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State of the Birds Report

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Economics of Birding

Banking on Nature

Since 1997, the USFWS has released "Banking on Nature" reports that attempt to estimate the economic benefits to local communities that result from National Wildlife Refuge visitation. The latest report, the fourth in this series and a study approaching almost 400 pages, was released in the last days of November, 2007. This most recent "Banking on Nature" report announced that recreational use on National Wildlife Refuges generated almost $1.7 billion in total economic activity during fiscal year 2006. As a result of this spending, almost 27,000 private sector jobs were sustained and $542.8 million in employment income was generated.  About 82 percent of total expenditures came from non-consumptive recreation (activities other than hunting and fishing) on National Wildlife Refuges. Fishing accounted for 12 percent of total expenditures, while hunting accounted for 6 percent. For the first time, birding as an activity, both for area residents and non-residents, was separated out in the "Banking on Nature" report for at least 66 of the 80 sample refuges that received specific examination.  Those individual numbers are very revealing.

The entire study is found here:


The 2006 National Survey on Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation

This survey has been conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1955 (c. every five years). According to the latest survey, about 48 million Americans over the age of 16 observed birds that year.   Participation in wildlife-watching (of which birding constitutes a significant portion – 80%) away from home is up by 5 percent as a recreational pursuit since 2001.

Approximately 47.7 million people observed birds and on trips in 2006. A large majority (88% or 41.8 million) observed wild birds around the home. A minority (42% or 19.9 million) took trips away from home to observe wild birds.

Among the 71.1 million wildlife-watchers there are many birders.  (Again, birders are about 80% of “wildlife watchers” according to the USFWS.)

These numbers are up from the 2001 Survey figures:

2001 2006

total birders  46 million 47.7 million
around the home 40 million 41.8 million
away from home 18 million 19.9 million

Current and past reports can be found here:


The National Survey on Recrecation and the Environment

This survey was started in the 1950s, and went to the Forest Service in the 1980s. It has a looser definition of birders, resulting in almost double the gross numbers: almost 82 million vs almost 48 million, compared to the USFWS numbers.

The USFWS uses a specific definition of wildlife watching, including birds, where participants must either take a special interest in wildlife around their homes, or take a trip for the "primary purpose" of wildlife watching. Secondary wildlife watching, such as incidentally observing wildlife while pleasure driving or hiking, is not included by the USFWS, but is covered through the Forest-Service-run NSRE.
Even if you think NSRE numbers are "loose" the trend in birding is clearly solid, as illustrated in these numbers:
 year   participants (M)
 1994-5   54.4
 1999-2000  71.0
 2001-3   69.7
 2004-5   83.1
 2006-7   79.3

An excellent summary of these trends can be found here: