Thursday, January 19, 2006

82 Million Birders!

There's that number again - 82 million "birders" in the United States.

Pardon the following gross approximation. The population of the United States is something like 300 million, making about 27% of us "birders" according to the above number. If we use this percentage against the population of Madison (around 200,000) we should have roughly 50,000 birders (the population of Dane County is closer to 453,000).

Come spring migration, when faithful birders hit the field in earnest, I can go to any number of a dozen or so birding "hot spots" in the Madison area and be lucky to find 5 to 20 birders who are actually doing what I consider birding to be. Now, we don't all necessarily go birding on the same day, same time of day or same place but the question stands - where are all these described birders?

Are there 50,000 people who watch or feed backyard birds in Madison? Perhaps, yes. Both my in-laws and my parents put out feeders and occasionally report what they've been seeing in their backyard to me, but they wouldn't categorize themselves birders or what they're doing as birding. Nor are they predisposed to follow news about birds, birding, conservation and environment issues concerning birds. Not that you have to do that to be a birder, but the vast majority of people I consider to be birders seem to keep themselves well informed on such issues.

Well, naturally, there will be very little consensus defining "birder," but the Bird Watcher's Companion provides at least this one:

Birder (birding). A relatively new term that has become popular as an alternative to "birdwatcher" with its unflattering (to some) overtones of passivity, eccentricity, frivolity, and even effeminacy. A birder is one who "birds" or "goes birding" in a serious and energetic manner, whether to hone his or her field-identification skills or to amass an impressive list.

There's just no way there are 82 million people in the United States who do what we know we're talking about when we say birder or birding. As a political force, I think it's a far smaller number, perhaps still in the millions, but it isn't 27% of the US population. As a consumer force, if you buy a pair of binoculars and look at a few birds once in a while...you're a birder.

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