People Flock to Birding During Pandemic
By Mary Straka, Denver Audubon Volunteer
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, millions of people across the world have spent the spring months confined to their homes and neighborhoods. For many, venturing to the porch or back yard or walking the dog have been newly appreciated ways to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. As a result of extensive isolation, people have explored new hobbies, including home workouts, baking, origami, and rollerblading.
One particular pastime, birding, has exponentially increased. For casual and professional birders, changes in employment— such as unemployment, furlough, or working from home—have provided more opportunity to observe birds in local habitats. Many novices have attributed their newfound hobby to being stuck at home and spending more time in their yards and gardens or just gazing out their windows. For many, the extra time eyeing nature has sparked an interest in observing their neighborhood birds.
This April and May, more than 90% of Americans were under stay-at-home orders. During the month of April, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reported over 150,000 downloads of their popular Merlin Bird ID smartphone app—the largest increase ever recorded in the app’s six years of existence. The related eBird app, which allows users to record bird sightings on checklists, experienced a similar surge in popularity. Globally, people registering for the app increased by 900%, with birders submitting nearly 50,000 checklists daily. In addition, users spent greater amounts of time recording more details in the app than before, including a 48% increase in photos and an 80% increase in audio recordings.
Global Big Day, which is eBird’s largest annual attempt to count as many species as possible in one day, also had huge activity gains. This year Global Big Day occurred on May 9 with more than 120,000 people logging checklists, representing 50% higher participation compared to 2019. During the 2020 Global Big Day, over 6,400 species were logged.
The increased use of these apps has yielded interesting results. Birding hotspots that typically draw traveling birders (like Hawaii and the coastal Southeast) saw fewer submissions, likely due to beach and wildlife refuge closures. Conversely, reports of common urban and suburban birds increased as more people were confined to residential areas. For many, getting to know neighborhood birds has provided a sense of joy in difficult and uncertain times. Hearing a newly-learned birdsong or simply knowing the name of the bird you see every day in your yard can provide a much-needed sense of excitement and accomplishment.
Devokaitis, Mark. June 6, 2020. “More People are Discovering the Joy of Birding From Home During Lockdown.” From Summer 2020 issue of Living Bird Magazine.