A bird in the binoculars: Understanding birdwatchers' potential to contribute to sustainable development and biological conservation

Sheri Lynn Glowinski, University of Southern Mississippi

Abstract

The three studies comprising this research drew from local economic development and environmental sociology to understand aspects of human dynamics that influence the conservation of birds. Using survey data collected from birdwatchers visiting coastal Alabama, the first study examined the local economic impact of birdwatching tourism and the factors that participants deemed important with respect to their recreation. Birdwatchers spent $103,305 during the four month study period. The total annual economic impact of this recreation on the area was estimated at $937,470, producing a multiplier of 1.48 and the equivalent of 20.3 full time jobs. Infrastructural variables (parking, bathrooms, site accessibility) and biological variables (high bird diversity, rare birds, additional birding sites nearby) were most influential on birdwatchers' interest in visiting a location. This study reinforces the value of natural resources to nature-based tourism efforts and to the ecological well-being of coastal areas. Using mail survey data collected from American Birding Association members, the second study used structural models to test two hypotheses regarding birdwatchers' concern for the environment. The first hypothesis, that birdwatchers as a discrete recreational user group are not uniform in their motivations for participation in their chosen recreation, was supported with three motivations emerging: social opportunities, achievement, and conservation. The second hypothesis, that participation in birdwatching contributes to environmental concern but is mediated by motivation, found limited support. Although birdwatchers expressed concern for the environment, the relationship between birdwatching participation and concern was weak. Conservation had the strongest correlation with environmental concern but was uncorrelated with participation. The results suggest that participation in birdwatching may not lead to environmental concern even when motivation is taken into consideration and that other variables explain environmental concern. Also using data collected from American Birding Association members, the exploratory third study examined birdwatchers' beliefs regarding factors influencing the persistence of populations of birds. Birdwatchers rated availability and quality of habitat as strongly influential factors, whereas global climate change was rated as only slightly influential. The results of this study can serve as a foundation for conservation managers and policy makers to most effectively inform and involve this target audience.