Ask any avid bird watcher – the ranks of which I am happy to say I have recently joined – about the value of birds and they will not hesitate to use the word priceless. But now there is data to support the notion that birds do provide both tangible economic benefits, and important cultural, and ecological value.
Economic Value of Birds
Researchers at the University of Washington recently surveyed residents of two cities – Seattle and Berlin – to assess the economic value of having common birds in their backyards and parks. In Seattle, the value placed on enjoying common bird species – such as finches, jays, crows and magpies – was around $120 million annually and around $70 million in Berlin.
The survey asked residents how much they spent on bird feed and how much they would be prepared to pay to conserve bird species.
In a Science Daily article, Professor John Marzluff, co-author of the study says; “This paper shows that our interactions with birds actually have a pretty high economic return to the community where you live. We know that having a livable, green community that attracts birds also increases the value of homes in that area. This paper shows there’s an economic service birds are providing.”
Cultural Value of Birds
Another paper that was recently published – The Condor: Ornithological Applications – takes a closer look at the relationship between urban people and birds. Researchers surveyed 912 residents in urban neighbourhoods around Chicago, and asked questions about their awareness of different bird species, and their feelings about them.
The survey focused on the cultural ecosystem services that birds provide as opposed to the economic ones – such as eating insects to reduce pest populations, such as mosquitoes, in urban areas, and increase crop yields in rural regions.
Cultural benefits, such as spiritual enrichment, aesthetic experiences, inspiration, and educational value, were responsible for many of the positive feelings that respondents had towards birds in their area. “We found especially high levels of agreement among our respondents regarding the aesthetic benefits of birds in neighborhoods. The value of an aesthetic experience, such as the view of a cardinal out the kitchen window, is difficult to quantify but is nonetheless a valued experience,” says the paper.
Few found birds a nuisance, although a small number expressed a mild dislike of bird droppings and nests in gutters etc. And popular myths about some bird species did appear to play a role in the negative perceptions of some residents. “Our results indicate that several common and visible urban species, such as the House Sparrow, European Starling, and Blue Jay, may attract attention for their negative qualities. The House Sparrow and European Starling are both non native species that tend to congregate in noisy groups. The Blue Jay, although colorful and native to the United States, has a raucous, harsh call and is sometimes seen as a “bully” that dominates birdfeeders. There is some evidence from other studies that people exaggerate negative effects of birds to a point that their perceptions do not accurately represent reality…. It is possible that negative qualities of certain common bird species may “stick” with residents (more so than positive aspects) and affect their perceptions of other birds in the neighborhood,” says the paper.
The results of the survey also showed that most residents had no idea of the actual number of species of birds around them. “People do not fully experience the biodiversity in their own neighborhoods, and increased species richness in a neighborhood does not translate to increased perceived species richness by residents,” say the researchers.
Why Birds Matter
It seems that unless we place a value on something we rarely treasure it, but if we stop to celebrate the return of the Robins as a signal that spring has arrived, or listen to songbirds singing for the joy of being alive, perhaps it will remind us that we are a part of nature, not apart from it.
2015, Angela Lovell.