In Slate, the bird-watcher-watcher Nathan Heller presents an often macabre view of a growing hobby:
Rising at vampiric hours, these people leave polite society behind to spend long stretches staring not at dazzling vistas or strange beasts but at birds -- and often unexotic ones at that. They pack enough high-end equipment and field expertise to undertake a hunt but never touch their prey; the consummating act of birding is, at most, a picture snapped for private use and from a distance, in the manner of a pervert with a beach pass.
Heller doesn't seem to know his vampires, who of course rise at dusk and are safely back in their coffins by the time amateur naturalists arrive in the field. Or, he might have been referring to owl watchers, who (according to a leading authority on the subject) are sometimes misunderstood by the police. In particular I must take issue with his interpretation that
[b]irding is a steam valve for anxiety about nuclear-age strength and habits. Its prominence today can be seen as a measure of quiet alarm.
I was an acquisition editor of bird field guides (among other subjects) for years and never detected any anxiety about nuclear destruction even during the Cold War tensions of the Reagan era. Of course, like most people who aren't amateur naturalists, most birders are concerned about threats to biodiversity from climate change, pollution, and other technological encroachments. I'm sure they're much more likely than non-enthusiasts to support environmental organizations. But is that news?
Heller missed a far more interesting technological story. He notes correctly that birdwatching as a hobby began with "industrial modernity" in the later 19th century. But he has it all wrong about birding and violence. Modern popular naturalism was actually a small victory for disarmament and coexistence that began decades before Roger Tory Peterson's landmark Birds of America in 1934. Bird enthusiasts, amateur as well as scientific, preferred literally shooting their subjects well into the 1890s. The Christmas Day custom of competitively gunning down as many different kinds of birds as possible -- the kind of Victorian institution you don't often encounter in nostalgic popular history -- was transformed in 1900 into a bloodless listing by the initiative of the Audubon Society's Frank Chapman.