For centuries, bird watching has been a beloved pastime for many nature enthusiasts. But in recent years, it seems to be growing in popularity at an unprecedented rate.
While evidence suggests there has been a surge in bird watching participation, this trend shows no signs of slowing down. So what is causing this increase in interest in bird watching?
The recent factors driving the popularity of bird watching are varied. They include:
- the COVID-19 pandemic
- a growing interest in nature conservation
- the rise of online communities
- advances in technology
In this article, we will explore the evidence behind this trend and examine the various factors contributing to its growth.
How many people participate in birding?
Birdwatching is a popular activity that is enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. While it is difficult to determine an exact number of birdwatchers globally, various studies and surveys have been conducted to estimate the number of participants.
According to a 2016 report by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 45 million Americans participate in birdwatching, making it one of the most popular outdoor activities in the United States.
Additionally, a study conducted by the National Audubon Society found that over 50 million Americans consider themselves bird enthusiasts, indicating that the interest in birds extends beyond just birdwatching.
Overall, while there is no precise global estimate of birdwatchers, the popularity of birdwatching is evident through the large number of participants and the growing interest in the activity worldwide.
What evidence suggests that bird watching is increasing in popularity?
There are several indicators that bird watching is indeed becoming more popular in North America.
Many bird watching organizations, such as the American Birding Association and BirdLife International, have seen increases in membership and participation in recent years. (Source: American Birding Association, 2020; BirdLife International, 2021)
Bird watching is one of the fastest growing outdoor activities in the United States, with over 51 million participants in 2016. (Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 2016).
More recently, according to a 2019 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 45 million Americans participate in bird watching activities, up from 12 million in 1980.
Furthermore, a study by the American Birding Association found that the number of birders who traveled outside their state to pursue their hobby has nearly doubled in the past two decades. The same study also reported that bird watching is now the fastest-growing outdoor recreational activity in the United States.
A global growth of interest in birds
Internationally, the trend is similar.
In the United Kingdom, a survey conducted by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) found that 4 out of 5 people consider themselves to be “interested in wildlife,” with birds being the most popular wildlife category.
More specifically, in the UK, bird watching is the second most popular hobby after gardening. In 2020, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reported that over 3 million people are participating. The RSPB has over 1.2 million members.
In Australia, a report by BirdLife Australia shows that bird watching has increased in popularity in recent years, with more than half a million Australians engaging in the activity.
In India, too, birdwatching is gaining popularity, with an increasing number of birdwatching tours and events being organized.
What is driving the increased popularity of bird watching?
There has indeed been a recent surge in bird watching participation, and several factors are driving this trend.
The COVID-19 pandemic
One major contributor is the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic forced people to spend more time indoors and limited travel opportunities, leading many to seek solace in nature.
Bird watching provides an accessible and safe way to connect with the outdoors while maintaining social distancing guidelines. As people looked for ways to stay active and entertained during lockdowns, many turned to bird watching as a safe and socially distant outdoor activity. (Source: National Audubon Society, 2020)
In fact, many birders reported an increase in bird watching during the pandemic, with a survey by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology finding that 63% of respondents reported bird watching more in 2020 than in previous years.
The American Birding Association reported that website traffic and membership increased significantly in 2020 compared to previous years.
In addition to the pandemic, there are several other factors that may be driving the growth of bird watching.
Increased awareness of environmental issues
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of nature conservation and environmental protection.
Bird watching is an activity that aligns with these values, as well as being a way to appreciate and connect with the natural world.
Many birders view bird watching as a way to contribute to conservation efforts by monitoring and documenting bird populations, participating in citizen science initiatives, and supporting organizations such as the National Audubon Society.
More information available online
The internet has made it easier than ever for birders to connect with one another and share their experiences.
Online communities such as eBird, iNaturalist, and the American Birding Association provide birders with a platform to share sightings, exchange tips and advice, and participate in citizen science projects.
Social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter have also enabled birders to connect with a wider audience and share their love of birds with others.
According to a study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird, an online database where bird watchers can log their sightings, received 76 million bird observations in 2020 alone. This platform has become an essential tool for birders worldwide, allowing them to share their observations, track bird populations, and contribute to citizen science.
In addition to eBird, several smartphone apps have revolutionized the way birders identify birds. In 2020, there was a 24% increase in downloads of birding apps compared to the previous year, indicating a growing interest in bird watching. (Source: Sensor Tower, 2020)
Apps like Merlin Bird ID and iBird have advanced algorithms that can identify birds based on their appearance, behavior, and location. These apps have made bird identification more accessible to novice birders.
Smartphone apps like BirdNET have been developed to help birders identify birds using their songs and calls, further enhancing the bird watching experience.
Increased accessibility through technology
Another factor driving the trend is the increasing availability and affordability of bird watching equipment and technology.
Improved technologies, such as birding apps and advanced optics, has made bird watching more accessible and enjoyable for enthusiasts. (Source: American Birding Association, 2020)
High-powered scopes and binoculars can now identify birds from a distance and provide a clearer view of their plumage, behavior, and habitat.
The rise of digital cameras and smartphones has allowed birders to capture high-quality photographs and videos of birds in the wild.
What is the impact of technology on bird watching?
Technology has had a significant impact on the way bird watchers observe and identify birds. With more accessible and user-friendly tools, bird watching has become more accessible to people from all backgrounds and ages.
The use of optical devices can increase enjoyment and help with bird identification. These tools enable birders to identify and observe birds with greater ease and accuracy. They also make it easier to document and share their sightings with others.
This has also led to the development of citizen science projects, such as Project FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, which use photographs and videos submitted by birders to track bird populations and distribution.
What demographics are driving the growth of bird watching?
Bird watching is an activity that appeals to people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds, but there are certain demographics that are driving the growth of this hobby.
Here are a few key groups that are contributing to the increase in bird watching participation.
Younger generations are sharing birding
There has been a notable increase in the number of young people taking up bird watching in recent years.
According to a study by the National Audubon Society, the average age of a birder has decreased from 49 to 47 in the past decade. This trend is attributed to several factors, including a growing interest in conservation and the environment among younger generations.
Additionally, many young people are discovering bird watching through social media and online communities, which have made it easier to connect with like-minded individuals and share experiences.
An increased appeal for women
While bird watching has traditionally been seen as a male-dominated activity, women now represent a significant and growing portion of birders.
According to the previously mentioned National Audubon Society study, women now make up 45% of all birders, up from 31% in 2000.
The New York Times is even more optimistic, estimating in 2021 that women make up more than half of all bird watchers in the United States.
One reason for this increase may be the growing awareness and focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the birding community.
Organizations such as the Women Birders Network and the LGBTQ Birders Community are working to promote inclusivity and accessibility in the hobby.
Urban dwellers catch on
Bird watching has traditionally been associated with rural or wilderness areas, but there is a growing trend of bird watching in urban environments.
According to a report by the National Wildlife Federation, 78% of Americans live in urban areas, and urban bird watching provides an accessible and convenient way to connect with nature.
Urban bird watching also presents unique opportunities to observe and learn about the behavior and adaptations of city-dwelling birds, such as pigeons, sparrows, and crows.
The number of bird species that can be observed in urban areas is increasing, which is attracting more people to bird watching in cities. (Source: Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 2019)
As the birding community continues to grow and diversify, it is essential to prioritize inclusivity and accessibility to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy this rewarding and enriching hobby.
What are the emerging trends in bird watching?
As bird watching continues to grow in popularity, new trends have emerged.
- Advancements in technology have made bird watching more accessible
Technology makes birding even more enjoyable than ever before. Birders can now use digital cameras, high-powered scopes, and smartphone apps to observe and identify birds from a distance.
- Eco-tourism has also emerged as a trend
Birding destinations worldwide have seen an increase in visitors looking to observe unique bird species in their natural habitats. This has led to the development of bird watching tours, lodges, and guides that cater to the needs of birding enthusiasts.
- Focus on conservation and habitat preservation
Many birders are actively involved in conservation efforts, such as bird banding, habitat restoration, and citizen science. This involvement has led to the creation of several conservation-focused organizations, such as the National Audubon Society and BirdLife International.
Final thoughts on how and why birding is getting more popular
In conclusion, bird watching is becoming more popular globally, driven by several factors. These include the COVID-19 pandemic, growing interest in nature conservation, the rise of online communities, and advances in technology.
Social media and online communities have played a significant role in the growth of bird watching, allowing birders to connect and share their experiences worldwide.
The development of new technologies, such as high-quality cameras, spotting scopes, and birding apps, have had a significant impact on bird watching. They improve the bird watching experience and contribute to citizen science efforts.
The demographics driving the growth of bird watching are varied, but there are several key groups that are contributing to the increase in participation. Younger generations, women, and urban dwellers are all finding new and innovative ways to engage with the natural world through bird watching.
Emerging trends in bird watching, such as greater technology and eco-tourism, have made bird watching more enjoyable and accessible.