Each year, over 45 million Americans take part in birdwatching, spending approximately $41 billion on related trips and equipment—contributing significantly to local communities and the national economy as a whole.
While avian aficionados admire these special creatures every day of every year, birds are getting some extra attention in 2018, which is designated as the Year of the Bird by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This is an opportunity to recognize the contributions that birds make to the health of ecosystems, the economy, and human enjoyment and creativity (just think of how many paintings, songs, and poems are inspired by birds!). The Year of the Bird is a good excuse to visit one of the country’s 29 National Estuarine Research Reserves, which are havens for birds and the people who love them.
Take Mission-Aransas, Texas, for instance, where they rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured sea birds. The reserve also plays host every winter to the beloved and endangered whooping crane—which would likely be extinct if not for the refuge of this reserve. Farther north, bird watchers visiting the Chesapeake Bay research reserve in Maryland can discover why the National Audubon Society designated it an official “Important Bird Area.” Across the country, north of Seattle, Washington, nature lovers can marvel at the allure of Padilla Bay reserve’s 8,000 acres of eelgrass, and the determination of the Brant geese who, every October, migrate all the way from Izembek Lagoon in Alaska just to eat it. The journey takes 72 hours, and they don’t stop until they reach their destination.
Any birder will tell you that these incredible creatures can and should be treasured all year long—particularly from places like the research reserves, where they’re abundant and appreciated—but the Year of the Bird is a good reason to officially join the bird-loving bandwagon.