By Gene Bullock
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a study in 2006 showing that birdwatching is one of the most popular hobbies in America. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s study, one of every five Americans watches birds. In doing so, birdwatchers contributed $36 billion to the U.S. economy in 2006, the most recent year for which economic data are available.
The report, “Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis,” shows that total participation in birdwatching is strong at 48 million, and remaining at a steady 20 percent of the U.S. population since 1996.
Birdwatchers are a varied group. For many, it revolves around their backyard bird-feeding station. For a zealous few, it can mean flying thousands of miles on short notice to add a rare bird to their life list. For serious birdwatchers, at a minimum, it means investing in a high quality pair of binoculars and a good field guide.
Of course, avid birdwatchers dream of visiting the nation’s birding Meccas at the height of spring and fall migration: Southeast Arizona, the Texas Rio Grande, the Florida Keys, as well as guided tours to hotspots from Mexico to Patagonia.
Ecotourism is a thriving business. It provides a copious stream of revenue and related jobs, while helping grow an ardent political constituency for wildlife and habitat. It’s good for business and good for the environment.
With the rising cost of gasoline and an economy in the doldrums, however, it’s becoming less practical to fly halfway around the world or drive halfway across the country to view wildlife. But the good news for those with modest goals and means is that you don’t have to travel far to find great birds. You can stretch your budget and conserve energy by discovering our local wildlife treasures.
Kitsap County is blessed with wonderful winter and seasonal birding. For many of the species that breed in the Arctic, the sheltered, ice-free shorelines of Kitsap County are almost tropical compared to the Arctic in winter. Wintering waterfowl flock to Kitsap’s extensive shorelines by the millions and spend the winter months in sheltered bays and inlets all along our coasts. Kitsap has an abundance of accessible viewing points, so you never have to travel far from home.
In future articles, I’ll talk about some of these local treasures, where to find them, the best times to visit, and what you can expect to see. Stay tuned.
— Gene Bullock of Poulsbo is conservation chairman of Kitsap Audubon.