The Rise of Birdwatching: From Shooting Birds to a Cool and Inclusive Hobby

How birdwatching has evolved from a hobby of the past to a popular and diverse activity enjoyed by people of all backgrounds.

Birdwatching, once a niche activity reserved for scientists and hobbyists, has transformed into a popular pastime enjoyed by millions around the world. The history of birdwatching dates back thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that the idea of observing birds without harming them gained traction. Since then, the hobby has seen exponential growth, with books, social media, and apps playing a crucial role in attracting a younger and more diverse generation of birdwatchers. This article explores the evolution of birdwatching, from its early days to its current status as a cool and inclusive activity.

The Birth of Modern Birdwatching

In the late 19th century, ornithologist Edmund Selous sparked a shift in birdwatching by advocating for observing birds without killing them. Prior to this, scientists and enthusiasts would shoot birds or steal their eggs for study. Selous’ ideas gained momentum in the early 20th century, thanks to conservation pioneers like Max Nicholson. However, it wasn’t until the publication of James Fisher’s book, “Watching Birds,” in 1940, that birdwatching began to gain mass popularity. Fisher’s book sold over a million copies and provided a welcome distraction for soldiers serving overseas during World War II.

The Changing Face of Birdwatching

Traditionally seen as a hobby for white middle-aged men, birdwatching has witnessed a significant demographic shift in recent years. Younger and more diverse birdwatchers are emerging, thanks to the democratizing power of social media and birdwatching apps. These platforms have made birdwatching more accessible and less stigmatized, allowing a new generation to connect with nature and each other. Sophie Pavelle, a 28-year-old naturalist, believes that these hobbies are becoming normalized for young urbanites, helping them connect with others who share their interests.

Birdwatching Goes Mainstream

Social media has played a crucial role in making birdwatching “cool” and mainstream. Influential birdwatchers on platforms like YouTube and Instagram have amassed large followings, showcasing the beauty and excitement of birdwatching. One such influencer is “Kwesia City Girl in Nature,” a 25-year-old from south London who runs her own YouTube channel. She never expected to find a community of like-minded individuals who share her passion for birdwatching. The accessibility and inclusivity of the hobby have made it appealing to people from all backgrounds, regardless of their knowledge or expertise.

The Rise of Nature-Loving Communities

Organizations like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have seen a surge in membership, with around 1.2 million members. These organizations, along with initiatives like Go Beyond, aim to encourage and provide opportunities for a new generation of nature-lovers. By fostering a sense of community and offering support, these organizations help young birdwatchers feel empowered and connected to the natural world. Birdwatching is not just about identifying species or facts; it’s about appreciating the beauty of the moment and finding solace in nature.


From its humble beginnings as a scientific pursuit to its current status as a popular and inclusive hobby, birdwatching has come a long way. The shift from killing birds to observing them has allowed people from all walks of life to connect with nature and each other. Social media and birdwatching apps have played a significant role in attracting a younger and more diverse generation, making birdwatching accessible and cool. As the hobby continues to evolve, organizations and initiatives are working to nurture and support the next generation of nature-lovers, ensuring that birdwatching remains a cherished pastime for years to come.






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