Academia Birds

Prairie Chickens and bird-watching

I keep an eye out for newspaper articles published on birding as I find they provide an interesting insight into the larger cultural perception of the activity. While I’m not doing a discourse analysis of this stuff, a recent article published in the New York Times (Prairie Birds Flirt, and a Town Livens Up) hits on some interesting themes that I’ve been finding in my research.

Certain birds have agency in attracting humans

The article outlines the fact that the bodily presence of Prairie Chickens attracts humans. Following the normal pattern, it is the fact that these birds are perceived as being rare that attracts birders to come and see them. Rarity isn’t the only reason that birders are interested in these birds, aesthetics plays a large part in attracting humans–the Prairie Chicken’s spring-time display, visually stunning is a key component. This mating display between males is unique to one time of year and so rarity is compounded–an aesthetics that is rare in time in addition to the Chicken’s diminishing numbers.

Birds, then, have positive impacts on local economies

Humans travelling to take in the display has had an positive, significant impact for the local (human) economy. Animal agency becomes bird tourism, where birders travel and spend money in the same area that these birds are being seen. Since the agricultural economy in the region has softened, this is seen as a positive influx of money for the local economy–money spent on lunches, gas and accommodation.

Ironically, the Prairie Chickens are in this sparsely populated region for the reason that humans are not–the birds need undisturbed prairie habitat. No mention is made in the article how the increased attention on the birds with impact the number of birds in the future. Likely, there’s the rosy forecast that more attention paid to the birds will improve their profile and, in turn their numbers. Quite often, however, this conclusion is made without any real interrogation of the potential birder’s impact.

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