May 5, 2015 4:29 pm
Updated: May 6, 2015 8:17 pm

Birding hobby soars in popularity across North America

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WATCH ABOVE: Did you know that more time is spent birding in Canada than gardening? Trish Kozicka explains how the hobby’s popularity has soared over the last few years.

TORONTO — Birding (or birdwatching) has become one of the fastest growing hobbies in North America. As the name suggests, it’s the act of watching, monitoring, feeding, filming, or photographing birds — of which there are more than 450 different kinds in Canada.

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“Birding is really taking off. It’s a huge trend,” said Kyla Makela with Bird Studies Canada, a national charity for bird research, citizen science and conservation.

It’s given wings to events this month like the Festival of Birds at Point Pelee, Ontario (May 1 to 18), Vancouver Bird Week (May 2 to 9), and the “Biggest Week in American Birding” (May 8-17).

One in five Canadians are doing it. And according to the most recent Canadian Nature Survey, birdwatchers will spend an average of 133 days in a year on the activity. That’s more time than is spent on any other nature activity — including gardening, which people dedicate more than 70 days a year to, on average.

Who’s doing it?

“We stereotypically think of birders as [kooky] people wearing Tilley hats out in the forest, but it’s indeed not the case. It’s a lovely past-time for people of all ages. It’s a great social activity and it’s a wonderful way to connect to nature at a different level,” Makela said.

She believes birding can be especially fun for children.

“Once kids are introduced to the birds around them, they’re just kind of hooked for life.”

“They take to it so quickly, trying to identify the different bird species and all the different details.”

WATCH: A Nova Scotia town is one of the most popular destinations for birdwatchers

Birding for beginners

So, how can you start?

Makela’s first suggestion is to get to know the birds in your backyard. To do that, you can go out with a group of birders (you can search for them on Facebook). Another easy first step is to buy a book, or just download an app.

“There’s one I love called the Merlin Bird ID app and it’s free to download. That walks you through a basic bird identification of what size is the bird, what colour is it, where are you seeing it and what is it doing?

“And from four simple questions, it’s able to output a really good guess on what bird you’re seeing.”

You can then submit your sightings to eBird.ca, which Makela said is “the world’s largest and longest crowdsourcing program,” or Project FeederWatch.

You can join the latter if you plan to feed birds in your backyard. The organization then sends you a research kit with instructions on how to identify birds.

READ MORE: Did you know – These 5 species could one day disappear from across Canada

Canada’s bird

Did you know that Canada doesn’t have an official bird? Canadian Geographic plans to change that with its National Bird Project, which encourages Canadians to vote for our national bird. So far, the loon is in first place.

birding-infographic3

Infographic by: Leo Kavanagh

© 2015 Shaw Media

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