MARQUETTE - From equipment expenditures to gas, lodging and transportation costs, the economic impact of birdwatching has been significant across the country.
In figures produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, even from as far back as roughly a decade ago when numbers of birders were declining, 46 million birders in the United States generated $32 billion in retail sales, $85 billion in overall economic impact, $13 billion in state and federal income taxes, creating 863,406 jobs.
Whether it's chasing rare bird reports from Sault Ste. Marie to the Stonington Peninsula, there is an active group of birders not only established locally, but who travel to the region every year to take advantage of various birding opportunities.
Some of these include annual spring migration counts at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in Chippewa County, hawk flights at Brockway Mountain in Keweenaw County and numerous Christmas Bird Counts scattered across the peninsula.
Whether its group trips led by Audubon Society chapters, or small groups or individuals on private trips, the spin-offs to local restaurants, gas stations, motels and other businesses can be substantial.
"The optimism of always looking hopefully into the next tree is the esprit-de-corps of birders. As this report shows, birders come from many walks of life and watch a variety of birds in different settings," the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in its addendum to "Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis." Their enthusiasm for birding also translates into spending, thereby contributing significantly to national and local economies. The high values birders place on their birding trips is a solid indicator of brding's benefit to society."
The list of expenditures birders can make for equipment alone can be extensive. The Fish and Wildlife Service included items ranging from binoculars and spotting scopes, cameras, video equipment, special lenses, day packs, carrying cases, field guides, special clothing and maps to auxiliary items like tents, tarps, frame packs and backpacking equipment to blinds.
Other expenditures included guide fees, public and private transportation, lodging, food, boating costs and heating and cooking fuel.
The Fish and Wildlife Service report said 88 percent of Michigan's birdwatchers were residents of the state and 12 percent were non-resident. Of those birders, many travel from the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula to either search for new species for their life lists, or to try to take advantage of rare bird sightings that occur periodically throughout the year.
Birdwatchers from the Upper Peninsula also travel downstate to prime birdwatching areas like Point Pelee. Birders can sometimes travel across a few states to chase rare sightings of birds displaced geographically that are reported on Audubon Chapter bird hotlines.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is email@example.com.