There’s an interesting conversation going on (as usual) over at Amy’s WildBird blog: Just how many birders are there in North America?
The commonest figures bandied about–77 million, 48 million–are patently absurd, but I suspect that Mike‘s guess of 200,000, though clearly more realistic, might be a little low.
It all sent me scurrying back to my copy of the 2006 NSFHWAR (gesundheit!), where a more interesting number lurks. Table 42, awkwardly entitled “Away-From-Home Wildlife Watchers by Wildlife Observed, Photographed, or Fed and Place,” claims that 20.025 million Americans “observed,” “photographed,” or “fed” birds someplace other than their own yard in 2006. Of those, though, only 8.805 million had watched “other birds”–the catch-all category taking in all but a few big, clunky, popular species such as cardinals, herons, and ducks. And of all those, only 2.657 million left their home state to look at those “other birds.”
Not a bad definition of a birder, is it: Someone who travels to look at birds that aren’t in the kiddy books. Obivously, there are plenty of birders who are content to cultivate their own sheep (or is it return to their own gardens? I can never remember), and are thus excluded by the definition; but I’m guessing that this figure of two and a half million is about as close as we can get.
Is it plausible? Is one out of every 125 Americans a birder? (I’m assuming that my Facebook “friends” roster is not a representative sample.) Pima County, Arizona, where we live, probably has as high a birder population as anywhere in the country; with a population of slightly more than a million (ack), the county should have 8,000 birders. It doesn’t. Bellevue, Nebraska, where I grew up, had a population in my day of 25,000, and so should have had 200 birders. It didn’t. Hamilton, New York, where I commute to during the academic year, has a population of 5,700, and so should have 45 birders. It doesn’t, yet.
Let’s work it backwards. I know, say, 100 birders in Tucson. I knew 25 in Bellevue. We know 5 in Hamilton. That’s 130 birders out of 1.03 million, which would translate to about 40,000 birders in the entire United States. That’s what, 800 in each state: Massachusetts makes it, New Jersey, California, Texas, Florida, maybe Arizona; but Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota….?
There’s only one solution. Ask everybody in the country a simple question: Are you a birder? If they respond with anything more than a blank stare, then they count!