Are you a birdwatcher? Are you a birder? Is there a difference? What impact do birders have in the economy of the dunes area? All are important questions to ask. It’s these questions that when answered, provide some of the needed backbone behind conservation initiatives. Quite simply, money talks. It’s this reason that the most recent birding report, Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis, helps to provide insight on who birders are and the impact they have in the dunes, and the rest of the country. The full article can be downloaded here.
So what makes up a birder? From the original Birding magazine, a birder is the acceptable term used to describe the person who seriously pursues the hobby or sport of birding, whether amateur or professional. A birdwatcher, on the other hand, is the rather ambiguous term used to describe the person who watches birds for any reason at all, and should not be used to refer to the serious birder. In the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife report, a birder is an “individual who has taken a trip one mile or more from home for the primary purpose of observing birds and/or closely observed or tried to identify birds around the home.” So, if you’re having a beer on the beach and watch a seagull fly over, you don’t count. Nor do the trips to the zoo.
Who is a dunes birder? Well, not much has changed from older reports. You’re still older and more educated. Your average age is 53 years old. You are just slightly more likely to be a female. You’re also likely to be white, educated, and have more money than average. The richer you are, the more likely you are a birder.
Participation rates are the percentages from a certain population that participate or engage in birding activities. Participation rates are lower in minorities, as well as dense urban areas. But how they stack up state by state are also interesting. The chart below ranks Indiana in the top 2/3 of the country with participating birders. Indiana is better than the U.S. average in birding participation, and does better than our neighboring Illinois, Ohio, or Kentucky.
What birds are birders traveling to see? What bird would bring you out of your house on a chase to see? You chase what’s been found, but what kind do you really want to chase? Would you be surprised to learn waterfowl are the most watched type of bird away from home? State Park waterfowl tours each year do bring out a good number. Loons also are popular with park visitors, though often harder to view out over the big lake. Not as surprising are the raptors. Hawk watches are popular with area birders. Eagles, yes. Falcons, yes. Owls, definitely yes.
The entire birding report is a good read and it’s worth birders reading. Know your value, and use it to advance birding sites, conservation, and public access to these sites. I’ll leave you with a card that was left at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center a few falls ago. It made a simple statement that a birder was here, and spent money because we offered a birding opportunity.