That is the question, what do birders want? What I mean by want is, what factors motivate or influence birders to expend time and resources to go birding. I am a birder and I know what I want when it comes to birding. I have also become aware that birdwatching and birding is a highly-individualized activity. I think that is one of its great attributes. How anyone defines or finds value in watching or observing birds is as valid as how the next person does it. There is no right or wrong (unless a person is engaged in illegal or unethical behavior). However, this reality makes it difficult to know what different groups of birdwatchers and birders want. This, in turn, can present challenges for people, communities and business hoping to attract birdwatchers and birders.
You may notice I keep using two different terms, birdwatcher and birder. Some (many?) people may read these words and consider them to be synonyms. However, most birders see a distinction between them. Birdwatchers passively view and observe birds. They may not know the identity of many of the species they are observing. They generally do not invest resources purchasing things like binoculars, but they watch and observe birds. Whatever birdwatchers do, it is a perfectly valid way to enjoy birds. Birders, on the other hand, invest more time in the activity, they know the identity of many or most species they see, they purchase equipment (e.g., binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras) to enhance their experience. Birders also take trips with the sole purpose to find and observe birds. Also, a valid way for a person to enjoy birds. Even among active birders, which makes up a small proportion of all “birdwachers”, there is a lot of nuance in how individual birders bird (engage in the activity of birding).
Back to the question at hand, because it is relevant and here is why. The number of people watching wildlife and specifically birds has increased in recent decades. The growth and maturation of the Sandhill Crane spectacle in central Nebraska over the past 20-30 years is a good example of this trend. With both real and perceived demand from the public for bird viewing opportunities, tourism entities and agencies have invested time and resources hoping these efforts will attract birders to certain areas to watch and view birds. There is no question there are plenty of great birding opportunities in Nebraska. However, to attract birders to an area or enhance their experiences, one needs to know what birders want (what factors are important to them). I have wondered whether traditional approaches intended to attract birders could be improved by having better answers to this basic question. The way you improve information is to dive into the scientific literature and do a research project, in this case a survey of birders, and share your results. So that is what my collaborators (Mary Bomberger Brown and Lauren Dinan) and I did.
We recently finalized a report from the project that summarizes our findings. The report is entitled “Evaluating birding tourism markets in Nebraska” and it can be accessed HERE. The results and report are not an end all to this basic (and other) question. In fact, it is a start. Our survey targeted active birders in Nebraska, so there are other groups of birders and birdwatchers that were not included in the survey. As survey of other groups may reveal those groups want other things. Even so, I personally hope the project stimulates some thought and discussion (you’re allowed to comment on this blog post, if you’d like). I also hope the information helps interested parties to be more effective and efficient with their time and resources. Some of the results were expected, but the project was enlightening and there were a few surprises.
Hopefully the report begins to answer the question, what do birders want?