twitching and science

To: "Tim Dolby" <>
Subject: twitching and science
From: "Andrew Stafford" <>
Date: Tue, 6 Mar 2001 22:10:22 +1100
Hi all,

My apologies in advance for wading into a debate that's right up there with
cannon netting in the "done to death" stakes - especially given that the
subject has reared its head again after a shameless piece of trolling! I
would like to say right up front that I mean no personal offence to Tim
Dolby, but I feel strongly that his misguided attempt to distinguish between
birdwatching and twitching demands a response. So here goes.

Tim wrote:

> Depending on definitions, I would argue no, "twitching" is a mental and
physical game, a past time - need I say a "sport".

> "Birdwatching" (which incorporates "twitching") is a past time which can
lead to a greater understanding of the natural history of birds, and
consequently provide assistance in the development of the science of
ornithology - as well as the wider scientific paradigm of ecology, a branch
of biology.

Tim admits that birdwatching incorporates twitching, but the distinctions he
makes between them contradict this assertion. In any event, these
distinctions are spurious in the extreme. Twitching may well be regarded as
a kind of numbers game akin to trainspotting or stamp collecting, but the
implicit assumption that it is therefore of no scientific consequence
(either ornithological, or more broadly ecological) is simply bogus. He

> For instance the debate over whether we include ship assisted birds on our
"list" is a example of this dichotomy. On the one hand twitching asks
whether you include because you can add it to your list of 'Australian"
birds; on the other in we consider it from the science of ecology we examine
the implication that such a sighting could have on the environment, etc.

This is not so much a red herring as a red emperor! Is it not possible to
walk and chew gum at the same time? Finally:

> Birdwatching I would argue fits somewhere in between - a concern for the
environment from a 'scientific' or natural history viewpoint, but also the
joy of the birds in terms of the aesthetic appreciation (or whatever
emotional word you fancy, ie "love" of birds).

Again, this attempted distinction is misguided. I know of very few twitchers
(who, by the way, also consider themselves birdwatchers) who are solely or
even primarily motivated by the prospect of adding more birds to their
list(s). While it is an enjoyable sideline and, for some, a personal quest
or obsession - and I'm sure Mike Carter, Tony Palliser and other 700
clubbers would happily admit to this - most are also exceptionally
knowledgeable ornithologists who have made invaluable contributions to
Australian science.

Hard as it may be for some to believe, most twitchers are just as
enthusiastic about birds and birdwatching as "real" birdwatchers. Why else
would they want to see more and more birds? My guess is they are driven by
much the same things as birdwatchers (who, by the way, are often also
twitchers) watch them - because of their aesthetic appeal, the joy of seeing
them in a wild state - indeed, as Tim suggests, by a genuine love of birds.

One last point which, I admit, I've already made on birding-aus not too long
ago. Birding/twitching/birdwatching is a hobby, one which is a source of
great pleasure to many people. While it is wonderful that our knowledge
gives us all an opportunity to make our own personal contributions to
conservation, I don't think it either fair or necessary that ANY birder
should in ANY way feel compelled at ANY time to justify his/her leisure
activities in the name of science.

What better way to take the fun out of it?



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