Type the word "birding" into the popular Google search engine and hit the enter key. The results show about nine million web pages available to users of the Internet. No one can possibly view them all.
A recent survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says there are about 47.7 million birders in the country, or about one of every six of us. It's estimated this subgroup spent $36 billion in the most recent surveyed year pursuing their hobby; quite a little cash for a seemingly non-productive interest. But then most avocations, by definition, are not designed to put money in the bank. They are outflows of personal interest, even passion, and meant as diversions. Their worth is measured in moments of joy not balance sheets.
I don't know the breakdown of that $36 billion but I have a guess. There's bird seed, of course; almost every grocery store or Target sells it. The optical industry is another beneficiary of these dollars. Binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras are continually being upgraded and improved (and priced higher). Travel costs money too. Folks are winging their way to the far reaches of the globe in pursuit of birds, spending all along the way. Publishing has found the birding niche in the last twenty years or so too, with a large and growing stock of book titles and magazines catering to that crowd. Then there's gadgetry. Electronics of all sorts are popping up with a single purpose in mind: grabbing birding dollars.
Of course there are many ways to maintain devotion to a fascination without taking out a loan. A reasonable pair of binoculars and a good field guide is all a person really needs. That and information. And that's where we get back to the Internet thing.
Contained in those nine million web pages is a ton of relevant knowledge in addition to much repetition and meaningless drivel. As a means of navigating these tall weeds, let me share some of my go-to Web sites.
Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, has long been considered the bastion of ornithology in this country. For basics on birding and short treatments of all the species in North America a person can't go wrong by entering their allaboutbirds.org Web site. I specifically like the audible birdsong files.
When seeking a place to go birding, birding.com is one of the better portals to check. It deals more with major locations like national wildlife refuges so lacks some specifics. But it makes up for it with downloadable maps of states and counties.
The Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center's Web site is a doorway to a wealth of information not only on birds but every imaginable biological subject. Their physical location is just outside Jamestown but it flies largely under the radar. Still the amount of research available to users of their Web site is enormous, tapping into a huge network of governmental scientific data from across the country. Where else can you read a research paper titled, Denning Behavior of Non-gravid Wolves? Check it out by going to npwrc.usgs.gov.
For those of us who travel infrequently, or not at all, there is still a way to keep track of what birds are being seen in other places. Perhaps the most coherent means of doing this is by heading to birdingonthe.net. What it lacks in flash it more than makes up for by getting right to business. By clicking on the Arizona rare bird alert for instance, users will find the brown-backed solitaire (a first-ever record for the U.S.) is still being seen south of Tucson.
Once you own a field guide or two, you will want more books on your shelf. Buteobooks.com is the Web site now handling book sales for the American Birding Association. Thousands of titles are available for purchase at this bird-specific sales site.
I have many more favorites but haven't the column space with which to list them. The five mentioned above merely scratch the surface of a broadening marriage, a marriage between the Internet and the growing popularity of birding. These five will provide a confident first step down the aisle.