Thursday, March 14, 2002

Measuring Birding Intensity in Greater West Virginia

Birding is the sport of pursuing wild birds with binoculars, scopes, and cameras. The sport used to be called bird watching, but that term is now out of fashion among true adherents. Birding intensity can be defined as a measure of the amount of birding activity. It is conceptionally related to hunting pressure and fishing pressure. Wildlife and fisheries biologists have a keen interest in hunting and fishing pressure, respectively, because of the relationship to the harvest of game species. There has been relatively little interest in birding intensity, probably because of the non-consumptive nature of birding. A 10-fold increase in birding activity will have no, or very little, effect on bird populations, while the same degree of increase in hunting pressure on Ruffed Grouse could conceivably have a noticeable effect on local populations.

How much variability is there in birding intensity among the six States in the Greater West Virginia region (defined as West Virginia plus the surrounding States of Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia)? Since there are no readily available figures on the number of days or hours that birders spend in the field each year, I have used membership in the American Birding Association an indirect measure of birding intensity. I calculated three separate indices for comparison among the six States: total number of ABA members, ABA members/100,000 adults, and ABA members/100 square miles.

West Virginia ranks dead last in the number of ABA members (78); 5th in the number of ABA members/100,000 adults; and 5th in the number of ABA members/square mile. With 5.5 ABA members/100,000 adults, West Virginia ranks just above Kentucky (3.64), but well behind top-ranked Maryland (15.84). West Virginia also ranks just above Kentucky in the number of ABA members/100 square miles (0.32 versus 0.28), but again lags well behind top-ranked Maryland (6.38). Given current levels of birding activity (as reflected by ABA membership), and with all other things being equal, these statistics suggest that a rare bird that showed up somewhere in Maryland would be 18 times more likely to be detected by a birder than one that showed up in West Virginia. And remember, statistics don’t lie!

(Note: A modified version of this was posted to the WV-Bird listserv on 03/11/2002.)

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