Birding has been in the headlines lately, and not always is a favorable light. It seems some news outlets have picked up on the story that Jeffrey Johnson, now infamous for last week’s shooting outside the Empire State Building, was a frequent birder of Central Park.
The irrelevance of that hobby to Johnson’s ultimate heinous act should be obvious to anyone, but birders are used to battling the image of the odd loner with binoculars.
On the other hand, it seems plenty of Americans are enjoying bird and wildlife watching. In the preliminary findings of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s pentannual National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-associated Recreation, more than 46 million Americans list bird-watching as an activity in which they participate. The economic impact of this group totals almost $6 billion, with purchases of everything from birdseed for backyard feeders to spotting scopes.
Teasing out some less optimistic numbers from the survey, fewer people listed bird-watching as an activity than in 2006 and less time was spent on the hobby by those who did participate. This is undoubtedly a result of the deterioration of the economic climate since the 2006 survey, but it’s noteworthy regardless. It’s also important to remember that most of these bird-watchers cited in the survey are “backyard birdwatchers” that neither travel for birding, nor even make local excursions solely for the purpose of birding.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying birds from your own porch, but wouldn’t it be nice to get some of those folks out to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park this month to witness the stunning fall migration of hawks and other raptors?
That brings me to the Pledge to Fledge that was launched this past weekend. P2F is a grassroots effort launched by the Global Birding Initiative to get people out and birding. Last weekend, birders around the world made an effort to “fledge” a few new birders by taking them out and showing them how much fun it is.
The benefits of gathering more people under the birding umbrella are myriad. First, the more of us that are out there with binoculars, the less likely we are to continue to be painted as nefarious introverts by the media. It’s also inarguably healthy for people to be outdoors and engaging with nature. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when people care about something, they protect it. The more people there are caring about birds and bird habitat, the more resources will flow into conservation efforts.
I had indoor commitments all weekend, so I couldn’t participate in the inaugural Pledge to Fledge weekend, but I have a couple neophyte birders lined up for trips this week. After all, any day is a good day to fledge a new nature lover.
I wonder if the national parks could benefit from a similar concept. The admission-free weekends are a step in that direction, but why not give a little more impetus.
Let’s all pledge to take a friend that hasn’t experienced the wonders of the National Park System out to the nearest park this fall. And if you decide to enjoy some migrating birds while there, all the better!