The United States of Birding
It's true—birds are not always welcome visitors in our gardens. Sometimes, they can be flying mooches who think your veggies look as delicious as you do and aren't afraid to take a free sample.
However, most bird species do not pose a threat to your prized produce, and many actually improve gardens by eradicating harmful bugs and looking majestic in the process. They may even play pollinator and increase your yield.
All this to say, we think birds get a bad rap, and their company usually makes for an even more enjoyable gardening experience. So, we wondered which birds people are most likely to see across the country, and how bird sightings have fluctuated over time.
We used the latest data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey to find out which bird was seen most often in each state in 2019. Then, we determined which states are best for birding based on the number of birds seen per capita in 2019. We also looked at fluctuations in the total number of individual birds sighted over the past 10 years to form a historical perspective on birding. Read on to see what we found.
Just like the plants in our gardens, birds have their own habitat, preferred climate, and particular regions in which they thrive. While this is well known, it was very interesting to see where those preferred boundaries lie.
The Red-winged Blackbird, known for the splash of fiery orange on its shoulders, carved out a column in central America from Minnesota to Louisiana. Interestingly, it also claimed California—a far cry from every other state it was most seen in.
The Northern Cardinal, known for its dashing red appearance, prefers to flaunt its flashy feathers in the South. It claimed an uninterrupted swath of five states, including Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. It seems the Northern Cardinal has no sense of cardinal directions.
We also won't be asking for directions from the Northern Mockingbird, seen most in the deep southern state of Texas.
The Red-winged Blackbird was the most sighted bird overall, winning in an impressive 11 states. The American Robin, the harbinger of spring, took second place as the most common bird in eight states.
The European Starling caught the most American eyes in seven states with the almost oil-like sheen on its feathers. It tied with the Western Meadowlark, which sports a bright yellow belly that turns the most binoculars in seven states as well.
What are some of the rarer birds that you're still likely to get a glimpse of? Along with the Northern Mockingbird, the Cassin's Sparrow, Dickcissel, Horned Lark, and Swainson's Thrush were all the most seen birds in just one state.
Painting with a broader brush, the Western Meadowlark was the most sighted in the West and Midwest, the Northern Cardinal was reported the most in the South, and the American Robin turned up the most in the Northeast.
The Best and Worst States for Birding
We know, of course, that simply because birds have been seen in a particular state or region doesn't mean they are seen often. Therefore, it was important for us to dig deeper and find out which states are the best and worst for birding based on the average bird sightings per capita.
The results surprised us. The best states for birding are largely in the midwestern and north-western regions of the U.S. In fact, of the 10 best states for birding, seven of them share borders in the middle of the country. North Dakotans reported seeing nearly 6,500 birds per capita, Montanans reported nearly 5,000 birds, and in tenth place, Idahoans reported seeing just over 1,200 birds per capita.
The worst states for birding followed a similar pattern--this time, eight of the 10 worst states for birding belong to the east coast. Only California and Arizona, reporting 208 and 36 birds per capita respectively, split off from the flock.
That got us thinking about how likely it is to see birds in terms of historical context. And while we can't determine whether variations in bird sightings were due to fluctuations in bird populations, decreased interest in the sport, or decreased reporting, it was interesting to map out the changes over time.
Sadly, despite a blip of hope circa 2014 to 2017, the number of annual reported bird sightings in the U.S. dropped by 243,614 from 2009 to 2019. And given the year we all had in 2020, we wouldn't be surprised if viewings of our feathery friends continued to slip.
If you're interested in turning the tide and attracting more winged friends to your garden, Gardens Alive has bird food, bird baths, bird houses, and more to get your garden hopping with birds. When it is, go ahead and report them to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.