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Birders, an Endangered Species?

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Old Thursday 12th February 2004, 17:49   #1
crispycreme
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Birders, an Endangered Species?

This is from the current issue of Birder's World which was culled from a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
Fewer Birders

There are fewer of us. So says a new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The number of birdwatchers decreased between 1991 and 2001, according to "Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis," published in August. In 1991, the report says, 51.3 million Americans observed birds around their homes, and in 1996 that number dropped to 42.2 million people. In 2001, the number of backyard birdwatchers fell further, to 40.3 million people. The economic clout of birders is significant, however. American birders spent $32 billion on optics, travel, and other expenses in 2001.
There's no link to the actual report, so we have to take Birder's World at their word. I am skeptical though, given that virtually every other report out there that I can find indicates that interest in the pastime is increasing, not decreasing.


(edit to fix formatting)

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Old Thursday 12th February 2004, 21:31   #2
Michael Frankis
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That means nearly a fifth of the US population - I wonder just where they get those figures from? To be honest, way over the top. Buoyant as BirdForum is, we don't have 40 million members in the US alone, yet.

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Old Thursday 12th February 2004, 21:41   #3
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Well, I'd read (admittedly optimistic) reports that the number was as high as 70 million in the U.S., so this is somewhat of a blow. It's unsettling to me that the USF&W would include this debatable tidbit of info at this particular point in time, and it could very well be intended for political purposes. "Birders? Nah, they're not the mobilized voting block that you once thought. See? We have a government report that says so! Just bored Baby Boomers that have now found other things to interest them. Go right ahead and develop over that piece of riparian woodland!"


(edited to add that I'm very much an X-files fan and thus see conspiracies lurking around every corner...)

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Old Thursday 12th February 2004, 22:23   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Frankis
That means nearly a fifth of the US population - I wonder just where they get those figures from? To be honest, way over the top. Buoyant as BirdForum is, we don't have 40 million members in the US alone, yet.

Michael

Michael,

I wonder too. I think it is a big crock! Brings to mind someone dressed in black hidden behind a telephone pole checking out to see if the guy mowing the lawn lifts up his eyes to see some little LBJ crapping on his car!!!
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Old Thursday 12th February 2004, 22:26   #5
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Crispy,

Maybe you're the one to ask about this. I always did have my suspicions that the invading Common Starling were in reality, Aliens.
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Old Friday 13th February 2004, 02:00   #6
Doug Greenberg
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I think the problem is one of "measurement." How does one define who is or is not a "birder?" Frankly, I doubt there are 30 or 40 million people who actually seriously watch birds, meaning they go out on field trips, regularly consult field guides, etc. So how are they defining who is a birder? Probably anyone who devotes even a few minutes a year to noticing birds qualifies. Q.: "Do you ever watch birds?" A: "Yes, I do, I look a them sometimes while I'm playing golf." Etc.

Given that this is the case, it's pretty easy to play fast and loose with the numbers. Precisely how the question is asked, by whom, and to whom, will create very different final results for who "is a birder."

In answer to the next question, no, I don't know how the number of birders SHOULD be measured, either.
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Old Friday 13th February 2004, 06:09   #7
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It would be interesting to know the trend in membership of the Audubon Society or the ABA, for instance.
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Old Friday 13th February 2004, 11:27   #8
Alastair Rae
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How does one define who is or is not a "birder?"
How about someone who either puts out a feeder or uses binoculars to look at birds?
I doubt if that amounts to more than 10% of the population of any developed country.
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Old Friday 13th February 2004, 14:34   #9
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I doubt if that amounts to more than 10% of the population of any developed country.

I doubt if it does either, and that's not really my point. Even if people notice only one bird per year, the fact that in 1991 they included themselves in the pantheon of 'birdwatchers' meant that, on some level, they cared about the environment around them, that they appreciated natural wonders and beauty. This report says that 20% of those people, at whatever level of interest, no longer feel as they did a decade ago. They stopped caring. Why? It makes no sense to me. Why would 10 million people all of a sudden (relatively speaking) sever that connection with mother earth and withdraw back into the me-first world of urbanity? My point is that I don't think they did. If I'm correct, the next question is why then did the USF&W include such a statistic in their report? It's curious...
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Old Friday 13th February 2004, 14:41   #10
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Crispy,

With your penchant for seeing conspiracy under every rock I would have thought that it might have occurred to you. Right now the Oral Office is occupied by probably the worst environmental President in history. The Department of the Interior which funds the studies enacted by the USF&W Service depend on elargition of funds from the Federal Government. Wouldn't it be feasible to believe that there might be a connection here? If Bush can influence through the purse strings these types of results there is much less pressure to do anything environmentally sane, isn't there!!!
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Old Friday 13th February 2004, 14:49   #11
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Steve, thank you for confirming that we do indeed have a space alien running the White House. The truth is out there!
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Old Tuesday 17th February 2004, 17:15   #12
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The USFWS report can be found at

http://fa.r9.fws.gov/surveys/surveys.html

It is interesting to note that the 3 main categories in the survey, namely Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Watching all presented declines in the number of participants from 1991 to 2001:

Fishing: number of anglers declined by 4% from 1991 to 2001

Hunting: number of hunters declined by 7% from 1991 to 2001

Wildlife Watching: number of watchers declined by 13%

Incidentally, in this period the number of overweight and obese US citizens greew exponentially to about one-third of the US population.

Dalcio
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Old Wednesday 18th February 2004, 11:50   #13
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Wildlife Watching: number of watchers declined by 13%

Incidentally, in this period the number of overweight and obese US citizens greew exponentially to about one-third of the US population.
Good point, but don't go upsetting the Fat Birder!
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Old Wednesday 18th February 2004, 17:53   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dacol
The USFWS report can be found at

http://fa.r9.fws.gov/surveys/surveys.html

Wildlife Watching: number of watchers declined by 13%

Incidentally, in this period the number of overweight and obese US citizens greew exponentially to about one-third of the US population.

Dalcio

I think part of the problem may be the way that bird watching is thought of by younger adults. Personally I always thought bird watching was something that old people like my grandparents did. I just never paid any attention to the birds. This past June I moved into my grandparent's old house. About a month ago I decided to fill the two feeders that were still hanging out in the yard because I had noticed a few cardinals hanging around. Within a week I was addicted. I bought a field guide and 4 new feeders and after the birds starting using the feeders I joined this forum to help answer some of my identification questions. I just never had any idea how much enjoyment I would get out of birding. I mean I have always enjoyed nature, since I grow up in rural WI where the only things to do as a kid were play in the woods and climb the bluff in the backyard. I had just never paid attention to any birds besides the bald eagles. I think if more young people would be exposed to this hobby, more of them would be willing to shut off their TVs and notice what is going on around them.

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Old Friday 20th February 2004, 00:14   #15
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The number of people out birding is determined, I think, by means of a ratio applied to complaints received from wild birds that they are being stared at. Birds complain of voyeurs stalking them even during their (the birds') most intimate moments. Those complaints are duly processed, and voila! Number of active birders.

Crispycreme, I would think it ill advised to insult aliens through White House references. If the aliens don't find that funny, you are in REAL trouble....

A few years ago, I heard "statistics" that said birding was becoming more popular than golf. I think many of these bits and pieces are attempts, as in real estate "news" of property "booms," to create the event by reporting it, and thereby make lots of money.

But I think birders are a disappointing lot. Sure, they spend money on optical equipment--but less than most people spend on, say, vacations. And when birders travel, they are a pretty in-control bunch, not wasting money idly on just anything that's promoted. Basically birding is not capitalism at its best.

My guess is that a lot of would-be money-makers have found birders disappointing, and the statistics have been allowed to shrivel to something a bit closer to the truth.

I don't think a whole lot of people became interested in birding and then gave it up.

I've been a bird-watcher since "before it was kewell," and the main differences I've seen are in bird feeders and in general social acceptability. In years gone by, you were not allowed to be a birder unless you were an Englishman. The Queen had her corgis, Benny Hill had his ladies in lingerie and himself in lingerie if he could manage it, nobody was watching Tony Blair, and nobody gave a pish if their neighbour were twitchy.

Here in Vancouver, in an area of about 2 million people, we still have only a few hundred bird-watchers. Actually maybe two hundred very serious birders per million people would not be far wrong. Raise that to 500:1,000,000 if you want to be very generous. One in 2,000; one in 4,000; something like that. Say, 0.03 per cent. Those are the people who might show up with their own spotting scope, or who would know the number of the Rare Bird Alert.

Not enough to promote a boom in the economy.

A British birder visiting Vancouver asked me where all the birders were. We were in a pretty nice place for birding, and we were seeing lots. We were also the only birders there. "There would be a hundred birders here if this were in England," he said.

I see that in these forums, too. Birding in England seems to be much more of a club, with points and recognition given in very definite ways. I even read here of some communications problems among birders in blinds. We don't really have any blinds as known destinations, and nobody in Canada ever did learn to communicate too very well, so we don't have quite the same problems.

Here, you're birding alone. Oh, maybe somebody else can be seen a quarter of a mile away with a scope. But if he actually approaches you, he's probably someone you already know. A group of birders together must surely be a field naturalists' club on a scheduled outdoor event.

So I guess we birders are still just a focused minority.

One statistic that is interesting, I find, is that birding in North America is decidedly a young man's sport. Males in their 20s and 30s are the main presence in bird-watching. (This is the very same group that dominates the world of computers. When Firebird Browser took a casual poll, 85% of its forum users were in this group.) But, as most of these males know only too well, females don't think bird-watching (um, OR computer-gazing) is really that great a way to spend the day.

Then there are the baby-boomers like me, but did you see all the trouble I got myself into over that Ring-necked Duck?

What DOES a set of golf clubs sell for, anyway? :-)

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Old Friday 20th February 2004, 08:30   #16
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Hi Carson,

Interesting analysis - I think you're spot on with "a lot of would-be money-makers have found birders disappointing, and the statistics have been allowed to shrivel to something a bit closer to the truth"

I'd say the % of birders over here is very close to what you give for Vancouver, about 200 per million people.

That you see more crowds of birders over here, is simply because we're on a far more crowded island – Britain has the equivalent of 30 Vancouvers crammed into an area only a quarter of the size of BC.

The one thing that differs here is the age range: 20-30 was true here 15 or 20 years ago, but now they're all 15 or 20 years older than that, i.e., there hasn't been any significant new recruitment in the younger age brackets. And that I find very worrying.

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Old Friday 20th February 2004, 09:37   #17
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I think the age thing is quite interesting,well over 30 yrs ago there were many young birders,then about 10 yrs later listing took off in a big way,and this brought a large influx of competitive young people on to the scene.Many of these birders are still around and I feel that many have gone.The young birder of today is far more wide ranging in their pursuit and less inclined to spend a lot of their time local birding.To me the worrying trend of todays birding is the decline in young people wanting to be involved in survey work,wildfowl counts,breeding atlas work etc etc. In our county there has not it would appear been a noticeable increase in young birders. But there probably is a big shift going on in leisure pursuits,which could link up with people in general being more affluent.
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Old Friday 20th February 2004, 14:05   #18
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I agree that "birding" (as opposed to the older, stodgier appellation, "birdwatching") attracts a fair number of young men, but not young women. But the typical birder, in my experience, is at least forty years old and usually older. There once was the stereotype of the birdwatcher as the "little old lady in tennis shoes." Am I the only one who remembers that?

The attraction for (a few) young men is the competitive aspect of the pasttime, i.e., finding rare birds, making tough identifications, acquiring the longest list, birding under the toughest physical conditions, etc. It's another sport, essentially. And actually, in terms of the original topic of this thread, "anti-social birdwatchers," this subspecies usually represents the worst offenders. Some of these young listers are pretty arrogant, in my experience.

Finally: no one need worry about making any negative "White House" comments, at least as far as I am concerned. I say as often and as loudly as possible that a LOT of us Yanks hate the current occupant(s) of that hallowed dwelling and can't wait to vote the jerk out of office this November.
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Old Friday 20th February 2004, 15:55   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug Greenberg
I agree that "birding" (as opposed to the older, stodgier appellation, "birdwatching") attracts a fair number of young men, but not young women. But the typical birder, in my experience, is at least forty years old and usually older.
I agree with Doug, it is also my experience here in DC area (east coast, USA, formerly known as the Capital of the Free World) that most birders are over forty. In fact a few years ago (2 or 3) "Birding", the journal of ABA (American Birding Association ~ 20000 members) did a membership survey and found the average member to be male, a bit over fifty (I dont remember the exact age, hey I am 53!) and with fairly high income (maybe the young and broke birders couldn't afford the membership fee and thus weren't counted). The dearth of young women birders is sorely noticeable around here.

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Old Friday 20th February 2004, 16:58   #20
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Based on the number of subscribers to local birding email lists and the numbers of other birders I see when I am out, I would make a wild guess that there are about 2,000 regular birders in Massachusetts, a state of about 6 million people. If you include occasional birders, the number might grow to 5,000. That would give a range of 0.03 to 0.08 percent, which fits with the other estimates here.

I would expect Massachusetts to have more birders per capita than other parts of the country because, as Dalcio suggested, I think that in the US the average birder has more education and more income than the average person, and Massachusetts has the highest average educational levels and nearly the highest average income among the states.

My definition of a birder is someone who goes out of their way to look for birds. If you include people who feed birds but do not engage in other birding activities, the numbers would be much higher.

If you apply the 0.03% estimate to the US population (293 million), you get 88,000 regular birders. Even if this number is wrong by a factor of ten, you would have to be using an extremely loose definition of birder to come up with 70 million or even 30 million.

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Old Friday 20th February 2004, 17:58   #21
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Hi there, here in Majorca birders are fairly rare, not more than 200 local ones. We do receive though lots of birders from Britain, Netherlands, Germany etc. Being a touristic "Meca" in Europe, flights and accomodation can be cheap and there are still a few good birds around despite the widespread environmental destruction. As a result, the best birding guidebooks are written in English or German and are very difficult to find here.
For an overcrowded (for me) island, we are around 200,
a very low number in aprox. 800.000 population.
Fortunately some young people here are still interested in birding and our numbers are growing slowly. Most birders here are men, like in your countries. Unfortunately, it is something we have to assume. Who knows why...
In Costa Rica is even worse. Very few birders, most of them expatriates living there. Almost no women. And with that amazing birdlife...what a pity.
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Old Friday 20th February 2004, 18:29   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glen Tepke
...My definition of a birder is someone who goes out of their way to look for birds. If you include people who feed birds but do not engage in other birding activities, the numbers would be much higher.

If you apply the 0.03% estimate to the US population (293 million), you get 88,000 regular birders. Even if this number is wrong by a factor of ten, you would have to be using an extremely loose definition of birder to come up with 70 million or even 30 million.
The USFWS Survey

The link that I posted above [ http://fa.r9.fws.gov/surveys/surveys.html ] allows for one to download the survey report as well as state by state reports and has information regarding the surveying techniques.

Roughly summarizing: The survey was carried out in two phases. In the first phase (April of 2001 for the 2001 survey) "the US Census Bureau interviewed a sample of 80000 households nationwide to determine who in the household had fished, hunted or engaged in wildlife-watching activities in 2000, and who had engaged or planned to engage in those activities in 2001. ... The second phase of the data collection consisted of three detailed interview waves. The first wave began in April 2001, the second in September 2001, and the last in January 2002. Interviews were conducted with samples of likely anglers, hunters, and wildlife-watchers who were identified in the initial screening phase. These interviews were conducted by telephone, with in-person interviews for those respondents who could not be reached by telephone.... Altogether, interviews were completed for 25070 respondents from the sports persons (anglers and hunters) sample and 15303 from the wildlife-watchers sample."

Thus it seems to have been a careful and well planned effort. It is when people start using poorly defined terms, such as birders, that confusion enters. Wildlife-watcher is a broad but well defined term that includes the following activities: observing, photographing and feeding wildlife but it avoids questions such as "How many different species can you identify?" etc. That is how the big numbers, in tens of millions appear. In the suburban neighborhood where I live I can see bird-feeders every five or six houses in a morning's walk with my dog. Obviously there are a lot of people who feed birds in their backyard. Thank Gaia that not all those people decided to purchase binoculars and hit the local birding spots!

Dalcio
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Old Saturday 21st February 2004, 01:05   #23
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Reading this thread was like hitting all green lights while driving home--I found myself in total agreement with everyone! Even the varying interpretations of ages and such. Hmm. Well, I s'pose everybody was quite careful in their assessments, so all the different data blends together well.

I'm just a little surprised that so much detail could be given, and it could all fit so harmoniously into the jigsaw puzzle! Like driving a road in CR with no potholes--right, Motmot? ;-)

-- As for the idea that the mean age for birders could be the 50-ish group, it's a bit difficult for me to make a very strong argument AGAINST that; you know, being 57 and all. :-)

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Old Saturday 21st February 2004, 02:28   #24
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Originally Posted by Doug Greenberg
I agree that "birding" (as opposed to the older, stodgier appellation, "birdwatching") attracts a fair number of young men, but not young women. But the typical birder, in my experience, is at least forty years old and usually older.
Definitely not true here - a desparate shortage of young men coming into birding, there's next to none here at all. No young women either, but that doesn't worry me so much, as there's never been the tradition for it. 15-20 ago, birding was very much a young mens' thing, but that's completely changed now. That IS worrying.

Just off to get the 04.30 train to Birmingham to go to the BTO/Bird Club Partnership Conference . . . . to discuss exactly this sort of issue - will report back when I'm back (in about 20 hours) (if I'm not too knackered!)

Michael
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Old Saturday 21st February 2004, 05:16   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Frankis
Definitely not true here - a desparate shortage of young men coming into birding, there's next to none here at all. No young women either, but that doesn't worry me so much, as there's never been the tradition for it. 15-20 ago, birding was very much a young mens' thing, but that's completely changed now. That IS worrying.

Just off to get the 04.30 train to Birmingham to go to the BTO/Bird Club Partnership Conference . . . . to discuss exactly this sort of issue - will report back when I'm back (in about 20 hours) (if I'm not too knackered!)

Michael
Don't know about you Michael but I'd like to see more women in birding. Those I've come across tend to be more friendly and less obsessed than us blokes.
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