Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Actually, closer to 48 million "birders"

The Jan. 13 edition of an e-newsletter includes the headline "Birding is Big Business" and cites the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. The e-newsletter says

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that 71 million Americans participated in wildlife watching activities in 2006. ... Birding undoubtedly accounts for a large segment of all wildlife watching.
Actually, the service's survey pinpoints on page 36 the number of survey respondents who said they observe birds at home and on trips: 47.7 million. The survey results also said, "A large majority, 88 percent (41.8 million), observed wild birds around the home, while 42 percent, 19.9 million, took trips away from home to observe wild birds."

You can find lots of information in the PDF of survey results, released in October 2007. I, however, remain skeptical about the 48 million birdwatchers. That figure in no way reflects the number of birding magazine subscribers, festival attendees or tour participants.

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Blogger John B. said...

The last figure given – "42 percent, 19.9 million, took trips away from home to observe wild birds" – sounds like a reasonable definition of "birder" to me, though it is somewhat broad. I tend to favor some level of record-keeping as the sign of a birder, but then that may be too narrow.

January 13, 2009 11:31 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

You might be correct in considering record-keeping a narrow definition, John. While I write banding codes while afield, I don't compile species and numbers. I maintain no comprehensive lists or records -- yet I'm a birder.

January 13, 2009 11:41 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Even 19.9 million sounds like a lot for the US population of birders. I peg the number as more like 200,000!

January 13, 2009 12:38 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Agreed, Mike. The USFWS survey might be more accurate with a much narrower definition that speaks to frequency, dedication and such to pinpoint the level of activity.

January 13, 2009 1:30 PM  
Blogger Rick Wright said...

These surveys are hooey. The best way to count birders would be to ask everybody in the country a simple question: "Do you bird?" If the response is other than a blank stare, then they're birders! Mike's figure is much closer to the truth.

January 13, 2009 1:37 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Rick, as I was reading your post in response to this topic, I was beginning to get comfortable with your estimate of 2.5 million until you then expertly whittled that tally down below my glib 200K!

Whatever the number is, it is far too few.

January 14, 2009 7:26 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The big numbers surely help with things like funding and marketability but I don't know if the number of "birders" really matters. What is more important is the number of "bird conservationists". That would at least include nearly all bird hunters. (~13 million from Ducks Unlimited)

At least that would be a good starting point to go along with festival attendees, sales of optics, etc.

January 16, 2009 11:53 AM  
Blogger Casey Tucker said...

I think this really has to do with definitions. I got the impression that the USFWS survey didn't ask participants to self-identify to a specific group (i.e. birders), but rather asked them to identify activities they particpate in and then used those activities to identify groups. I don't know if this method is any better than any others. That's for others to say. However, I think it does explain why we don't see increasing numbers of bird magazine subscribers. My guess is that most birding magazine subscribers have self-identified themselves as birders. There's a good essay about this from 2001. You can find that essay here: http://tinyurl.com/7bxn8n

January 18, 2009 3:23 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Eddie, you make a very good point about conservation. I definitely appreciate all the habitat that hunters have preserved via Duck Stamp sales.

Casey, you're absolutely correct about definitions. You're mistaken, however, about bird magazine subscriptions; WildBird has seen increases in its audited circulation for two years and now surpasses 75K.

January 19, 2009 9:39 AM  
Blogger Casey Tucker said...


Sorry for the incorrect assumption about the increasing bird magazine subcriptions. I misinterpreted the comment, "That figure in no way reflects the number of birding magazine subscribers, festival attendees or tour participants."

My interpretation was that the USFWS number of birdwatchers has increased, but the increase is not reflected in mag subscribers, festival goers, and bird tourists.

Sorry for the misunderstanding. Congrats on the increase in subscribers to Wild Bird Magazine.

January 21, 2009 12:05 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Thank you for the kudos, Casey. While the USFWS figure has increased (the 2001 survey reported 46 million wild bird observers on page 36), those figures far exceed the number of subscribers, attendees and participants, e.g. active birders -- which makes me question the USFWS figures.

January 21, 2009 12:19 PM  

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