In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. A report of the analysis of the data from that survey was published earlier this year.
In today’s column, we will take a look at the demographic and economic factors that influence birding and other wildlife-watching activities.
The survey indicated that a third of U.S. citizens 16 years and older engaged in wildlife watching in 2016. Wildlife watching was broadly defined as observing, feeding and photographing wildlife, visiting parks and natural areas because of wildlife, and maintaining plantings and natural areas to benefit wildlife. Wildlife watching was categorized as either close to home (within one mile of the residence) or away from home (more than a mile away).
About 45 million people observed birds around home on trips in 2016. Most of these people (86 percent) watched birds at or near their homes. Thirty-six percent also took trips away from home to see birds. Birders spent 105 days birding close to home and 16 days on more distant trips.
Wildlife watchers contributed $75.9 billion dollars to the economy in 2016, an average of $1,193 per person. Nearly three-quarters of those expenditures were for binoculars, cameras and other equipment. About 15% of the expenditures were for travel (food, lodging, transportation). The remainder went to miscellaneous items like land purchases, bird seed, field guides, plantings and membership dues.
For around-the-home wildlife watchers, 70% fed the birds in 2016, 38% photographed birds and 10% made plantings to improve the habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Although birds were the wildlife most commonly observed around home (88% of observers), other wildlife drew interest as well. In decreasing order, these were mammals, insects and spiders, reptiles and amphibians, and fish.
Nation-wide, 32% of people observed wildlife at home. The most enthusiastic watchers are in New England; 36% of us watch birds and other wildlife in our yards and gardens. The least avid watchers are in the Rocky Mountain West, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana (26-27%).
Wildlife watching around home is greater for males than females; 58% of such watchers are male. Wildlife watching increases with age. Only 16-18% of 16-24 year-olds watch wildlife. Participation increases to 38% for 45-54 year-olds and peaks at 48% for 55-64 year-olds.
For away from home watching, 28% of wildlife watchers took trips to observe or photograph wildlife. About 69% only took trips within their state of residence, 10% took trips both inside and outside their state with the remaining 21% only taking trips beyond their state borders.
Birds were the focus of the majority of these trips. The most popular types of birds sought were waterfowl and birds of prey with songbirds close behind.
Nationally, 9% of wildlife watchers made trips away from home. We are a little more active in New England with12% of watchers venturing on trips to enjoy wildlife.
The gender bias for trips away from home is more biased than the bias for at home watchers. Two-thirds of wildlife watchers taking trips to see wildlife are male. Age does not vary greatly in terms of trip participation. Observers between 55 and 64 years old are most likely to take a trip (13%) but youngsters 16-18 are nearly as active (11%).
Household income does not have a strong effect on the proportion of observers taking wildlife trips. Three income classes are tied for highest proportion (13%) of observers going on trips: $20,000-$25,000, $35,000-$40,000 and $100,000-$150,000.
Only 4% of watchers with less than 12 years of education took wildlife trips away from home, while 12% of college graduates and 20% of people with more than four years of college went afield to see wildlife.
Participation rates by race showed great variation. Eleven percent of whites took trips to see wildlife but only 2% of African-Americans and 1% of Asians.