Skip to content

How Bird Collecting Evolved into Bird Watching | Smithsonian

August 18, 2022

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

How Bird Collecting Evolved into Bird Watching
The Smithsonian Magazine | Tim Birkhead | 8 Aug 2022 | 5 min read
In the early 1900s, newfound empathy for avian creatures helped wildlife observation displace dispassionate killing.

Ornithologist Edmund Selous made empathy for birds respectable and, in doing so, changed the world. Bird-watching became a popular pastime, eventually making birding scientific and playing a pivotal role in the animals’ conservation. Illustration by Meilan Solly / Photos via Biodiversity Heritage Library, Internet Archive

From the article:
As the interest in watching birds rather than shooting them increased, a view espoused by ornithologist Max Nicholson came to dominate the field. Nicholson believed that bird-watching should be “useful,” and he wanted bird-watchers to direct their energies toward an even greater understanding of birds’ behaviors, especially in terms of their numbers—and so started the practice of monitoring bird populations.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, only the wealthy could afford a serious interest in birds. Even in the 1950s, bird-watching continued to be dominated by those “that held sway in most departments of cultural life” in Britain—that is, mainly upper-class white males, as Mark Cocker writes in Birders: Tales of a Tribe. But by the 1970s and ’80s, as interest in birds continued to expand, most birders “came from the same broad social background—the working and middle classes.”

Worldwide, tens of millions of people have an interest in birds. Because there’s no precise definition of what a birder is, there’s no precise figure. It is telling, however, that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the United Kingdom has more members than all U.K. political parties combined.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: