Is Bird Watching a Sport

Is Bird Watching a Sport? Know the Facts

I know how many people look at birdwatching the way they look at golf, even worse, an idle type of activity that only old folks do. You have to do a lot of studying before you go out, you follow the flock, and you sit idle for most of the time. They ‘kinda’ have the right to believe so! The idea of a ‘sport’ conjures up scenes of rigorous physical activity; running, sweating, and the like. Rarely do we see that in bird watching. Try to approach a bird watcher and tell him that bird watching requires sitting still with binoculars in a feeder waiting for a bird to approach, and they’ll definitely roll their eyes at you. But is bird watching a sport?

The short answer is that bird watching is not a sport. While there are bird watching ‘competitions’, bird watching is not widely regarded as a form of sport. It’s not included in the Olympics, and it requires very little exercise or technique. We believe that bird watching is more of a hobby or an activity rather than a sport.

We have plenty of reasons to believe that, and we’ll discuss them below. Also, have you heard of birding? Do you think it’s different from bird watching?

We’ll be answering that too.

What Is Bird Watching?

House Sparrow on a fence of a small soccer stadium

Let us take a step back and look at the definition of bird watching.

Bird watching at its essence is grabbing your pair of binoculars and going out to watch birds, but it does not need to be boring while you’re stuck in special feeders. Actually, now that the people’s interest in bird watching is picking up, they’re willing to travel for miles, climb mountains, wander through a meadow, and trek through forests to see some special birds.

When you’re ‘that’ enthusiastic and serious about bird watching, you call yourself a ‘birder,’ and you’ll probably call bird watching ‘birding.’ It’s the same thing, just with a dash of effort and loads of enthusiasm.

Bird Watching Is Evolving

The stereotypical picture of a nerdy guy with binoculars isn’t that accurate anymore. Nowadays, hardcore ‘birders’ embark on lots of adventures to find particular birds. With over 686 avian species that are rare and endangered, these avid bird watchers have a lot to do.

Summer Tanager by Imogen Warren

Bird Watchers Are Useful

Author Note: Apart from their own interest in birds, birders help environmental institutions by reporting their seeings, the locations and timings of seeing particular birds, reporting their status, and sort of evaluating their habitats.

Across the world, birders sometimes help in bird ringing, where they put rings in birds’ feet to follow them and study their behavior.

What Constitutes a Sport?

According to, a sport is an athletic activity that requires skill or physical prowess, whereas the Oxford dictionary adds an element of competition as a pillar of sports, saying that a sport is an activity in which you have to exert effort and possess the skill. Then, they add this part, “It’s an activity that involves a competition between individuals or teams against each other.”

So we’ve got skill, physical effort, and competition, so far.

The debate isn’t restricted to bird watching, and it has been ongoing for ages. In 2000, the International Olympic Committee declared chess as a sport, as it requires skill and mental effort, which by extension, requires a fit physical state. It also does fulfill the competition constituent.

Hence, it’s declared as a sport. Still, many people disagree with such a definition.

Let’s break down these criteria and see how bird watching fits.


Least Bittern by Imogen Warren

Bird watching requires skill. Fair and square!

You need to know a lot about birds, and we mean a lot! We’re talking about different bird species, their habitats, behavior, migration patterns, and how to identify them. That’s plenty to digest. Not anyone will be capable of doing the required research and applying it in reality.

You need to develop the skill of detecting birds by their sound. Being able to make the best use of peripheral vision is definitely a plus.

Defining a bird is never that easy. It’s all fun and games studying birds and seeing their pictures in books until you actually have to spot the bird itself in nature. That’s a whole other challenge!

Physical Effort

This one is debatable. Honestly, bird watching does require physical activity. Not aggressive activity, yes, but enough to qualify as a sport.

In most cases, bird watching will require you to go on a quest where you conquer rough terrain. It might be a coniferous forest, a sandy place, or you might be lucky to walk across the coastline. That’s one of the exciting aspects of birding. You never know what you’re up to!

You don’t know how long you’ll be walking. It might be minutes or hours. This definitely requires stamina.


Author Note: A big no. There are no bird watching competitions, but there are no hunting competitions as well. Does this mean that hunting is not a sport? Mhmm, this is subjective.

The competitive edge of bird watching is every bird watcher’s individual list of achievements, the number of birds they watched, for example. Even better, the number of rare birds they watched.

Some references distinguish between bird watching and birding, claiming that birding is the more complex form of bird watching. They assume that it’s one with a competition as well, where a group of bird watchers go on an expedition to see some birds, and the winner is the one who sees it first.

It’s a good opportunity to tell you that the origin of the word ‘birding’ comes from the practice of hunting birds with firearms. That’s why some people distinguish it from passive bird watching. In birding, you’re actively seeking the sight of a specific bird.

Southern Emu-wren by Imogen Warren


The last factor is having a set of rules. Any sport has a set of rules that players must obey, and ‘birding’ is no different.

The American Birding Association has a clear rulebook for how to approach birds. These rules apply as to whether or not your spotted bird counts in your personal record.

These rules include that the bird should be alive, wild, and not restrained during the encounter. Besides, you have to prescribe a certain area and time frame for the bird encounter, in addition to some rules that the bird must be found in.

See? There’s some serious business going on here.

Is Bird Watching a Sport?

Green Heron by Imogen Warren

Author Note: According to the aforementioned criteria, we don’t think that the rules of a formal sport apply to bird watching. We won’t argue with you if you consider it to be so, though.

Another aspect to look at is the possibility of converting this activity into a profession. You can be a professional soccer player, tennis player, or a basketball player. You’ll also probably be paid huge amounts of money for that. Never had we ever seen a professional bird watcher, though. This part weakens the argument of bird watching as a sport.

The Other Side – Is Bird Watching a Hobby?

One distinctive difference between a hobby and a sport is having a goal, namely winning. All sports instill having to win against an individual opponent or a team. This is not the case in birding.

Although we understand how encountering a certain bird is some sort of a ‘win,’ you practically can’t lose if you didn’t. You just keep trying. There are no restrictions and no time frame unless you’re trying to encounter an endangered species, and it, unfortunately, dies out while you’re pursuing it.

We lean towards the opinion that considers bird watching a hobby. It’s an activity that you pursue during your leisure time with a minimal set of rules and nearly no competition. You follow your own pace, and you set your own milestones. You get to enjoy the whole thing with no stressors.

Why Should I Pursue Bird Watching?

A hobby or a sport, bird watching is worthy of your consideration for a handful of reasons. First of all, it’s merely restricted to birds. Through bird watching, you get to exercise, do some research, and learn patience. Besides, it might spark your interest in some other niche subjects like weather forecasting, wind patterns, and botany.

Birding is considered a workout. This means that it improves your cardiovascular health and helps pump blood more efficiently. The nice part is that you won’t feel like you’re exerting that much effort.

It’ll also help improve your mental health in many ways. You’ll connect with nature and learn how to be mindful to hear the sounds of birds and identify them accordingly. Moreover, you’ll belong to some community of fellow bird watchers. It might be your new gateway to a stress-free vacation.

Azure Kingfisher by Imogen Warren

Wrapping Up

No matter how you choose to define it, bird watching is a beneficial activity that’s worth pursuing because of its physical and mental benefits. Go join a group of bird watchers, do your homework, buy a pair of binoculars, and indulge in your bird watching journey! As well as seeing birds, I guarantee that you will see some phenomenal places and animals.

Wetlands by Imogen Warren


What is the difference between birding and bird watching?

Simple: bird watchers look at birds and birders look for them.

Do birds know they are being watched?

Ask any birder if they have seen lots of people walk past a bird and it doesn’t blink but when they stop to look at it, it flies away immediately. Yes, they know!

What do birds see when they look at you?

Humans can see 3 colors: red, blue and green. Birds, however, can see 4 colors: red, blue, green and UV. This means that when we see a bird that is black, other birds see a rainbow of colors.

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