Bird-watching is a popular hobby for Southerners

LITTLE ROCK, AR (AGFC) - A recently released report reveals that bird-watching continues to thrive as a popular hobby for Americans, even more so for Southerners. According to this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, an estimated 33 percent of Southerners bird-watch as of 2006, compared with 20 percent of Americans nationwide participating in the pastime.

"I think people have an innate desire to connect with nature," said Karen Rowe, AGFC bird conservation biologist. "Birding is an easy way to do that."

Particularly in The Natural State, an abiding interest in the outdoors seems commonplace.

"Around Arkansas, we have lots of hunters and fisherman, said Jim Allen, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Little Rock. "People [here] are conscious of nature."

Allen's store specializes in bird feeders and seeds. The report showed that backyard birding is the most popular way to watch birds, with 88 percent of birders claiming to observe birds at home. Arkansas birders can also see birds in a plethora of local natural areas.

"There are so many amazing places for birding in Arkansas," Rowe said. "We tend to think of those places [e.g. wildlife management areas] for traditional hunting, but they're excellent for bird-watching, too."

Several Arkansas towns have harnessed the power of birding, drawing birders to their streets via birding events and customized accommodations. Clarendon hosts The Big Woods Birding Festival, which offers bird programs and hikes. Hoping to attract eco-tourists, Stuttgart is converting unused land to prairie habitat for birds around Stuttgart Airport. The airport already lures birders, who walk the grassy spans between runways to find specialty winter birds like Smith's Longspur and Sprague's Pipit. As of April 2008, Stuttgart Airport's birder registry has documented birders from 23 states, two Canadian provinces and Great Britain.

Bird-watching is a popular hobby for Southerners Still, there's room for other Arkansas towns to adopt birder-friendly standards to generate income from tourists.

"Tourism departments need to recognize there's a birding element and recognize birders' needs," Rowe said. "Local towns need support, and birders can fill it. They don't realize birders are out there."

At the same time, birders need to identify themselves.

"I leave a birder calling card with the tip at restaurants," stated Dr. Dan Scheiman, bird conservation director for Audubon Arkansas. "It lets businesses know that birders contribute to their local economy. Because we birders don't always have binoculars around our necks, we also should be more vocal about who we are and why we are visiting."

According to the report, most birders are middle-aged and older. In contrast, only eight percent of birders are between 16 and 24 years of age. /p>

"We've got to get the youth involved," Rowe said. "AGFC is working hard to recruit young hunters and anglers. To the same extent, we need to recruit young birders. But more than that, we need to recruit conservationists."

Through kindling a passion for nature within youth and communities, Arkansas will ensure that its natural heritage is preserved through birding and other outdoor activities.