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MADISON – Wisconsin ranks second nationally in the proportion of citizens considered birders, with fully one-third of residents 16 and older reporting they travel to watch birds, or actively watch and identify birds around home, according to a recently released U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report.
Wisconsin trailed only Vermont, where 39 percent of residents are birders, and tied with West Virginia, where 33 percent of their population also watches birds. Numbers-wise, however, the Badger State vastly outnumbered those two states, with Wisconsin boasting 1,678,000 birders, compared to 292,000 for the Green Mountain State and 574,000 for the Mountain State.
“Wisconsin is well known for its rich tradition of birding and other forms of wildlife watching,” says Ryan Brady, Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative monitoring coordinator and Department of Natural Resources research scientist. “Here we have a strong connection to our natural resources, and their vibrant colors, soothing songs, and high degree of visibility make birds a crowd favorite.”
Wisconsin features both northern and southern breeding species and sits astride a major migration pathway, allowing birders easy access to one of the most diverse collections of bird life in the United States. More than 400 species have been recorded in the state, with the vast majority of species and numbers being migratory birds. Others, like chickadees, cardinals, grouse, and turkeys, are permanent residents.
Brady says spectacles such as staging sandhill cranes, waterfowl migration on the Mississippi River, goose migration at Horicon Marsh, booming prairie chickens, overwintering bald eagles, and more than 30 species of warblers are some of the state’s biggest birding draws.
Nationally, there were about 47 million birders, about 20 percent of the population 16 and older, according to the report. They spent an estimated $41 billion on trip related expenditures and equipment, generated a total economic impact of $106 billion, supported 666,000 jobs and generated $13 billion in state and federal tax revenues.
The report, Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis, is an addendum to the 2011 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation. That same survey found that 1.2 million Wisconsin residents fished, and 895,000 residents hunted in that same survey year. www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/fhw11-wi.pdf
Kim Grveles, who coordinates Wisconsin’s Bird Stopover Initiative, says the keen interest in birding in Wisconsin can be seen in the growing number of communities seeking “Bird City Wisconsin” www.birdcitywisconsin.org status indicating their commitment to bird conservation efforts. Since the program started in 2010, 76 communities have been designated Bird Cities.
That interest also was seen in 2013 in the Great Wisconsin Birdathon wibirdathon.org, in which 155 birders spent part of a 24-hour period in May observing birds and soliciting pledges for the total number of species they saw. The birders observed a total of 252 species and raised more than $55,000 for bird conservation projects in Wisconsin, according to the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, which sponsored the event along with the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
“There’s a growing recognition of what’s needed to maintain healthy populations of birds and to understand birds’ importance to their economies and quality of life,” Grveles says. “The national survey’s participation rates and economic rates reflect the important role birds play for our local communities and our state.”
More statistics from the report:
• In 2011 there were 47 million birdwatchers (birders) 16 years of age and older in the United States – about 20 percent of the population.
• 88 percent of birders are backyard birders, while 38 percent take trips away from home to “go birding.”
• The “average” birder is 53 years old while only 17 percent fall under the age of 35.
• Unlike hunting and fishing where men were overwhelmingly in the majority, a larger percent of birders were women – 56 percent in 2011.
• Birders are not a racially or ethnically diverse group. Ninety-three percent of birders identified themselves as white.
• 75 percent of birders reported observing waterfowl, making them the most watched type of bird. Birds of prey followed at 72 percent and songbirds at 68 percent.
• Wisconsin birders average 95 days of bird watching per year.