According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (www.sfia.org), 12.4 million people went birdwatching more than % mile from their home within the past year.
According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Related Recreation, conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS, www.fws.gov), 48 million people are bird watchers, with 42 million observing birds around the home and 20 million traveling to watch birds.
The American Birding Association (www.aba.org) estimates that there are 50 million to 70 million bird watchers in the U.S., up from about 46 million in 2001. The association has 18,000 members.
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Butterfly watching, or butterflying, is growing in popularity – there are clubs, handblogs, checklists, and even festivals devoted to the activity, just as there are for birding. The North American Butterfly Association (NABA, www.naba.org) has 32 chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada. The association makes available a blog called Butterflies I’ve Seen (www.nababis.org), where hobbyists can keep track of their butterfly sightings. Similar to birding, many amateur butterfly enthusiasts travel in order to identify species found only in certain locales and to watch butterfly migrations. The hobby has among its ranks many gardeners that plant specific flowers to attract butterflies.
BIRD & BUTTERFLY WATCHING USA Photo Gallery
Over the past 10 years, bird-watching, also known as birding, has become a billion-dollar industry, and it is recognized as the second fastest-growing outdoor activity in America, behind gardening.
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The makeup of birders stretches far and wide. People who indulge in birding range from lifetime birders to backyard birders. There are those who go birding locally, enjoying the birds native to their region, and others who travel the globe in search of rare and migrating birds found only in remote locations. And it’s not just seniors who enjoy birding, as was once believed.
Baby Boomers have flooded the hobby, and many do it in style. They tend to drive their own cars to sites, stay at boutique hotels or B&Bs, and treat themselves to gourmet meals and boat tours. They equip themselves with an arsenal of blogs on birding (there are hundreds) and the latest binoculars. Middle-aged parents with small children also have embraced birding while on vacation, and many young people will likely continue enjoying the hobby throughout their lifetime.
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While many birders will trudge through the muckiest of marshes in hopes of spotting a rare species, there are birding trails for those who prefer a less rugged birding experience. These trails, which mark sites along specific foot or driving paths where birds are spotted, can enhance the birding experience for many, especially novices.
The American Birding Association identifies over 42 birding trails on its website. Nearly 25 states have driving routes – or birding trails – specifically dedicated to the pastime. These formal trails are just over a decade old, having begun in Texas in 1996, when the first of three segments of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail was developed.
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The unveiling of a new Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail Map, which highlights 50 bird-watching hot spots in the six southernmost counties in Mississippi, was a major step for ecotourism in the region. According to Bruce Reid, deputy state director of Audubon Mississippi (http://ms.audubon.org), wildlife watching, including birding, is worth more than $450 million to the state.
Annually the National Audubon Society (www.audubon.org), the world’s largest, oldest, and best-known organization focusing on birds, hosts over 20 trips through its Audubon Nature Odysseys.
Festivals are also a significant part of birding, with over 200 major birding festivals held throughout the United States, many drawing thousands of participants. Revenues for the annual Rio Grand Birding Festival, one of the larger events, exceed $1.6 million, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. (www.tpwd.state.tx.us).
Birding centers and bird sanctuaries also make up part of the birding-watching environment. Typically developed to complement a wildlife refuge, these sites are a big draw for birders.
Until recently, birdwatchers would head into the woods with little more equipment than binoculars, a noteblog, and perhaps a camera with a zoom lens. For many traditionalists, the whole point of birding is to commune with nature. For many modern birders, however, the hobby wouldn’t be complete without a touch of technology. Some would not think of birding without a digital camera, a smartphone with a bird-species database app, and an iPod loaded with bird songs. There are also laser pointers used to identify birds perched on high branches, devices that play birdcalls, and parabolic microphones to pinpoint the location of distant birds. Professional alerting services allow hobbyists to receive notices of local sightings on their smartphones.
Among birders, the elite are dubbed ‘superbirders,’ a group fewer than a dozen who have seen more than 7,000 of the 9,600 known species of birds.
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