Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project


Sandhill cranes visit Great Lakes marsh
Sandhill cranes visit a Great Lakes marsh (Michigan Sea Grant)

Nationwide, about 48 million U.S. residents engaged in bird-watching activities in 2006 (21% of the population). They range from "backyard birders" to "away-from-home birders," some of whom travel great distances to view birds.1

Birding is economically valuable - it added $82 billion to the U.S. economy in 2006,1 including:

  • $28 billion in employment income from 671,000 jobs
  • $10 billion in state and federal tax revenue
  • $12 billion in trip expenditures by birders


Birding in the Great Lakes region

The Great Lakes are home to 5 million birding enthusiasts who frequent shoreline hotspots during all seasons.2 The Great Lakes shoreline offers many excellent birding oppoortunities, due in part to the desireable landcape features and abundant food supply found at the water's edge. Spring and fall migration seasons bring tremendous numbers of diverse song birds to shoreline forests. Waterbirds visit marshes and nearshore waters, and fascinating marsh birds breed in coastal wetlands. Winter bird sightings include ducks, gulls, and raptors.


Mapping birding activity as a value in the Great Lakes

We mapped locations representing the most highly used and valued birding hotspots in the Great Lakes region that were located within 2 km of the shoreline using data from several sources.

  • Expert recommendations: For each state/province, we consulted with experts chairing the state/provincial bird record committees and ornithological organizations to develop lists of birding hotspots.  Collectively, these experts recommended 85 highly valued birding locations.  
  • Recognized birding hotspots: We included 15 sites that were named among the Top 200 Birding Sites in North America by ornitholigist Peter Thayer. 
  • Birding Festival locations: Birding festivals draw many birders to a specific area during a small window of time. We used web searches to identify 21 sites with birding festivals.
  • Birding Trails: Birding trails are growing in popularity. We included sites along the St. Lawrence Seaway Birding Trail, Lake Erie Birding Trail, Chicago Region Birding Trail, Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail, and North Shore Birding Trail.

There is some overlap among sites from the different data sources. In all, we identified 310 unique locations adjacent to the Great Lakes where birding activity is most concentrated.



Data Sources: 

1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2006 Birding the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis - Addendum to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation.

2. Austin, J.C., S. Anderson, P.N. Courant, and R.E. Litan. 2007. Healthy Waters, Strong Economy: The Benefits of Restoring the Great Lakes Ecosystem in Great Lakes Economic Initiative (The Brookings Institution, Washington D.C., USA).