The rewards of birding

Wallace's Fruit-Dove. Mehd Halaouate

by Gunnar Engblom on December 28, 2012

9000 birds on his list!Tom Gullick hits 9000 species with Wallece's Fruit-Dove

How do you measure your success as a birder?  How do you get recognition of other birders and non-birders? Is there some sort of measurement to quantify the experience?

The easiest way, is to keep track of how many birds you had seen. The number allows you to compare yourself with other birders. This is known as competitive birding.

Even if there is no competition and you only compete with yourself, the listing game is the most prominent way how birding is practiced today. The number, of course, reveals nothing of the birder’s actual skills in identifying birds.

Tom Gullick (above) recently hit a landmark of 9000 species seen when he saw Wallace’s Fruit-Dove (top photo). This is truly amazing! 9000 species of the around 10,000 species that exist in the world.

But such numbers do  not impress non-birders, nor do they attract more people to the hobby. What is the point with putting a mark in front of the name of the bird in the field guide or on a birdlist indicating that you have seen it? What is it good for? Why would anyone else care? Why would a non-birder even pretend to listen or pay attention when the birder brags about his new life-birds?

Having said this, there are of course birders, who are well recognized for their birding skills. They are bird guides and authors of bird books. But most people who throw themselves into the hobby need some sort of measurement – and that is when the listing game starts

The digi-birders

Maybe we need a new term. I have been bashed for labeling those who start taking photos of birds birders. Let’s introduce a new word. Digi-birders – who get hooked by taking digital photos of birds.
The new digi-birding boom has put things in a new perspective. Just as mentioned in an earlier post of with a kid getting into birding via a digital point and shoot camera, the same is true if we talk about recruiting new birders among adults.  Taking interesting photographs of birds becomes far more interesting than counting numbers of birds seen. Sharing the photos on the internet where everyone can see them even your non-birding friends. You gain recognition by sharing your bird photos. The more shares and likes you get for a photo on Facebook, the greater your satisfaction and the recognition of your peers.

Frankly, which of the two models do you think works better for recruiting your non-birding friends to take interest? Are you sure they want to hear about your last lifebird you added to your list? Or do you think they’d be more interested in seeing the great photo of a bird you took yesterday. They certainly would not share your Facebook update of a new birder milestone of species seen, but they may just share your great bird photo – of say a Wallece’s Fruit-Dove.

Internet and especially Facebook has made it easier for bird photos to gain recognition and it is this mechanism which will make interest in birds massive.

Digi-birders could adopt birding ethics.

Can you see how powerful this change is? Don’t you agree in this light there could be millions of new birders in the coming years – if including also bird photographers into the birder label? At least labeling the bird photographer as potential birder – or at least digi-birder.

What is important is that there will be a lot of people who will care about birds. That will be more people interested in conservation. It is up to us, the traditional birders to be there for the new digi-birders to teach them birding and identification skills and to introduce them to the ethics of birding. The impact on the birds and the environment by our presence needs to be looked after. Birders in general have good ethics and practice a code of conduct and can/should transmit this to other users of the natural areas.

Top photo: Wallece’s Fruit-Dove by Mehd Halaouate. Swedish readers will find Mehd’s wife’s blog about living in Indonesia interesting.


This was the seventh pre intro-post in the birdwatching from the beginning series. There are one more intro chapter to go.  In the next post, I will make an outline of the coming posts. I hope to get a lot of guest bloggers to treat different topics. Please make sure you tell your friends of this series so they can be with us from the start.  You are allowed to share the posts via email, or on Facebook, Google plus and Twitter. Check the sharing options below.
If you liked this post, you may want to  subscribe to this blog.  The launch is on January 1, 2013.  A good way to start the new year.

Gunnar  Engblom
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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Hugh December 28, 2012 at 7:06 am

Thanks for your articles.
I began as a “Conventional” birder many years ago, and was immediately drawn to photographing the birds I saw. It just made sense to me to document my finds and share them. I don’t have much artistic sense, but it also became clear that some photographs are more than just documentation.
Life came along, and I stopped actively birding until recently, and I was particularly drawn by your comments on “Digi-Birding.”
I can’t afford the very best equipment, but I’m retired now and can spend a lot of time at this, and I’ve managed to get a few good shots.
I certainly get a lot of satisfaction from this, but I’ve been quite surprised at the reactions of my friends (Especially on Facebook). More than a few of them have begun spending more time observing the birds around their areas and making inquiries about them, and that’s got to be a good thing.
I also get a lot of reaction from the members of my local bird club, who enjoy seeing photos of birds they have seen or would like to see.
I had no idea there was a birder/photographer divide, so I just ignore it and soldier on.


JJ December 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I love that last sentence!


Gunnar Engblom December 28, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Thanks for the comments Hugh. You give a valuable testimony that I am on the right track with this blog series. I hope it will be helpful and something those initiated can share with non-initiated. The main message is, that it does not have to be complicated, and to get started, everyone most likely has what is needed. A digital camera such as a point and shoot camera and an internet connection.


dan December 28, 2012 at 11:10 am

Enjoyed your story.
I like to review the birds i’ve seen via photographs.
To hear other birders stories on how they snagged a rarely seen
Or unusual bird in their travels


Diego from COLOMBIA Birding... December 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Gunnar et al.,
… and what if all this paraphernalia of social media and sharing crap [that I also use and take advantage of I must admit] (ie. facebook, flickr, websites, electronic email networks, etc) wouldn’t exist (yet)?

Then your original question of “How do you measure your success as a birder?” and your “Digi-birders” creation would just not have a existing starting-point and it would be like in the old nice times (and I still have some birding fellas that live in that epoch): you would measure your “success” as a birder based on:

* keeping track of how many times yo have enjoyed watching a bird.
* having a personal life-bird.
* seeing a regular common bird from your window.
* increasing your natural history knowledge of X bird because you watched it eating something new or nesting in a different tree.
* remembering how many times you have made trips with friends to chase rare birds.
* thinking on how many times, and how cool it was!, taking to your cousin or your mom that knows nothing about birds to the park and showing him/her any bird
* doing laundry after muddy wet birding trips.
* etc etc etc ….

so, I still prefer to “measure” my birding success by my personal and REAL social enjoyment, by the new places I get to know each time, by a last minute call from a friend to go and see a rare bird every now and then, etc… Even I practice it (facebook, photos, posts, etc) I do think it is not about numbers of birds, places, photographs, bragging, etc.



Gunnar Engblom December 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm


Yes, I agree with you, because I am also old school. I love to add a bird to my life list. I love the zen of birding and to show birds to someone who are not initiated. But you know that all these things are much harder to sell to a wide public. Digi-birding or bird photography is much more hands-on, and will certainly grow to enormous proportions whether the old time birders like it or not. Yet, when it come to birdwatching manuals – all of them 100% are totally void of social media and the new sharing of bird photos on line. It does not mean we shall stop to recruit the old way. The Pledge to Fledge initiative is excellent. But we should be aware that by introducing the digi-birding into the mix it will attract more people. It does not help the cause to keep on tellng those that take pictures of birds, without a clue what they have photographed and totally dependent on uploading the picture to Facebook asking for IDs, that they are not worthy to call themselves birders because they don´t use binoculars or join a bird walk. Instead, embrace them and teach them how to separate a Cattle Egret from a Great Egret. At one time very early on, we also had these struggles even if we won’t admit that today…


David Moran December 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm

It sounds fun as concept, but for those who have been birding for many years and know how difficult getting a photo of every bird they see is no longer fun. You hint that standards have to be different e.g., It would not be expected that a list of photographed birds be anywhere near the length of the seen or heard birds list. Then it would be reasonable.


Gunnar Engblom December 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm

David. For us old time birders we still would have the same set of personal enjoyment. We will still enjoy looking at life birds and keep our lifelists. And there will be a lot of people still doing that. However, what I am arguing if the birders do not include these new digi-birders…and there will be a lot of them… then we are losing out. And it would jeopardize recruitment to birding clubs. We need to be inclusive.


JJ December 28, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Any vocation or avocation needs new blood to survive and thrive. People have lots of choices available these days on how to use their time. Embrace the struggling newbies and their technology, or run the risk of being irrelevant to how people choose to live their lives, donate their time and money, etc. Seeing how harsh some oldtimers (and a shocking number of more recent versions) can be with new people has made me wonder at times why in the world anyone would choose birding. Two of my kids now have no interest, and that is in part due to some unpleasant encounters. Gunnar is on the right track.


Gunnar Engblom December 28, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Thanks JJ!


Monica Engstrand December 29, 2012 at 4:35 am

Digi-birding is one way into birding and I think it can be a good way, if it is combined with knowledge and respect for the birds. The digi-birders have to learn about patience too.
I’m an old-time birder and I love photographing. I tend to forget the x-es. I can look at the list and ask myself:
– Have I really seen that bird?
And I wonder about the people bragging about how many species they have seen/heard/observed. Do they remember them all? Have they enjoyed the bird or the x they put on their list?
But when I have photographed it I remember it. It happens that I take pictures of birds I haven’t identified, but then I can try to do that later, or ask for help on the internet. And I find that contact very satisfying.
I think Gunnar’s thoughts about digi-birding are great!


Gunnar Engblom January 2, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Thanks for the support Monica.


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