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Is Birding Gaining Popularity?

Since Iíve been watching a lot of ďSex and the CityĒ reruns lately (on various stations--seems itís always on someplace), I will begin my article with a rhetorical question, like Carrie Bradshaw usually does:

Is birding getting more popular?

Usually, itís hard to find any mention of birding in the mainstream media at all. Many times Iíve done an internet search for birds on Google news and have found--well, nothing. But this last couple of weeks, birding seems to be back in the spotlight. So is this odd sport having a spike in interest, like figure skating in the 1990ís?

Item 1: The Big Year movie. Three big stars (Owen Wilson, Steve Martin and Jack Black) star in a movie about a birding competition. This is the first major birding movie ever. On the other hand. . .

Item 2: The Big Year movieís box office. Unfortunately, this movie bombed and disappeared before I could ever get to see it. It is not playing anywhere in my state of NJ. Itís not even in the arthouses of New York, which will often show the less popular movies. It is gone.

What was the reason for this box office disaster? Many sources say that it is too hard to sell a movie about competitive bird watching to the general public. Is that true?

Until the DVD comes out (which should be in about a week or so, given the horrible take at the box office), I cannot say if the fault is with the theme of the movie or its execution.. The reviews were not great, although they werenít terrible, either. Many pointed out that it was more about three men with mid-life crises than about birds or birding. Would the movie had done better if men with mid-life crises were competing in something else, like collecting old gas cans or something? We may never know.

Greg Miller, who was played by Jack Black in the film (though the name was changed, I believe), wrote about his disappointment in his blog. He loved the film itself, though, as did many others who replied on his message board.

Will there ever be a birding movie that earns as much as Avatar or Gone With the Wind? I doubt it. Will there be one thatís a modest hit and recoups its investment? Maybe. But I think it might do better to star more ďupscaleĒ actors like Colin Firth. The upper-middle class types who fill out the ranks of birders possibly donít like slapstick comedians.

Item 3: A new bird photography club. My hometown of Bayonne, NJ, is better known for its weird smells than its birds. Iíve always known differently, however. Although it is an industrial city, it is surrounded by relatively clean water and salt marshes, which attract a lot of wading birds and waterfowl. Twenty years ago I tried to do a masters thesis on these birds, but it didnít go very far. Now, however, a group of citizens from Bayonne have formed a nature photography club and are conducting bird walks in one of the parks. I canít go to the walks, which must be aimed at seniors or the unemployed, but I am planning on entering the photo contest. I would offer some bird photography tips, but I donít know any yet! Maybe next time.

So is birding as a hobby on the rise or decline? Itís hard to tell. Maybe an surge in interest at the local club level doesnít translate into Hollywood success. Or maybe the failure of this movie was just an odd fluke. Whatever the reason, though, the hobby of birding will always be around.

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