Bird Watching Provides Health Benefits, Positive Economic Impacts - Paycheck

Bird Watching Provides Health Benefits, Positive Economic Impacts

   Birding – the act of seeking out and observing as many bird species as possible – is gaining popularity as people have more time at home. The hobby provides many benefits in addition to presenting an enjoyable way to spend time in nature.

   “Birding, like many other outdoor activities, has been a great outlet for many during this pandemic,” said Ryan Brady with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

   Birds are everywhere and often highly visible unlike many wild animals. They are easily attracted to backyard feeders and provide a vibrant display of color, are pleasing to listen to and very graceful in the air.

   “What’s not to love about that?!” he said.

   This hobby offers a connection with nature as well as reduces stress and improves overall mental health. Brady recommends amateur birders should learn the species in their neighborhoods, join a local birding group and build skills over time through backyard observations and traveling to enjoy the sights and sounds of Wisconsin. 

   Green County conducts its own Christmas bird count centered on the Sugar River and extending out for a 15-mile radius. This count yields an average of 50 species each year, said Quentin Yoerger, local birding expert.

   “Despite being located on the Sugar River, this count turns up very few waterfowl species,” Yoerger said. “The following species have been found in only one year on the count:  snow goose, tundra swan, northern shoveler, green-winged teal, ring-necked duck, bufflehead and common merganser.”

   Yoerger, who appreciates the hobby of birding to help get him outside more often on breaks from his desk job, has been seeking out and observing birds for more than 20 years. He became interested in the hobby when his brother-in-law, Al Shea, took Yoerger under his wing. Yoerger began taking field trips outdoors with Shea through the Madison Audubon Society, where Shea worked as a trip leader.

   “After several years of Al’s mentoring, attending field trips and spending time out birding myself, I became pretty good at finding and identifying birds,” he said.

   Birders must find areas that provide good habitats for birds, Yoerger said. Some fruitful locations in Green County include Cadiz Springs in the area west of Monroe in the Browntown State Recreation Area, Albany wildlife area and Sugar River Trail, Woods State Park of New Glarus, Avon Bottoms wildlife area southeast of Brodhead, Liberty Creek wildlife area between Albany and Brooklyn, Marbleseed Prairie/York Prairie west of New Glarus, anywhere along the Sugar River corridor and Town Center Road south of Juda.

   “My favorite spot to watch birds is Gibbs Lake County Park east of Evansville,” Yoerger said.

   For the past eight years, Yoerger has served on the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology’s board, and is currently serving as the records committee chairman. The committee regularly reviews reports of rare Wisconsin birds, votes on the records quarterly and maintains an official list of all bird species documented in the state. There are currently 441 documented bird species on the Wisconsin list, he said.

   The Green County Christmas bird count has consistently found European starling, dark-eyed junco, house sparrow, Canadian goose and American tree sparrow as the top five local species.

   Yoerger said winter is a good time to see owls because they are large, perch in just one location and are easily identifiable. Hawks and eagles also draw people’s attention, he said.

   Practicing constantly helps make the estimated 20 million birders, most of which are amateurs, improve upon the craft. Yoerger recommends owning a birding field guide and learning how to use it, finding useful smart phone apps and paper books for more resources, using high-quality binoculars to observe birds, learning bird calls and songs, studying range maps and migration patterns, taking field trips with other birders, asking questions and simply observing.

   A love of nature comes into play for most birders, which usually translates to economic impacts surrounding the hobby, Brady said. As birders appreciate and support bird habitats and healthy ecosystems, many take action on personal, local or state levels with conservation organizations. Purchasing bird feeders, seed, optics and field guides as well as taking trips to bird-watch have significant economic impacts around the state, he said. While there are no specific numbers for Wisconsin, the economic impacts nationwide are mind-boggling.

   “In their most recent assessment, which was 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that spending by birders nationwide generated $107 billion in industry output, 666,000 jobs and $13 billion in tax revenue,” Brady said.

Mary Hookham

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