A new report released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveals that about one in five Americans watches birds. There are about 48 million birders; of those 48 million, 42 million bird around the house, while 20 million bird around the house and away from home. The majority of birdwatchers simply watch birds from their kitchen window, patio, or front porch. Generally, birders are distributed across age groups, but the higher the income and education level, the more likely one is a bird watcher, and a slightly higher percentage is female than male. The “average” bird watcher, if there is such a thing, is a 49 year old married female with a college education. These folks spend between $32-40 million a year on feed, binoculars, travel forays, and high-tech gadgets like winterized birdbaths and computer “nest cams” to view their feathered friends. You can see the details of this report at http://library.fws.gov/Pubs/birding_natsurvey06.pdf .
What I found most interesting in this report is the percentage of birdwatchers by state. I would never have guessed it, but Montana has the greatest percentage of birdwatchers at 40% of the population. California is fifth from the bottom of all the states at 15%. This, even though the number of bird species ever recorded in Montana is 420 and for California 631! Texas is third from the bottom at 14% even though it has the greatest number of species sighted in a state in the U.S. at 634 species. At the bottom, with the fewest percentage of birdwatchers at 10%, is Hawaii. I can’t explain why.
To capitalize on this growing hobby, birding festivals have become very popular. There are Godwit Days in Eureka, CA, in the spring, the Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi, CA in late fall, Chico’s own Snow Goose Festival in January, and a bunch of others across the state you can see at http://www.natureali.org/nature_festivals.htm . All are exciting and educational events well worth attending.
I have met lots of birdwatchers all over the world. Invariably, they are nice people, concerned about the environment, and generally well read, widely traveled, and worldly. I have met many famous birdwatchers and ornithologists like Roger Tory Peterson, Kenn Kauffman, David Lack, David Snow, David Sibley, and even Nikko Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz, Nobel Prize Winners. But the most memorable people were not as well known. These are just people who love birds, are concerned about the state of the world, and tend to be very generous with their money to support causes they believe in, especially environmental ones.
Birdwatchers and birding are on the forefront of environmental protection as changes in bird behavior or populations are great signs of environmental changes. Birdwatchers play a critical role in that early warning. But in the meantime, they are enjoying their avocation.
By the way, our cat also watches birds, but from inside the house. Curiously, outside she has other interests. I think a magpie or jay convinced her to stick to hunting crickets.