Norden 1992-98
Twitchers, observing a citrine wagtail (Motacilla citreola), which is feeding at the edge of a pond behind the fence to the right. – Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



I like to watch birds. They are lively and often very colourful, and their song or calls enhance your nature hike. I prefer a relaxed form of birdwatching, where you enjoy, whatever you may happen to encounter on your hikes.

Not all birdwatchers share this attitude. A steadily increasing number of ornithologists are called twitchers, a term used for birdwatchers, who are willing to travel long distances to see a rare bird, which is then ticked off on their list of lifers, i.e. a bird they have never seen before. The term twitcher originated in the 1950s, when it was used for the nervous behaviour of Howard Medhurst, a British birdwatcher, who was literally twitching, when he saw a rare bird.

These twitchers spend most of their leisure time trying to find rare birds – preferably species, which they haven’t seen before. These observations are posted on the internet, or spread by various systems on mobile phones, so that other twitchers can rush to the area to try to see the bird in question.

Not all birds are easy to find. Many birds, e.g. rails and crakes, and many passerines, have a tendency to hide among dense vegetation. Such birds are called skulkers. It often requires a very long time to get to see these birds, so in order not to waste too much of their valuable time, the twitchers lure them out from the vegetation by playing their song or call on their mobile phones. This is called play-back or play-in. The bird in question approaches to chase away its ‘opponent’, and the twitchers are jubilant that they succeeded in observing the bird. The fact that they stress the bird is of no importance to them.

As soon as a twitcher has ticked off a new species on his list, it loses a large part of its attraction – no matter how beautiful or interesting it may be. Instead, the twitcher concentrates his energy on finding other species, which he hasn’t seen before.

Once I heard a twitcher say: ”Now I have seen all the species, depicted in ’The Birds of Britain and Europe’*, so now I can throw away the book!” – When you have reached this point, your birdwatching has become a simple collecting mania. In some individuals, this mania develops into competitions, the aim of which is to decide, who is able to observe most bird species on his property, or in his county or country, on a continent, or in the entire world.

In 1980, British William Oddie – who is a bit of a twitcher himself – wrote a very humorous book, entitled Bill Oddie’s Little Black Bird Book. Read it, and have a hearty laughter!


* Roger Tory Peterson, Guy R. Mountfort & P.A.D. Hollom: A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. Collins.



These signs on the way to Dasyueshan National Forest, central Taiwan, urges birdwatchers not to feed wild birds, or to lure out ‘skulkers’ by using ‘play-back’. Both requests are widely ignored by twitchers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



(Uploaded March 2017)