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bird-watching, the observation of live birds in their natural habitat, a popular pastime and scientific sport that developed almost entirely in the 20th century. In the 19th century almost all students of birds used guns and could identify an unfamiliar species only when its corpse was in their hands. Modern bird-watching was made possible largely by the development of optical aids, particularly binoculars, which enabled people to see and study wild birds, without harming them, better than ever before.

A great surge of interest in wild birds occurred from about the 1880s onward. Bird-watching first became popular in Great Britain, with the United States not far behind. Eventually, it became almost equally popular in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and the older countries of the British Commonwealth.