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Birding by the numbers

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A male rose-breasted grosbeak hanging on a the wire to a birdseed feeder in Fairlawn, Ohio. (Kathy Antoniotti/Akron Beacon Journal)

I can’t tell you how excited I was the first time I saw a butter butt. Laugh if you will, but after 30 years of bird watching, it was the first time I had spied the yellow-rumped warbler that, along with a flock of his friends, stopped for several days by a nearby stream on their annual migration to their Canada breeding range.

While I will never attempt a big year (a competition among birders to see who can see or hear the largest number of species within a single year), I enjoy adding new species to my life list of birds I have been able to identify.

Bird watching is a relatively inexpensive hobby, unless you plan your travels around the sport. A good pair of binoculars and a decent field guide are really all you need to participate. But fair warning: If you aren’t careful, it can begin to take over many aspects of your life.

I never travel without my binoculars, field guide and camera. And we generally try to get in at least one bird-watching experience in places that have different kinds of birds than Northeast Ohio.

I have tried to analyze why I got so interested in bird watching. In the 1980s I had a huge picture window built in my kitchen so I could monitor a feeding station. I remember how excited I was when shortly after, an American kestrel and an Eastern towhee showed up.

I have no idea why I get a thrill when I hear the monk parakeets jabbering in the treetops by the beach at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, or see the red ballooning throat of a magnificent frigatebird looking for a mate near Flamingo in the Everglades.

But I’m not alone. In 2007, the Forest Service published the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment: Bird Watching Trends in the United States, 1994-2006 that estimated the number of birders — from the casual to the highly committed — at 81.4 million people. This includes people who travel at least a mile from their homes to view birds, or who try to identify them regularly at their homes.

According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Study, birders contribute $32 billion in retail sales annually. This represents money spent on field guides, binoculars, bird food, houses, boats, transportation, guide costs and other direct birding expenses. Americans spend upward of $3 billion a year on birdseed, and, after gardening, it’s the second most popular hobby in the country, according to the study.

The average birder is 49 years old and has a better-than-average income and education. She is slightly more likely to be female, and highly likely to be white and married. There is also a good chance that this birder lives in the northern half of the country in a small city or town.

Ohio ranks 34th among states for the number of birders, with about 20 percent of its population engaging in the activity. Montana has the most birders with 44 percent, and Hawaii is the last with only 9 percent of bird watching residents.

With so many people involved in the sport, you have to believe they get something from the activity, even if they are like me and haven’t quite figured out what it is.

I do know I love the hunt and the challenge of collecting enough field markers to identify each new bird I see. I can appreciate that when birdwatchers aim at a bird, it is with a camera and not a gun. My husband and I don’t mind spending hundreds of dollars on birdseed each year just for the privilege of viewing them through our windows. And I don’t really mind too much that their droppings have killed several beautiful rhododendrons that had the misfortune to be growing under their feeders.

For more information on birding, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a treasure trove of information for the advanced and beginning birder online at http://bit.ly/114s6fa.

Other animals in the news:

Howls & Growls Team — The Akron Zoo and the Magical Theatre in Barberton have teamed up to do 15 appearances to introduce the public to the Mike & Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge this summer and at the grand opening of the exhibit on July 20.

The team will be performing a short skit at several community interactive events, featuring a family living out in the woods talking about Grizzly Ridge, with kids playing the leading roles. Audience members will be expected to do the howl and growl hoedown.

For more information, contact the zoo at 330-375-2575.

Reptile Rally — Petco is sponsoring an opportunity to lean more about reptiles from noon to 4 p.m. today at area Petco stores in Macedonia, Kent, Wadsworth and Wooster.

Westie Picnic — The West Highland White Terrier Club of Northern Ohio is sponsoring a picnic at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Morgan’s Hollow Shelter, located off of Whittlesey Way off the East 49th Street entrance of Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation Metropark, south of Grant Avenue in Cuyahoga Heights. The club will furnish hot dogs and attendees are asked to bring their own table service and drinks, plus a covered dish to share. All Westies and their families are welcome to attend.

For more information, contact Chris Schriber at 330-833-5434.

Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.


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