds and can identify them.

What is a bird enthusiast called?

Another name for a bird enthusiast is a birder.

What is a spark bird?

A spark bird is the bird that started your interest in bird watching.

What’s the study of birds called?

The study of birds is called ornithology.