Sunday, March 3, 2013

Wait, HOW Many Birders Are There?

Birders seems to have a bit of an inferiority complex in the world of outdoor recreation.  Some of it I think is social (we lack the macho chest-puffing of hunters), some of it is institutional (we lack the political organization and historical traditions of hunting and fishing).  I used to think that part of it was simply that there are fewer of us.  But, apparently that isn't true.

I recently stumbled upon this US Fish & Wildlife Service's 2011 National Survey of Fish and Wildlife-Associated Recreation and, frankly, it's pretty amazing.  [Apologies to all who wrote about it when it was released (I know 10,000 Birds did), but I somehow missed it.]  For me, the highlight of the report was this simple statistic: There are 22.5 million "away-from-home" wildlife watchers in the U.S., compared to 13.6 hunters.

There are ten million more birders than hunters!  Unbelievable.  And the best part is, this report was smart about how it asked the question.  In previous surveys of birders (that I know of), it was hard to distinguish between "birder on the road for a twitch" and "guy who glances out his window at his feeder."  For me, that lack of distinction made be question statistics about the numbers of birders.  This report, though, specifically identifies those who "took trips or outings of at least 1 mile from home for the primary purpose of observing, feeding or photographing wildlife."  Sounds good to me.

Better yet, the report lays out the economic impacts of each of these hobbies.  Hunters - with their NRAs and their Ducks Unlimiteds and their Federal Duck Stamps and their L.L. Beans and their million TV shows while birders have one (for now) - spend a total of $33.7 billion per year.  Birders, on the other hand, spend a whopping $54.9 billion, even more than anglers ($41.8 billion).  Incredible.

What does this mean?  It means that it's time for us to flex our muscles a little bit.  A great place to start is the proposed Wildlife Conservation Stamp.  We've earned the right through our participation and our spending to have money put aside directly for the preservation of non-game birds.  Birders need to be more vocal about their impacts, and use our numbers advantage to shift political priorities in our favor. 


Laurence Butler said...

Very interesting! Neat article.
It left me wondering though, if the exact language in the survey was those who, "took trips or outings of at least 1 mile from home for the primary purpose of observing, feeding or photographing wildlife," wouldn't that include people looking for mammals, reptiles, or butterflies?
Does the questionnaire further differentiate?

Of course, all of these wildlife watchers have mutual interests towards conservation and such, but it still seems like the number of birders is ambiguous.

Thanks for posting.

Unknown said...

Until there is a "birding license" (oh, I hope never!) just like a hunting or fishing license, the number of "birders" will never be known.

Ed furlong said...

I read this report and came away with the same perception--the community of birders is a sleeping giant in terms of it's potential influence.

That influence is not apparent, however, because license fees for hunting and fishing, especially those from out of state licenses, have a hugely disproportional effect at the state wildlife dept. level, which in turn influences federal policy.

Love or hate the concept, fee-based revenue from licenses or stamps for birding, wildlife watching, hiking etc. would be a concrete measure of how much birding "counts" in a world where revenue is the driving factor in resource allocation. I buy a duck stamp now, bit would much rather buy a wildlife/habitat stamp and not get lost amongst the hunters.

Ed Furlong
Evergreen, CO

NickL said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone!

Laurence - Yes, the "Wildlife Watching" number includes non-birds. But of the 22.5 million Away-from-home wildlife watchers, 18.9 of them watched birds. I should have clarified. Most important, though, is that all of those 22.5 million differ from hunters in that they're non-consumptive.

Greg and Ed - The idea of a birding license is very interesting. I think I'm going to do a post on it soon! Stay tuned!

Ingrid T said...

Hi, Nick,

I'm an administrator of the grassroots effort to produce a Federal Wildlife Conservation Stamp for non-consumptive users. Thanks for linking out to our information. When looking at the totals cited by USFWS, there are an estimated 71.1 million wildlife watchers based on the survey parameters used for that report. We are definitely a sleeping giant in terms of untapped financial potential, and we launched this project precisely to consolidate that support from birders, photographers and other non-consumptive users. We've been adding the support of organizations to our roster, including local Audubon chapters. And, based on the public response so far, we believe there is passionate sentiment behind this alternative, revenue-generating stamp.

Unknown said...

I am a LIVING wildlife journalist the past five years for the progressive online newspaper, the Capital Times of Madison, WI. Hunters and especially trappers and bear and bobcat hounders are ratcheting up their power, having recruited 6,000 new trappers to add to the 10,000 already commercially raping out the state in the most cruel way. $5 licenses - kill with unlimited traps on unlimited trap lines for 7 months in winter day and night when animals are most vulnerable. Thousands of new hunters recruited with the same $5 licenses.
With HALF of the world's wildlife destroyed between 1970-2010 (WWF intensive studies) due to hunting and habitat destruction - we are in real trouble and MUST REFORM state agencies from being structured on killing license funding as its main source of funding. It has made our state and federal agencies just killing wildlife as a commercial commodity for recreation.


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