Proposed Tiers of Birding Involvement

My post critiquing the latest federal report trying to quantify birders suggested that perhaps we try to break birding into additional categories, to somehow scale between the active birding community and the federal report’s estimated number of birders. I’m open to name changes, commentary, new definitions, etc. but here’s where I’m at. These should be thought of as concentric circles, where each group is hypothetically included in the next category in the list.

  1. “Hardcore birders” – This is how the birding community would largely self-identify, which is essential to this definition: I believe the attempts of those of us to define birders in this sense are trying to define our community. Thus, many of us know each other by means of our membership in this group. These are the people who are constantly driven to “new heights” in birding, seeking novel experiences with birds in some fashion. Birding is a life priority and a passion. Whether they aim to up their ID game, add a lifer, or add to some other list they keep, these are your true hobbyist birders. My educated guess, along with those of other birders on social media, is around 250,000 in the U.S.
  2. “Non-hardcore birders” – I think this is the group where I found myself describing perceived members as “he/she likes birds” but not necessarily as a birder. These are people who know about, are interested in, and seek out opportunities to go birding, but are often not known to local birding communities. They may care enough to participate in local citizen science efforts, or support local bird-related organizations/events, but do not necessarily keep lists or put in effort to see new birds, or learn about birds purely for curiosity’s sake. This is where I’d go with the upper limit of my original guess, which is 300,000 people in the U.S.
  3. People with special knowledge of birds – I was shocked when my undergrad ornithology professor told me she wasn’t a birder; I thought the profession necessitated that hobby! I’ve come to learn, though, that it doesn’t, and she inspired this category: these are often (though not necessarily exclusively) people who have some professional association with wildlife. They may be very knowledgeable about ornithology, and support birds in some fashion, but are not necessarily birders (it actually makes me wonder if this category should thus be taken out, but this is a draft without a specific goal of categorization specified, yet). This could perhaps be estimated by how many people have worked with birds in any capacity, be it seasonal field work or otherwise.
  4. Backyard/Local Area Birders – These are people who do own a field guide and are willing to at least make guesses at what they see in the backyard, or adopt local knowledge about what’s around them. They may stay in their backyard, but they look beyond their feeder to try to learn what’s going on around them. I’m not sure how to estimate this, as different from the next categories up: I think the number of “active birders” from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is inflated by waterfowl hunters who go to scout their spots, and necessarily own binoculars and other gear for hunting. Thus, they’re not birding purely to watch wildlife watching, but instead it’s intertwined in the goal of another hobby.
  5. Birder-curious – These are people who are intrigued by e.g. a local bird walk at a nearby natural area, and who may participate when they can, but do not necessarily take their hobby personally. In other words, they’re happy to look at birds when someone else is pointing them out, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to pursuing their hobby independently. It also may just be a part of general interest in wildlife, but not a special interest in birds. (This hypothetically includes what USFWS would loosely call “active birders.” Though the same problem mentioned above applies, the associated number from the report is 18 million).
  6. Feeder watching – These are people who feed birds and try (at least vaguely) to identify them. This likely includes anyone who owns a bird feeder, and/or buys bird food. This is meant to be the end scale of the USFWS definition, < 47 million.

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