Flying high: ‘Birding’ is a $40 billion industry nationwide

September 10, 2018

We all have heard the expression, “free as a bird”—so it is fairly shocking to learn that “birding” in the United States is a $40 billion industry.

You read that correctly. It turns out that bird-watching takes more than a pair of binoculars and a field guide on our feathered friends. According to findings of a 2011 study by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, there are nearly 47 million birders nationwide, age 16 and older—or about 20% of the total population—and they are willing to spend big on travel and equipment to catch a glimpse of a whopping crane or a San Clemente loggerhead shrike in its native habitat.

Birders spent an estimated $15 billion on their trips and $26 billion on equipment in 2011, the study found. For trip expenditures, 52% of the cost was for food and lodging; 34%, for transportation; and 14 %, for other necessities, such as guide fees, user fees, and equipment rental. Equipment expenditures were relatively evenly distributed among wildlife-watching equipment (29%), special equipment (37%), and other  items (30%).

To be counted as a birder by the researchers, an individual must either have “taken a trip for the primary purpose of observing  birds” and/or closely observed or tried to identify birds around his or her home. Thus, people who happened to notice birds while they were mowing the lawn or  picnicking at the beach were not counted as birders. Trips to zoos and observing captive birds also did not count.

Backyard birding or watching birds  around the home is the most common  form of bird-watching.  Fully 88%  (41 million) of birders are backyard birders. The more active  form of birding—taking trips away from home—is less common with 38 percent (18 million) of birders active travelers.

The average birder is 53 years old and, more than likely, has a better-than-average income and education. She is slightly more likely to be female and highly there is also a  good chance that she lives in the South in an urban area.

Research contact: ‎@USFWS

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