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The Birding Experience

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the number of “birders” in the United States is over 60 million, and bird watching is the fastest growing form of outdoor recreation in America, second in overall popularity only to gardening.  By 2050, birding is the only major outdoor recreation that will have grown faster than the national population:  It’s expected to increase in participation by 53.9%.

In 2015, an estimated 862,000 people ages 16 and over bird watched in Kentucky. Ten percent of these were nonresidents. About 22% of Kentucky’s residents ages 16 and over bird-watched, whether backyard (e.g., at feeders or in their yards/properties) or away from home.  The total economic impact of bird watching nationwide is estimated at $121 Billion.  Birders that make an overnight trip, spend $196 per day, compared to $134 per day for the average overnight eco-tourist.

Fortuitously, The Center is situated immediately adjacent to a major North American bird migration corridor.  This forested section of the corridor is an ideal stop-over for songbirds.  The peak time of the year to attract bird watchers will be from April through July, when birds are migrating through the region or breeding on the grounds of the Center.  Elk viewing will attract visitors throughout the year, with the highest attendance in the fall.  Similarly, bird watching opportunities will exist year round, peaking during the spring and summer, thereby boosting visitation during the slower months for elk viewing.

A unique feature of the Visitor Center will be the birders hall, a chamber dedicated to bird watching.  Using interactive displays, visitors will be able to scroll through photos and pictures of hundreds of bird species, and learn about their range, migration patterns, life history, habitat needs, and even listen to recordings of their songs and calls.

As visitors document the presence of various bird species on the grounds of the Center, they will be able to record their bird observation information to the staff, whereupon it will be entered into the Center’s database.  This will document bird species and the dates and locations where they were observed.  This will be a tool used by The Center for research to examine long-term trends in species diversity, abundance and the timing of migrations.  The data base will also be accessible on The Center’s website.

There will be three focus periods during the year for visitors to birdwatch.  The first will be in April and May, as birds that have wintered as far south as Brazil and Argentina migrate north to their Canadian breeding grounds.  Warblers that breed in Ontario and winter in Brazil can be seen and heard on the grounds of the Center.

The second focus period will extend thru the month of July, when migratory and resident birds are present in great abundance as they breed.   The Center’s mix of grasslands, shrubs, and forest provides a matrix of habitat that accommodates many bird species, several of which are experiencing population declines and are considered to be imperiled, such as the Henslowe’s Sparrow and Horned Lark.

The third focus period will extend from August through October, as migratory birds travel to their wintering grounds that can range from the Gulf Coast to South America.  This presents the opportunity to see birds at The Center that breed in New Brunswick, and spend the winter in Costa Rica.

An extensive network of birding trails will be developed allowing convenient access to the most remote sections of The Center lands.   The trails will feature instructional signage, identifying the particular species most likely to be found in the immediate habitat at various times of the year.  The mission will be to optimize the experience for both the casual bird watcher and the sophisticated birder.