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Ever wondered what celebrities get up to in their spare time? Some of them go bird watching. Here are ten of the most interesting and controversial off-duty bird watchers.

1. Wes Craven - American film director

Best known for his horror films including A Nightmare On Elm Street, Scream and The Last House On The Left, Wes Craven was also a keen bird watcher and joined the Board of Directors of Audubon in 2010.

Purple Martin
Image credit: Henry T. McLin

He wrote a monthly column for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine entitled Wes Craven’s The Birds in which he used his love of birds to depict moral fables often imagining a world where birds lived amongst humans.

In a 2008 interview with Audubon Magazine, Wes Craven explained how he first got interested in bird watching, “My mother and I used to sit out in the backyard in Cleveland and watch the purple martins and, in the evening, nighthawks come diving out of the sky with a screech and swoop by with an audible sound of wind through wings.”

2. Sir Paul McCartney – Beatle

“I’ve always liked birds. It’s a theme of mine,” explained Sir Paul McCartney when discussing the inspiration behind the 2008 album Electric Arguments by The Fireman.

Jenny Wren
Image credit: Tony Smith

He went on to say, "I think they’re symbolic of freedom, of flying away. As a kid, I was a keen ornithologist and had a little pocket book, the Observer’s Book Of Birds. I lived on the outskirts of Liverpool and could walk just a mile to be in quite deep countryside.”

And indeed many of Sir Paul’s songs, both with the Beatles and his other projects, take their inspiration from birds, including Blackbird from The Beatle’s White Album, Bluebird from the Wings album, Band on The Run, and Jenny Wren from his solo album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.

Sir Paul also revealed the only thing he is superstitious about is magpies. “Living in the country I see a lot of them. You see one and you spit or salute. I happen to spit.

“I love it when you see two for joy. I don’t shoot or catch them like a lot of people. They’re not supposed to be good for other songbirds and a lot of keen gardeners don’t like them, but I do. I’ve got lots. To me, it’s double joy or triple joy. I’m very inspired on a spring morning if I see a crowd of eight.”

3. Rory McGrath – British comedian and writer

Comedian Rory McGrath may be best known for sitting on TV quiz show panels and being part of the Three Men in a Boat crew, but he’s also a well known bird watcher and enjoys the hobby so much he wrote a book about it!

Bearded Tit
Image credit: Smudge 9000

Bearded Tit; A Love Story With Feathers is a nostalgic, gag-laden memoir of how his passion for birds has influenced his life from childhood to middle-age.

Although, Rory McGrath wouldn’t class himself as a twitcher, he is able to tell you the scientific name of any one of the 500 or so species of British birds and owes his lifelong love of birds to his childhood in Cornwall “wandering gorse-tipped cliffs, listening to the song of the yellowhammer with my imaginary girlfriend…”

He also admits that bird watching is most definitely not cool but may be more popular than is believed. "It's a dull subject unless you do it. One thing I have found is more people do it than you think - it's like looking at porn on the internet - no-one ever talks about doing it, but if you mention it...”

4. Jimmy Carter – American politician and author

In an interview with National Wildlife in 2004, the 39th President of the United States revealed that his life list contained over 1,100 species of birds.

Whooping Cranes
Image credit: USFWS

Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, began recording the birds they observed during a family trip to Tanzania in 1998. After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro they visited a game reserve where a trained ornithologist taught them a lot about birds and other wildlife and they began to keep track of the species they saw.

The following year the couple volunteered to count birds for the Breeding Bird Survey and since they have been involved with numerous bird and wildlife conservation groups such as Operation Migration, an organization that each autumn, leads whooping cranes by ultralight aircraft to a safe wintering area

Jimmy Carter has even been bird watching in the Middle East. "I've been bird-watching in Israel with both Palestinians and Israeli bird-watchers who've gone out with me early in the morning, both inside Jerusalem and in other places."

5. Margaret Atwood – Canadian author and environmentalist

Margaret Atwood is a keen bird watcher and conservationist and is an adviser to the non-profit Pelee Island Bird Observatory board. Her partner, the author Graeme Gibson, also enjoys observing birds and together they are joint honorary presidents of the Rare Bird Club within BirdLife International.

In 2010 she collaborated with Balzac coffee to create a custom blend of bird-friendly coffee made from made from organic, shade-grown beans from Bolivia and Mexico that were certified bird friendly by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

Although Margaret Atwood is best known for her adult literature and poetry including The Handmaiden’s Tale, she has written a number of children’s books including For The Birds, a tale to help educate children about environmental concerns.

In 2010 she wrote a beautiful piece for the Guardian urging us to act now to save our birds.

In it she explained, “I've always lived in the birdy world. I grew up in it – my parents were early conservationists and naturalists – and I can tell you from personal experience that small children have a limited tolerance for sitting still in canoes for hours on end being gnawed by mosquitoes, to see if the Very Rare Blur will deign to do a flit-by, when they won't see it anyway because they were making the more controllable ant crawl up their arms. But early training does sometimes bear fruit, and I reconnected with the bird world once everyone, including me, realised that I was nearsighted. I needed special help with the twirly thing on the top of the binoculars, at which point the Very Rare Blur resolved into something I could actually see.”

6. Jeremy Clarkson – British journalist and television presenter

Yes, that sweary middle-aged bloke with dodgy taste in denim who has described Bill Oddie as "the twitching weird beard" apparently has a fondness for our little feathered friends himself.

Peregrine Falcon
Image credit: Dave Inman

He is a member of the RSPB and his wife has revealed that he has been known to go for walks around their holiday home with binoculars in hand to spot birds.

And he admitted that he enjoyed bird watching on the Top Gear blog but added “Which do I prefer… the Peregrine Falcon – my favourite bird – or the Ferrari 458? I’m afraid the answer is the car”

Jeremy Clarkson’s love of birds has limits though. He sparked outrage when on a TV show he ate an ortolan bunting, a tiny bird that is captured alive, force-fed and then drowned in Armagnac before being roasted whole and eaten bones and all, and he was reported to the police for disturbing a barn owl’s nest during an episode of Countryfile.

7. Jonathan Franzen – American author and essayist

Some would argue that Jonathan Franzen is the most famous face of bird watching. But he’s not averse to upsetting his fellow birders.

Northern Cardinal

Slate magazine described Jonathan Franzen as the world’s most annoying bird watcher claiming he shouldn’t be the face of this wonderful pastime.

In a 2005 essay for The New Yorker Jonathan Franzen described his embarrassment of being a bird watcher, “I had a creeping sense of shame about what I was doing. Even as I was learning my gulls and sparrows, I took care, in New York, not to wear my binoculars on a strap but to carry them cupped discreetly in one hand, and if I brought a field guide to the park, I made sure to keep the front cover, which had the word birds in large type, facing inward.”

And in another piece in The New Yorker published in 2015 he claimed that an Aubudon Society study which concluded that climate change was the biggest threat to wild birds was incorrect and asserted that the organization is now “better known for its holiday cards and its plush-toy cardinals and bluebirds, which sing when you squeeze them.”

In an earlier interview with Aubudon magazine when Jonathan Franzen was asked why birds matter to him he replied simply, “Why do birds matter to me? Oh, because I love them.”

8. Ian Fleming – British author, journalist and naval officer

The creator of James Bond was a keen bird watcher and named his famous protagonist after an ornithologist who wrote a book called Birds of the West Indies first published in 1936.

Red-billed Streamertail
Image credit: Ron Knight

Ian Fleming wanted a name for the secret agent that sounded as ordinary as possible and in a letter to the real James Bond’s wife he wrote, “It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born.”

Historian Matthew Parker, who has written a book about the author’s life in Jamaica, told the Chalke Valley History Festival, the largest festival dedicated to history in the UK, that Ian Fleming would go on trips into the Blue Mountains looking for rare birds and named some of the characters in the James Bond books after them including Solitaire from Live and Let Die and Domino from Thunderball.

For Your Eyes Only opens with the words, “The most beautiful bird in Jamaica, and some say the most beautiful bird in the world, is the streamer tail or doctor humming bird.” Ian Fleming was so fond of those birds so much he planted hibiscus in the garden to attract them.

9. David Bailey – British photographer

"I never set out to be a photographer," David Bailey told GQ magazine in an interview in 2012. "No, I was interested in birds, I wanted to be a ornithologist like James Fisher - sort of the David Attenborough of the Forties."

House Sparrow
Image credit: Susanne Nilsson

His very first photograph, taken on his mother’s Box Brownie in the early 1950s was a rather blurred picture of a house sparrow.

David Bailey recounted a memory from sports day at his school in the East End of London when his teachers would take his shoes away so he couldn’t run off and go bird watching. His father worried about his twin passions of bird watching and vegetarianism and his lack of interest in football. “He though I was rather queer,” he said.

David Bailey still subscribes to a bird watching newspaper that he reads avidly every week.

10. Prince Philip – prince

When Prince Philip joined the Navy in 1939 the only birds he recognised were those that all sailors did; "sparrows, seagulls and ducks". It was during two round-the-Commonwealth voyages on Royal Yacht Britannia in 1956 and 1959 that the Duke of Edinburgh became interested in birds.

He was captivated by the sea birds flying around the yacht in the South Pacific and South Atlantic Oceans and took the opportunity to observe and photograph them using a top-of-the-range Hasselblad camera

In 1962 he published a compendium of the photographs of some of the world’s most elusive birds entitled Birds from Britannia.

As well as being president of the WWF, Prince Philip was president of Peter Scott’s Wildfowl Trust for a number of years and has been the patron of the British Trust for Ornithology since 1987.

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