The Outdoor Industry Foundation 2006 Outdoor Recreation Participation Study was released in August, but I didn’t know about this study until Mike McDowell blogged about it. This is a very interesting, though disturbing report, especially where it describes U.S. participation in bird watching.

The OIF’s main determination is that participation in bird watching is on the wane. The 15.6 million estimated birders in this country represent an increase over 2004’s even 15 million, but a decline from the numbers of the three previous years, including 2001’s high of 18.3 million.

Not only does the OIF state that bird-watching participation declined but they calculate that the average number of recorded outings has dropped from 23 to 12. Their figures show that last year, the average number of annual outings was only 11, but the numbers for 2003 and 2002 were 21 and 35 respectively, indicating a significant decline.

Their profile of the 2005 American bird watcher reveals a group evenly balanced by gender and marital status where over two-thirds are over the age of 35 and fully half are over the age of 45. Birders represent about 7% of the nation’s population spread out evenly across the country.

Of course, there’s more to the report than this, but even these few statistics raise a few questions. The obvious query would be to wonder why bird watching participation has fallen so precipitously over the last few years. My questions have more to do with the report itself.

Specifically, I have to wonder about the authors’ equation of participation with outings. The section of the report concerning bird watching begins with the question, “Have you gone on a bird watching excursion that involved traveling more than one-quarter of a mile from your home?” This question completely dismisses our nation’s legions of passionate backyard birders. Are there people out there who restrict their acute interest in avian observation to territory within a quarter-mile of their homes, particularly the multitude of well-stocked bird feeders outside their kitchen windows? If my mother-in-law is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.

The charter of the Outdoor Industry Foundation, a non-profit foundation established by Outdoor Industry Association, is to increase participation in outdoor recreation and to encourage and support healthier, more active lifestyles. It’s entirely possible that the phenomenon of backyard bird watching is not consistent with the interests of a national trade association whose mission is to ensure the growth and success of the outdoor industry. But backyard birders are birders all the same, no matter how restricted their range or willingness to travel. I’m going to go out on a limb and theorize that the ranks of our nation’s bird watchers are larger than this study measures. However, until an accurate evaluation of bird watching participation is designed, the economic and political clout of the U.S. birding bloc will remain frustratingly slight.

Download the full report or any piece thereof here.

Rob AKA The Birdchaser adds:  The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation reports on the number of backyard birdwatchers. However, even there, the numbers have been declining–from 51.3 million in 1991 to 40.3 million in 2001. There seems to be plenty of evidence that birding, as well as backyard birdwatching, is experiencing a bit of a decline.

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.