It’s called the “Biggest Week in American Birding,” and for good reason.
The third annual event runs from May 5-15 and for the first time activities will be headquartered at Maumee Bay State Park. The festival will bring thousands of birding enthusiasts and millions of dollars into Northwest Ohio, according to Kim Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
“From April through May, we expect to have more than 75,000 people in this area,” Kaufman said before last year’s festival. “(Two years ago) The Ohio Department of Natural Resources put a car counter across the road into Magee Marsh. They used a conservative approach to determine how many people passed through this area from May 1 through May 17. Granted, Magee Marsh is the epicenter of birding during spring migration, but they officially registered more than 50,000 people coming into this wildlife area in those 16 days.
“We’ve had people come from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Ecuador, you name it,” Kaufman added.
Kaufman added that birding is a great family activity, and families will have plenty to do at the Biggest Week in American Birding.
“If we can even manage an average year in terms of weather and bird migration, we will really rock birders' world,” she said. “It's something everybody can do. Even if you don't care about birds at all, it's such a neat thing to experience. You can come out and meet people from all over the world. We have a lot of Amish who enjoy bird watching because, again, it's something they can do with their family.
“There is not only a great diversity of birds you can experience here but a great diversity of bird watchers. People from all walks of life — doctors and attorneys and truck drivers — it appeals to everybody. It's not just your grandma out there watching birds anymore.”
$26 million into economy
Using data and attendance figures compiled by ODNR from the first festival, Kaufman estimated that last year's Biggest Week in American Birding would bring as much as $20 million into the Northwest Ohio economy.
A recently completed Ohio Sea Grant research shows that bird watching along Ohio’s Lake Erie coast contributes as much as $26 million or more and 283 jobs to northern Ohio’s economy, according to Dr. Philip Xie, Director of Bowling Green State University’s College of Education and Human Development. He said understanding these impacts will help local governments, park managers, and conservation groups better support bird watching and market northern Ohio to attract more bird enthusiasts, or “birders.”
“I would say we definitely expect to achieve $19-20 million,” Kaufman said. “We know an awful lot about the people who are visiting here for the festival. It's just another way that the Bird Observatory can provide a valuable service for the community.”
There are nearly 2.4 million birders throughout the state and birding makes up a large portion of Ohio’s $39 billion tourism industry. But until Xie’s study, he says nobody knew exactly how much money birders spent or what kind of economic impact they had on communities.
“Having solid numbers will help policy makers understand the financial impact of bird watching in terms of how much tax revenue and jobs it creates,” Xie says. “And this information will be useful for strategic marketing — once we know where these birders are from, we will know where to spend our marketing dollars better.”
After surveying more than 1,100 birders at six of northern Ohio’s most popular birding sites (Oak Openings Preserve, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve, Old Woman Creek, Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve, and Conneaut Harbor), Xie found that most bird watchers who visit sites along the Lake Erie coast live in Ohio, but many birders also travel from neighboring states. Birders’ spending supports salaries, local products, and taxes; when local people receive that money, they turn around and spend it again. This turnover of money has a multiplying effect for the entire region, generating $1.48 for every dollar that birders spend in northern Ohio.
Xie will be sharing similar information with various groups along Lake Erie about what local officials and parks can do to draw even more bird watchers.
“Communities have asked for this economic impact information so they can make wise decisions about what investments to make,” says Melinda Huntley, Ohio Sea Grant Extension’s Tourism Program Director who provided outreach support with the study. “Before public officials plan marketing efforts or enhance natural areas and public access opportunities, they want to see the potential economic value.”
In the long run, birding gives considerable returns on investments, Xie says. “It’s important for legislators to understand the magnitude of their decisions and to allocate resources and implement policies to attract birders. After all, birding is big business and now we have a lot more information about how to attract it.”
Ohio State University's Ohio Sea Grant program is part of NOAA Sea Grant, a network of 32 Sea Grant programs dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. For information on Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab, visit ohioseagrant.osu.edu.
To read Xie’s report, go to go.osu.edu/BirdingReport, and for more information, read the recent Twine Line article about this research at go.osu.edu/XieArticle.
The Black Swamp Bird Observatory is located at 13551 W. State Route 2, Oak Harbor. For more information, call 419-898-4070 or visit www.bsbobird.org.
(Writer Mark Griffin contributed to this report).