No, familiarity with Wild Turkey doesn’t count
In the category of “odd interpretations of questionable data”, comes this recent article from the Outdoor Central News Network. Apparently, birding is a popular hobby for Southerners. As a Southerner, by virtue of my street address more than anything else, this seems like a strange thing to take from a recent FWS survey. But, from the article:
According to this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, an estimated 33 percent of Southerners bird-watch as of 2006, compared with 20 percent of Americans nationwide participating in the pastime.
Before we go on, a couple things need to be addressed. First, that the data comes from a recent report put out by the FWS that has already come under some fire in birding communities due to its, shall we say, broad interpretation of what constitutes “birding”. Second, any critique I have of the study methodology should in no way be considered as a failure to endorse the policies suggested by the folks interviewed, including the idea that tourism departments should recognize a birding element and appeal specifically to birders. That’s great stuff that leads to more environmental minded policy. Birders tend to have disposable income and are often willing to spend it. The sooner people realize that then better for us, but especially for the birds we love and the ecosystems they live in.
At the same time, however, why is the South seemingly such a birder-rich environment? Because I’ve lived here for six years now and haven’t seen it. I wonder, given the aforementioned liberal interpretation of what makes a birder, if the South’s already high proportion of hunters and fishermen has something to do with it. If the definition of “birder” consists only of the ability identify a few species of birds, then most hunters would likely be able to count themselves amongst our ranks (those who consider hunting and birding separate activities notwithstanding). This gets to the heart of the matter with the FWS report. Birding is meant to describe a certain activity, typically traveling afield specifically to find birds. If the definition is broadened to take into account incidental bird spotters, then the term has no meaning whatsoever from a policy perspective.
I suppose, though, that there’s a possibility that the study is correct, at least in a less precise way than it intends. The region of the United States considered the South has no shortage of phenomenal birding spots. Florida is rightly considered one of the ABA area’s crown jewels, throw Texas in and you’ve got two unarguably great birding destinations. I’d put parts of North Carolina right up against them too, though admittedly I’m biased. All of this considered, I’d accept that the South might have a higher percentage of bird-aware people, but real birders? And a full 50% more than the rest of the country? I’m not buying it.
But it’s a number to shoot for, no?