Birding IS Big Business

Birdwatching is among America’s most popular recreational activities…and growing.

Scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Birding? Ask the 47+ million birdwatchers in America why they love birds, and you’ll likely get a range of replies as diverse as the birds themselves.

With colors and songs that can stop you in your tracks (just about anywhere), equally colorful and evocative names, and life stories replete with amazing feats of speed and stamina, not to mention the power of flight, birds are an exciting gateway to the natural world, right outside your door.

A new economic impact analysis suggests that Arizonans now have a billion more reasons to appreciate birds and wildlife, according to a Tucson Audubon news release.

Arizona’s unique combination of geography and climate supports a whopping 400+ bird species—that’s about half the total of all the bird species that can be found in the U.S. and Canada, in just 1 percent of the land area. Diverse and distinctive, Arizona’s birdlife features many species found nowhere else this side of the border, virtually guaranteeing a slot on many a birders’ bucket list.

Combine this with a cultural heritage, ample RV Parks and campgrounds, first-class destination services, and a plethora of unique wildlife experiences accessible from Tucson, and it’s no wonder the area is recognized as one of the top birding and nature destinations on the continent attracting ecotourists from all over the world.

Birders Mean Business

Acorn Woodpecker in western oak woodlands at Ramsey Canyon near Sierra Vista.. Their social lives are endlessly fascinating: they store thousands of acorns each year by jamming them into specially made holes in trees.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Acorn Woodpecker in western oak woodlands at Ramsey Canyon near Sierra Vista.. Their social lives are endlessly fascinating: they store thousands of acorns each year by jamming them into specially made holes in trees. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

BIG business! You might be surprised to learn that Watchable Wildlife recreation in Arizona has a larger economic impact than hunting, fishing, golf, or even the Gem Show.

Southwick Associates, a fish and wildlife economics and statistics firm, reports the total economic effect from 2011 watchable wildlife activities in Arizona to be $1.4 billion ($1.1 billion by residents and $314.6 million by visitors).

Southwick’s analysis is based on raw data from the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. In this survey, “wildlife watching activities” include observing, photographing, or feeding wildlife.

When birders and other wildlife watchers visit, they spend money—mostly on lodging, food, and transportation. Local participants contribute, too, with equipment purchases like optics, camera gear, birdfeeding supplies, and other tools of the trade.

These expenditures have increased since 2001, despite economic instability; in 2011, Arizona residents spent a total of $665 million on watchable wildlife recreation, while visiting wildlife watchers from out-of-state poured $183.7 million new dollars into the state economy.

Original expenditures by wildlife watchers generate rounds of additional spending throughout the economy, resulting in additional indirect and induced impacts that are commonly called the multiplier effect. Economic activity associated with both the direct spending and multiplier effects impacts is the total economic contribution resulting from the original expenditures.

Locally, watchable wildlife recreation has a total economic impact of $330 million, and supports about 3000 jobs in Pima, Santa Cruz, and Cochise counties.

Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival

American goldfinch at San Pedro House,  San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area near Sierra Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
American goldfinch at San Pedro House, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area near Sierra Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore and enjoy the beautiful and fascinating Sonoran Desert and Sky Islands at the third annual Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival, August 14-18, 2013.

Workshops include Beginning Birding, Learning To Use a Field Guide, Fall Migrants, and Hummingbird ID.

Tucson Audubon

Tucson Audubon promotes the protection and stewardship of southern Arizona’s biological diversity through the study and enjoyment of birds and the places they live.

Tucson Audubon connects people to their natural environment. Focusing on birds and other wildlife, they inspire and motivate people to conserve natural resources in southern Arizona for use and enjoyment by all.

Tucson Audubon is a full-service community conservation organization bringing together people with a common interest in birding and the natural world.

Address: 300 E University Blvd, #120, Tucson, AZ 85705

Phone: (520) 629-0510


Worth Pondering…

I love this region and its birdlife…I love the varied seasons of this country… especially that green time in August when the thunderstorms roll through and when birds are abundant everywhere from the grasslands to the high peaks.”

—Kenn Kaufman, keynote speaker, 2011 Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival

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Birdwatchers Flock to Lake Havasu City

In January 2012, news spread worldwide that a Nutting’s Flycatcher was spotted in the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) near Lake Havasu City, Arizona, attracting scores of birders.

A pristine stretch of the Bill Williams River within the National Wildlife Refuge. (Source: )

Though it may seem like one of the more unique vacation ideas, birding is big business for the Lake Havasu area, according to a news release.

“We host hundreds of birders here a week,” said Kathleen B., Blair, Ph.D., a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ecologist.

Bill Williams River NWR birders receive cards that read, “Your business has been patronized by a birdwatcher” to leave at local businesses.

“By emphasizing that wildlife conservation is good for business, we hope more people will support it,” said Blair.

The desert marshland of the Bill Williams River NWR was recently designated by the National Audubon Society as a Globally Important Bird Area. It harbors species of global conservation concern, supports range- and biome-restricted species, and represents a bottleneck through which migratory birds pass seasonally.

“The refuge is a vital stopover for neotropical migrant birds using the Colorado River flyway. It provides a nesting habitat for endangered and threatened species, including the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and Yuma Clapper Rail,” said Tice Supplee, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Arizona.

Key features which identify this bird as a Nutting's Flycatcher include the call, tail pattern, wing pattern, mouth lining and bill shape. (Source:

“By calling attention to the spread of invasive exotic species and excessive public recreation, we hope to preserve this Arizona gem.”

The Important Bird Areas program is a global effort to identify and conserve vital bird areas. Working with Audubon chapters, landowners, public agencies, community groups, and other non-profits, Audubon endeavors to activate a support network for Important Bird Areas.


Lake Havasu City

Lake Havasu City, home of the historic London Bridge, is situated on the eastern shore of Lake Havasu on the Colorado River border of California and Arizona. The City was established in 1963 by Robert P. McCulloch, Sr., as a self-sufficient, planned community. Lake Havasu City is located off Arizona Highway 95 in Mohave County, an 18-mile drive north leads to Interstate 40, and a 65-mile drive south leads to Interstate 10.

Lake Havasu City is located on what is known as the “West Coast of Arizona,” three hours driving time west of Phoenix. The area attracts 750,000 visitors a year thanks to its calm waters, beautiful beaches, desert weather with more than 300 sunny days a year.

Phone: (928) 453-3444 or (800) 242-8278 (toll free)


Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)

The rare riparian habitat of Bill Williams River NWR draws a variety of neotropical migratory birds—winging their way from Central and South America to their breeding grounds in the north.

About a dozen endangered Yuma clapper rails spend the summer months in the cattails of the marsh and may overwinter. More likely heard than seen, their dry kek-kek-kek echoes at dusk and dawn. Another endangered bird, the southwestern willow flycatcher, nests on the refuge in the willow trees lining the river.

Crisscrossing tracks in the sand chronicle the nighttime excursions of cottontails, javelina, and deer, as well as predatory coyotes, bobcats, and the less common cougars.

A marsh bird the size of a chicken, the Yuma clapper rail is gray-brown above and buffy-cinnamon below and has brownish-gray cheeks and flanks barred with black and white. Its somewhat orange bill is long and slightly down-curved.

Directions: From Lake Havasu City, drive south on Arizona Highway 95 approximately 23 miles. Watch for the signs. When you start to make the curve at the south end of Lake Havasu, between mileposts 160 and 161, look for a rock wall and enter at the gate. The entrance to the paddle craft launch ramp is to the right; public parking and fishing access are to the left. The Visitors Center is directly ahead.

Address: 60911 Highway 95, Parker, AZ 85344

Phone: (928) 667-4144


Worth Pondering…

The West is color. Its colors are animal rather than vegetable, the colors of earth and sunlight and ripeness.

—Jessamyn West

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Frontera Audubon: An Urban Nature Preserve

Located four blocks from the Weslaco downtown business district, Frontera Audubon is a private non-profit nature preserve featuring mature native woodlands, thornscrub, trails, wetlands, and butterfly gardens.

A bird of South Texas and northeastern Mexico, the black-crested titmouse is common in oak woods and towns. It was once considered a subspecies of the tufted titmouse, and the two species are very similar in appearance, voice, and habits. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This 15-acre urban site provides habitat for a wide variety of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, and reptiles. Over 70 kinds of butterflies are documented on the nature preserve including many unique in the U.S. to South Texas.

Most of the Rio Grande specialty bird species are regularly seen here including the green jay (pictured below), buff-bellied hummingbird, great kiskadee, long-billed thrasher, green kingfisher, white-tipped dove, groove-billed ani, golden-fronted and ladder-backed woodpeckers, olive sparrow, black-crested titmouse (pictured to the right), and altamira oriole.

The Center is a model in land conservation, water management, and nature tourism. The staff is small in number but large in knowledge and hospitality.

The heart of the Sanctuary is the ‘Thicket’, “native Tamaulipan thornscrub, wetlands, and butterfly gardens” in the 15 acre property that is surprisingly in an urban section of town. It is a great place for novices to sit and watch birds come in to feeders, while rarities draw in experts and photographers to get close-up shots.

All of the trails in the Thicket are dirt trails but very well maintained and quite level with the exception of the elevated boardwalk over wetlands.  There are a number of benches throughout the Thicket as well as seating set up at feeding stations.

Since there is a ramp accessing the visitor’s center, all of the Frontera Audubon Sanctuary except possibly the boardwalk is wheelchair and handicap accessible. There are clean restrooms inside the visitor center where maps of the trails are available as well as information about what birds, and butterflies, are being seen.

The diamond-back water snake is a long, heavy-bodied, tan to gray-brown non-venomous reptile with a pattern of dark brown to black chain-like markings. The belly is yellow, but with dusky brown markings. As the name implies it lives in slow moving waters. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ponds are fed by an artificial ‘stream’ that provides running water that is so attractive to birds as well as water drips to ensure the maximum species draw. There are benches across the sidewalk from the water feature where photographers are often seen getting close-up photos.

Thicket Trail

Frontera’s 15 acre site offers opportunities for bird and butterfly enthusiasts and all those interested in the wonders of nature and biodiversity.

Lesser goldfinches breed in the sunflowers behind the Visitors’ Center, and a wetland that has been developed on the property attracts large numbers of black-bellied whistling-ducks and shorebirds. Green parakeets have nested in cavities in the dead trees bordering the pond, and red-crowned parrots roost in old trees. Few places in the Valley are more populated with plain chachalacas. In migration the thicket is among the better spots to see neotropical migrants away from the coast.


Frontera Audubon

Frontera Audubon is dedicated to preserving the native habitat of the Rio Grande Valley.

Admission: $5; senior, $4; children age 12 and under, free

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday; 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.; Sunday, 12:00-4:00 p.m.; Closed Monday

Address: 1101 South Texas Blvd (FM 88), Weslaco, Texas 78596

Phone: (956) 968-3275


The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please Note: This is the twelfth in a series of stories on Rio Grande Valley nature hot spots

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Oh, what a beautiful morning’,

Oh, what a beautiful day.

I got a beautiful feelin’

Ev’rything’s goin’ my way.

Oh, what a beautiful day!

—“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from the musical Oklahoma!

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Join the Christmas Bird Count

With their binoculars, scopes, and gazes turned to the skies, birdwatchers are often far easier to spot than the feathered friends they search for.

Join a Christmas Bird Count at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge on Monday, December 19, 2011. Pictured above Green Jay at Laguna Atascosa. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birds have a unique ability to inspire and delight us. They connect us with nature, with the passage of seasons, and with each other.

Birding is one of the most popular activities in the country. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 48 million Americans go birding each year. How about you?

It is also one of the few activities open to all ages and levels of ability.

The 112th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is scheduled for December 14, 2011 to January 5, 2012. It is an early-winter bird census, where thousands of volunteers across the United States, Canada, and other countries in the Western Hemisphere, go out over a 24-hour period to count birds.

Tens of thousands of volunteers throughout North America will brave winter weather to add a new layer to over a century of data.

Prior to the turn of the century, people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt”: They would choose sides and go afield with their guns; whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered—and furred—quarry won.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when ornithologist Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore (which evolved into Audubon magazine) proposed a new holiday tradition—a “Christmas Bird Census”—that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them.

Join a Christmas Bird Count at Weslaco in the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday, December 28, 2011. Pictured above is a green kingfisher at Estero Grande State Park in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So began the Christmas Bird Count.

Organized by the National Audubon Society, this all-volunteer effort takes a snapshot of bird populations to monitor their status and distribution across the Western Hemisphere.

Last year’s bird count shattered records. A total of 2,215 counts and 62,624 people tallied over 60 million birds. Counts took place in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces, plus 107 count circles in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.

The results are compiled into a database that is shared with federal, state, and private authorities. Past data can be viewed at the Audubon’s website.

CBC data not only helps identify birds in most urgent need of conservation action; it reveals success stories.

The Christmas Bird Count helped document the comeback of the previously endangered Bald Eagle, and significant increases in waterfowl populations, both the result of conservation efforts.

You need to be officially part of the CBC, because this is an official census.

There are designated compilers in each CBC circle and counters follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile diameter circle counting every bird they hear throughout the day.

CBC participants are organized into groups by the organizer or compiler of each Count. Counts are open to birders of all skill levels. Anyone is welcome to participate. Novices are placed in groups with more experienced birders.

There is a $5.00 fee charged by the National Audubon Society for each individual who participates. These fees fund the program and help to cover the costs of generating materials for compilers, producing an annual CBC summary issue, and maintaining the CBC website and database. There is no fee for persons 18 years old and under.

Join a Christmas Bird Count at Falcon Dam and State Park, Texas on Friday, December 30, 2011. Pictured above is a Great Kiskadee at Falcon Dam. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In some cases the CBC is sponsored by a local Audubon chapter or other organization, and the participants do not need to pay a fee.

Many CBCs encourage feeder watchers; there is no fee to be a feeder watcher.

If you have never been on a CBC before your first step is to locate and contact your local Count Compiler to find out how you can volunteer.

You can search for a circle near you on the Get Involved page.

There’s a wonderful world just waiting to be explored, so get into birds!

Worth Pondering…

(The) citizen science aspect is secondary to the individual birder’s addiction to a cold day of discovery in the woods, serendipitous as star gazing. Then there is the après-view aspect of swapping tales in a cozy gathering of census takers, a modern successor to Side Hunt festivity minus the dead birds underfoot.

—New York Times editorial

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“Birding the Net” Takes Birding Online

The competition was fierce as virtual birders pursued animated orioles, puffins, cranes, and more throughout the web in Audubon’s Birding the Net.

In all, more than 9,500 participated in the ambitious social media campaign that stretched across Facebook, Twitter, and over 100 websites, according to a Tuesday (December 6) news release.

The winners are now collecting their prizes, which include a trip for two to the Galapagos Islands courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions.

The game brought the thrill of the chase found in real-world birding to the Internet, challenging players to spot dozens of species between October 14 and November 7.

Millions of web surfers observed virtual birds doing the same things that birds do outdoors; as animated birds flew across homepages, perched on mastheads, and flocked to birdhouses that hundreds of individuals and companies had installed on their websites and blogs. By clicking on the birds, players linked to the Audubon Facebook page to collect and trade “bird cards,” which featured recordings of birdsongs, bird facts, and video.

Jessica Harrison of Boston, Massachusetts was the first participant to identify all 34 birds, and as the grand prize winner will enjoy a voyage for two to the Galapagos Islands courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions.

“I didn’t start playing Birding the Net because I know a lot about birds or conservation. I just thought the graphics were phenomenal and it was a cool idea,” said Harrison. “Now here I am downloading books about birds and the Galapagos! I can’t wait to see it for myself, and am so grateful to Audubon and Lindblad for the opportunity.”

Making the leap from virtual reality to bird-watching in the 'real world': Green jay takes a bath in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“How amazing is it that the winner wasn’t a birder—and that now she is?” said Audubon President David Yarnold. “From the start, the goal of Birding the Net was to make birding cool—and to tempt virtual birders to take their interest outside.”

Other winners will receive prizes such as Canon cameras, Nikon binoculars, gift cards to Woolrich, and downloads of the Audubon Birds–A Field Guide to North American Birds mobile app from Green Mountain Digital. Each of the 200 winners will also receive a one-year membership to Audubon.

In all, millions of web surfers saw birds online, and players “collected” more than 84,563 birds. Audubon’s Facebook Likes increased by 56 percent, and traffic to the nonprofit’s website skyrocketed by 87 percent during the campaign.

AdWeek called Birding the Net “elegant and light, charming, addictive and fun.”

And then there was the great feedback from players via Facebook and Twitter:

  • “I’m enjoying the opportunity to meet new like-minded folks and being exposed to new birding Web sites.”
  • “#birdingthenet has my 3 sons excited about birds. They watch the videos and read their profiles while collecting bird cards.”
  • “Just stepped outside for a break. Red-bellied woodpecker on tree. Mouse finger twitched. #birdingthenet”
  • “The #birdingthenet Whooping Crane inspired me to see the real thing at the @NationalZoo. A spectacular animal…amazing to see one so close.”
Scrub jay visits our camp site at Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding the Net gained traction thanks to the generosity of partnering websites — including AOL, Slate, and Discovery Channel—that donated 91 million media impressions, a value of more than $1.7 million. Lindblad Expeditions, Nikon, Canon, Woolrich, and Green Mountain Digital donated more than $25,000 in prizes. And Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, creators of the campaign, generously waived all of its agency time for the seven months it took to develop and launch Birding the Net.




Now in its second century, Audubon connects people with birds, nature and the environment that supports us all. Our national network of community-based nature centers, chapters, scientific, education, and advocacy programs engages millions of people from all walks of life in conservation action to protect and restore the natural world.

Phone: (212) 979-3000


Worth Pondering…

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.


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“The Big Year” & “Birding the Net”

Bird-watching or “birding” as it’s properly known gets the big screen treatment in “The Big Year” which opened in theaters this past weekend.

The movie stars Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson as a trio of bird-watchers who compete to outdo each other. (Credit:

With more than 40 million bird enthusiasts in the United States, The Big Year would seem to have a ready-made audience. It’s not often that birders get to see their species portrayed by Hollywood. This is not a documentary or a PBS special, however.

It’s a buddy comedy about three crazy guys each facing unique personal and professional challenges trying to outdo each other in the ultimate North American birding competition. If you keep that in mind, everything else should be fine.

It stars Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black as birding rivals who each chase the world record for identifying the most birds in North America in a single year in 1998. Each decides to take an entire year to witness as many varieties of birds across America as humanly possible, known in the birding world as The Big Year. It’s based on Mark Obmascik’s 2004 best-selling nonfiction book, “The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession,” about a similar contest among three real-life birders.

In 1998, unusual weather patterns generated by El Nino forced some species of migrating Asian birds to take refuge in such places as Attu, a remote island in Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain. Birders with the time, the money, and the obsession could hop a plane—usually more than one—to add these stranded travelers to their “life lists.”

The film gives a glimpse into the seriously-competitive world of birding. (Credit:

Usually, though, birding is a low-key sport that’s within the means of anyone with a reliable field guide and a good set of binoculars. Some might sketch the bird and enjoy its beauty, while “twitchers” simply check the species off their list and move on.

Audubon Releases Virtual Birds

Meanwhile, the folks at Audubon have launched an Internet campaign to take advantage of the attention the movie is expected to bring to birding.

Bird watchers hit the Internet in a big way last week as Audubon launched its groundbreaking social media campaign, “Birding the Net.” Visitors to over 100 websites—including AOL, Slate, and Discovery Channel—are encountering unexpected avian visitors. Timed to build on the release of The Big Year movie, the campaign, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, brings the excitement of birds and birding to a broad new audience in a new and unexpected way.

“This is about fun—but it’s also about getting more people involved in taking action to protect birds and the planet we share with them,” said David Yarnold, President & CEO of Audubon. And with this unprecedented use of social media and the web, we’re also making it clear that this is not your grandmother’s Audubon.”

Animated birds are flapping across nearly 100 websites, including AOL, Discovery, and Slate. (Credit:

In The Big Year, characters compete to see the most North American birds in one year. Birding the Net brings to the Internet the thrill of the chase found in real-world birding, challenging players to spot dozens of species released October 10 through November 7. Web surfers can observe virtual birds doing the same things that birds do outdoors: animations of birds fly across homepages, perch on mastheads, and flock to birdhouses that anyone can install on personal websites and blogs. Clicking on the animated birds takes players to an Audubon Facebook page to collect and trade “bird cards” which feature recordings of birdsongs, bird facts, and video. The first players to collect all the birds will win prizes, including a Lindblad Expeditions cruise among the Galapagos Islands.

All that is required to play is to visit Audubon on Facebook.

The game will go viral, since trading bird cards helps a player’s chances of winning; the more Facebook friends that compete in Birding the Net, the more opportunities for trading birds. And for exclusive hints on where to find birds on the Internet, Audubon followers on Twitter (@AudubonSociety) can interact and follow campaign “spokesbirds” @FloridaScrubJay and @RufHummingbird.

In addition to the grand prize voyage for two to the Galapagos, prizes include Canon cameras, Nikon binoculars, gift cards to Woolrich, and downloads of the Audubon Birds–A Field Guide to North American Birds mobile app from Green Mountain Digital. All 200 winners also receive one-year membership to Audubon.

Worth Pondering…

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

—Chinese Proverb

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