Birding Economics

  • View a video on “How and Why Economists Value Bird Biodiversity,” presented by Dr. Sonja Kolstoe for the Anne Arundel Bird Club, February 2021. Dr. Kolstoe is a Research Economist with the USDA Forest Service and a former faculty member at Salisbury University. In her presentation, Dr. Kolstoe explains that  most ecosystem services are not bought and sold in a marketplace and thus are non-market. To value them requires the use of non-market valuation techniques. Dr. Kolstoe talks about how non-market valuation economists, such as herself, value ecosystem services provided by birds, from the data to the analysis and results. She also talks about how she uses both traditional data sets (e.g. survey data, permits, American Community Survey, etc.) and novel data sources (e.g. citizen science [e.g., eBird], GIS, satellite data, etc.) in her economic analyses. She will also discuss how these analyses take into account how environmental issues such as climate change, land cover change, and sea level rise are affecting environmental goods and services, such as changes in bird populations.

Did you know that all Maryland residents who participate in birding could fill Oriole Park at Camden Yards 20 times and M&T Bank Stadium 13 times? Did you know that Maryland birders number half again the population of Baltimore City?  And did you know that we spend a lot on our beloved activity, in terms of travel, equipment and feeding birds?

How do we know this?  Every five years the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service conducts a National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. 1  The latest one was conducted by telephone in 2010, the 12th in a series begun in 1955.  The study was conducted nationwide, and in Maryland alone, 48,600 households were interviewed as part of this effort and asked about their birding (and other wildlife viewing) in the previous year.  When the data were extrapolated, they showed that 934 thousand people participated in birding activities within the state of Maryland, consisting of 18 percent of the State’s residents along with 150,000 non-residents who visit our state for the purpose of watching birds.

As defined in the survey, bird watching comprises both around-the-home and away-from-home observations.  Among the 778 thousand in-state residents who reported observing wildlife around the home, 94 percent watched birds.  In addition, 263 thousand Maryland residents watched birds away from home.  (Most of this group also watched birds at home, so numbers overlap.)  Maryland birders (combined in-state and out-of-state) averaged 95 days a year birding, for a total of 88.8 million days each year!  This represents 116 days for around-the-home observers and 8.3 days for away-from-home observers.

Bird watching expenditures include trip-related expenses (such as food, lodging, transportation and other incidentals) and equipment (including binoculars, scopes, photography equipment, bird food/ feeders/ boxes/baths, field guides, and camping equipment).  Other expenditures include magazines, books, memberships, and plantings expressly for birds. Thus, expenditures associated with birding can ripple through the economy by increasing economic activity, employment and household income, as well as generating tax revenue.

The Fish and Wildlifereport for the state of Maryland breaks down the economic information about wildlife watching, but it does not always distinguish birding from the combined wildlife watching expenditures (that includes birds, land mammals, amphibians/reptiles, and insects/spiders). Data on expenditures by activity is provided only at the aggregate level of “wildlife watching.”  To get a sense of expenditures at the “birding” level, we multiplied the aggregate by 69 percent, the percentage of all wildlife watchers who are birders.  These in-state spending numbers are provided in the table below.

In-State Revenue from Birding in 2011


Estimated trip-related expenditures by birders

$72.1 million

Estimated equipment expenditures by birders

$261.5 million

Total In-State Revenue

$333.6 million

For example, did you know that in Maryland birders spend $75 thousand dollars annually on bird food, and $20 thousand on bird feeders/baths/houses?

Fishing and hunting activities were also surveyed.  It is interesting to compare statistics on birding with these other two activities.  The number of birders is much higher than the combined fishing/hunting participants (934 thousand versus 426 thousand for fishing and 88 thousand for hunters).  Birders spend more on their activities than hunters ($264 million), but less than anglers ($535 million).

In the end, what is at stake is not just a peculiar pastime made up of bird-nerds and nature nuts. Rather, what is at stake is a multi-million dollar industry supporting the hotel, transport, food and beverage industries; as well as the sale of cameras, binoculars, and lots and lots of birdseed.  And don’t forget the salaries of employees working in these industries, as well as state taxes associated with purchases and state and federal income taxes. And in addition to having a strong economic impact, birding helps preserve the natural ecology of our beautiful state, which is priceless. Every Maryland county has numerous premier birding sites, and thus all share in the bounty that birding brings.

1) Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis. Addendum to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.  U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Report 2011-4, December 2013.   Available at

2) 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation: Maryland.  U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Report FHW/11-MD(RV), Revised December  2013 Available at