“Birdwatchers are great people. Whether they’re looking at birds, reptiles or plants, they’re involved and observant. They love the environment and are focused on conservation,” said David Mead, owner of Great Northern Birdwatching Tours and an active participant in citizen science that contributes data on avian species like the endangered Gouldian Finch.
In the 1990s, local communities frowned on birdwatching tourists, whom they viewed as peculiar because of their obsession with this particular wildlife.
But today, the locals welcome birders like family and enthusiastically share with them everything they know about the bird species in their area.
“If a community sees the value birdwatching brings to the local economy, that can shift the dialogue and drive policies at a local level,” said Dr. Rochelle Steven, a conservation scientist at Murdoch University. “That patch of bush is now worth more to them left standing because they have birders coming to town visiting their coffee shops and pubs.”
Based on a report by BirdLife Australia, domestic birding trips contribute an estimated $283 million to Australia’s economy yearly, with most of it in regional communities.
For the first time in 2019, the national visitor survey conducted by Tourism Research Australia included birdwatching.
“We know how many whale-watching boats there are, how many days they go out and how many people each boat holds, so we can get an indication of the magnitude of whale-watching,” added Steven. “But we can’t do that for birdwatching, as we don’t have those surrogate measures to understand how many people are participating.”
Steven believes that bird conservation at a community level can truly benefit from placing an economic value on birdwatching. This conservation program is urgent since Australia is already losing a number of its bird species.
Sean Dooley, a full-fledged birder and author of The Big Twitch who likewise works for BirdLife Australia, agrees with Steven’s point of view. “The market for bird tourism is very knowledgable. Places that harbour threatened, endangered and must-see species, those birds become iconic for those regions. It’s been a real boon for those places that have realised what they’ve got on their doorstep.”
Yes, it is a matter of taking the right steps to boost birdwatching tourism, since birders spend more than regular tourists and are also passionate about nature conservation. Bird watchers are not as weird or bad as you may have imagined!
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