What Is A Twitcher?
Although the terms twitcher and bird watcher are often used interchangeably, particularly in the media, the word ‘twitcher ‘has a specific definition.
A twitcher is someone who will go to great lengths to view new bird species. For some twitchers their pursuit can turn into an obsession and can involve extensive travel, dedicated monitoring of birding hotspots and networking with other twitchers. Some twitchers have even been known to charter aeroplanes in order to achieve their goal.
The use of the term twitcher arose in the 1950s and was used to describe the nervous behaviour of British bird watcher, Howard Medhust, who travelled long distances by car to see rare birds. Prior to this, those who chased rare birds were known as pot-hunters, tally-hunters, or tick-hunters.
Twitchers do not necessarily spend a lot of time bird watching. Instead they will have life lists and are more interested in getting new ticks (see vocabulary below) on their list. Many will also be in competition with each other in order to complete lists first or accumulate the longest species list.
Unfortunately twitchers have a bad reputation for disturbing rare birds and damaging nature reserves. And as they chase over the globe they burn up fossil fuels which is at odds with the respect for the environment many observational bird watchers have.
Twitching is popular in the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden and Finland where the small size of these countries means it is relatively easy to travel quickly across them.
The most popular twitches in the UK have drawn large crowds and received extensive press coverage. In 1989 over 5000 twitchers flocked to a car park in Maidstone, Kent to spot a Golden Winged Warbler. And in February 2011 an enterprising bird watcher charged 500 twitchers £5.00 to come into his kitchen to take photographs of a rare Oriental Turtle Dove in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.
In the UK twitchers have their own vocabulary. Some of the most common terms are listed here:
Burn up – to beat around in the undergrowth hoping to flush out a bird
Mega or Megatick – a very rare bird
Crippler – rare and spectacular brilliant bird
Dip – to miss seeing a bird which you were looking for
Dude – a novice birdwatcher
First – the first record of a species
Grip – to see a bird which another twitcher missed and to tell them you’ve seen it
Jizz – the overall impression given by the general shape, movement or behaviour of a bird
Lifer – the first-ever sighting of a bird species by an observer
List – a list of all bird species seen
Plastic – a bird that has escaped from captivity rather than a truly wild bird
Sibe – a bird from Siberia
Tick – the addition of a bird species to a life list
Yank – a bird from North America