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Birding Etiquette

There are rules for this. Really. Here are a few elementary ones:

* Don't harm the birds or other wildlife.

* Don't interfere with other birders.

* Don't disturb nesting birds - spooking the parents can harm both eggs and fledglings.

* Respect fellow humans' private property

Birding tools

Just as a carpenter needs a hammer and a chef needs a spoon, a birder needs certain tools if he/she is going to be successful at spotting any Florida fowl. These are the basics:

  • Binoculars, so you can pick out that preferred bird. Without them, it's hard to see some of a bird's distinguishing features. It's also difficult to fully appreciate the jewel-like intricacy of their feathers or the fine points of their behavior. Beginners can get a perfectly serviceable pair of 8X42s at someplace like K-Mart, according to Audubon enthusiasts. (The first number is the power, the second refers to the size of the big end of the binocs. The bigger the first number, the more it magnifies -- with 8X42s, the bird looks eight times closer that it really is. The higher the second number, the more light can enter the binocs, which means a clearer, brighter image.) Really serious birders often graduate to sophisticated scopes, which can cost $1,000 or more.

  • A field guide, so you can identify what you spot. "Real" birders swear by the Birders Guide to Florida, put out by the American Birding Association.

  • A list, so you can write down the ones you've spotted. A life list is a list of all the birds you've seen, ever. Many parks and wildlife refuges have lists available for people to pick up. Birders also keep yard lists, regional lists, world lists, year lists -- the, ahem, list goes on. By the way, it doesn't count if you only hear the bird, even if you know what it is by its call. You also can't claim it as yours if your birding buddy sees it first.

Birding has been called the most popular spectator sport in North America, which means more people watch birds than football. It's also a hobby that anyone can enjoy, from kids on up to great-grandparents. It can be done alone or in a group, in your back yard or some exotic locale. In short, it's a lot of fun.

It also generates cold, hard cash.

For the purposes of state statistics, birds fall into a category called "non-consumptive watchable wildlife." Birding also is considered nature, or eco, tourism, which is the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry worldwide.

Birders in Florida (about 2 million of them by the state Game Commission's count) spent some $1.7 billion on their hobby in 1996, the latest year for which figures are available.

When you add up all the other watchable wildlife activities, the total statewide economic impact that year was $3.5 billion. Those activities also provided more than 51,000 jobs.

A few related fact facts:

* Birding is a worldwide activity, and Florida is the number one U.S. destination for international travelers.

* About half of the 42 million tourists who visit Florida each year are seeking some sort of natural activity.

* Florida ranks second in the nation in terms of money spent for bird watching and other birding activities (excluding hunting).

* Among residents, birding is the top non-consumptive wildlife activity.

Above: Ospreys tending to their nest.