Without question, backyard birding is one of the most popular hobbies in America. A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service survey in 1996 showed that 52 million Americans feed wild birds in their yards – a massive group that had spent just over $3.5 billion on birdfeeding-related products during that year alone. Seeing as this number represented an increase from previous years, it’s only natural to assume that birding has similarly been on the rise in the 15 years since. But with so many other options available to our technology-obsessed society, why does birdfeeding endure as such a popular option that fully one-sixth of the population participates in it?
On the surface, it’s simple, really: think of birding as a backyard version of that other great American pastime, watching TV. They’re not so different when you stop to think about it. There’s drama in watching 10 birds jostle over six feeding ports, comedy in seeing squirrels slip off baffles in their persistent quest for food, and even occasional tragedy in attacks by hawks or other predators. There’s also a connection, however, on a deeper level. Watching TV is an activity that requires you to select a channel and then passively watch whatever you’ve chosen. Birding is an activity that requires you to choose what kind of food and feeder to use, and then passively watch the birds that are – probably by design – brought in by the food you picked.
Thus, deciding between serving mealworms and Nyjer seed is somewhat the same as deciding between watching sports or sitcoms – one situation will bring you either bluebirds or finches, while the other will bring you either a baseball game or Seinfeld. It all depends on what you’re in the mood to see at that time. It’s this sense of control that links the two otherwise wildly disparate hobbies, and what makes them so appealing to the general public – for who doesn’t want to have control over the forms of entertainment they can then passively enjoy? It gives people the best of both worlds – a relatively little bit of work for a lot of relaxed enjoyment.
Of course, there is more interaction with birding than there is with watching TV, despite the fundamental similarities. A good deal of thought and effort goes into not only feeding and housing your backyard birds, but also maintaining everything to give those birds the best experience you can. Perhaps this is also why birding has endured and even grown – there is a definite sense of satisfaction present when all goes right and the birds keep gratefully coming back for more food and shelter. For birders, happiness is a fed and sheltered bird, and that thought is more than enough to get them invested in the process.
In that sense, backyard birding goes beyond the metaphor of backyard TV entertainment and becomes something more – for you don’t simply watch backyard birding, as you would TV. In some way, large or small, you create it.
- By Sean Peick (Guest Writer)
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