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Report: 86 million Americans watched wildlife in 2016, a 20 percent jump from 2011

wildlife watching
People watch birds at the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. Photo by Brett Billings/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a new report this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that shows that 101.6 million Americans — 40 percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older — participated in wildlife-related activities in 2016, such as hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching.

The survey illustrates gains in wildlife watching — particularly around the home — and fishing, with moderate declines in the number of hunters nationally. The findings reflect a continued interest in engaging in the outdoors. These activities are drivers behind an economic powerhouse, where participants spent $156 billion — the most in the last 25 years, adjusted for inflation.

The survey, the 13th in a series conducted nearly every five years since 1955, shows that the most substantial increases in participation involve wildlife-watching — observing, feeding, and photographing wildlife. The report indicates these activities surged 20 percent from 2011 to 2016, from 71.8 million to 86 million participants during that time. Expenditures by wildlife watchers also rose sharply — 28 percent — between 2011 and 2016, from $59.1 billion to $75.9 billion. Around-the-home wildlife-watching increased 18 percent from 2011, from 68.6 million in 2011 to 81.1 million participants in 2016. More modest gains were made for away-from-home wildlife watchers: a 5 percent increase from 2011 to 2016, from 22.5 million to 23 million participants.

The survey includes this chart showing the estimated number of birdwatchers:

bird observers 2016

The survey defines wildlife watching as participants either taking a “special interest” in wildlife around their homes or taking a trip for the “primary purpose” of wildlife watching. Wildlife-watching activities such as incidentally observing wildlife while gardening are not included.

Away-from-home participants are defined as those who travel a mile or more from home to engage in wildlife watching, and around-the-home participants are those who engage in wildlife watching less than a mile from home.


Nearly all people who watched wildlife did so around the home. Of the 81.1 million around-the-home participants, feeding wildlife was the most popular activity. Almost 59.1 million individuals, 69 percent of all wildlife watchers, fed wildlife around their home. Over 43.8 million people (51%) observed wildlife and 30.5 million (35%) photographed wildlife around their home. Nearly 11.4 million (13%) visited parks or natural areas to view wildlife and 11 million (13%) maintained plantings or natural areas for the benefit of wildlife within a mile of their home.

About a fourth of all wildlife watchers took trips a mile or more from home to observe, photograph, or feed wildlife. Observing wildlife was the most popular activity, with 19.6 million participants, 83% of all away-from-home wildlife watchers. Over 13.7 million people (58%) photographed wildlife away from home; 4.9 million (21%) enjoyed feeding wildlife while on trips.

wildlife watchers 2016As shown in the charts above, overall expenditures due to wildlife watching increased 28% from 2011 to 2016 and 39% from 2006 to 2016. The amount of trip-related expenditures decreased 38% from 2011 to 2016 and 25% from 2006 to 2016. From 2011 to 2016 and from 2006 to 2016 spending for wildlife-watching equipment did not change significantly (–1% and 3%, respectively). The category that explains the overall increase is special equipment expenditures (ATVs, campers, boats, and other high-cost items), which went up 173% from 2011 to 2016 and 186% from 2006 to 2016.


A more detailed report of findings containing final estimates will be available in December 2017.



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