Last updated: Mar 8th, 2013

Why Birding? Why Watch Birds?

I also wrote about this topic on my idea blog in the post Birdwatching and eBird.
Black-and-white warbler, a small, black and white striped bird, on a branch of an oak tree, with yellowish green leaves and sky in the background
Black-and-White Warbler, Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia

Birding or birdwatching is the practice of observing wild birds in their natural habitat. Birding is an interesting activity that straddles the line between pure recreation, hobby, and scientific study. People who bird are called birders.

When I was a child, I would hear of people birdwatching and it sounded like the stupidest activity to me. I had no idea how anyone could possibly find it fun to spend time going to merely look at birds. Keep in mind that I was a child who loved nature and was fascinated by plants and insects. Now, I am a die-hard birder. What happened? And what did I find so interesting about this activity?

Bird song and music

I start by mentioning bird song because it was bird song that initially drew me in to birds. I am a musician and I have loved music from a very young age. Bird song always fascinated me, even when I thought that birdwatching was a silly activity; when I was a child I would sit on the porch of my house, listening to robins sing. It was not just the beauty of birds song, but its structure that fascinated me.

As someone who enjoys structurally complex music like that of J.S. Bach, I quickly noted numerous patterns in the structure of robins' song: it was broken into discrete syllables, which were strung together in various combinations. Later, as my mathematical skills developed, I began recording sequences of syllables and found that these syllables follow a structured probability distribution more characteristic of the distributions of letters or words found in human language than of random processes.

The discovery of eBird

Birding can contribute to science and conservation

Although bird song got me interested in birds, it was eBird which got me interested in birding, the systematic practice of watching birds, learning to identify them, and recording one's observations about birds. eBird is an online database which combines data from systematic surveys and casual amateur birders, and pools the data in order to advance the purposes of science and conservation.

Unlike a number of outdoor recreational activities which serve the sole purpose of having fun, birding and contributing data to eBird can directly and indirectly advance the scientific understanding of birds, and ecology in general, as well as helping to conserve and protect wild ecosystems.

I wrote a detailed review of eBird on Squidoo, if you want to learn more about my opinions about the site.

Recommended Online Tools for Birding:

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