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What is the Red Knot Worth?: Valuing Human/Avian Interaction

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Approximately at the turn of the nineteenth century, the visual encounter between humans and birds, which has been going on since both forms of life have existed, began to solidify into a hobby, into something that a middle-class citizen of American might spend a morning doing. Certain technologies—optics (binoculars), field guides, and later, automobiles—helped to enable this pursuit. In the twentieth century, bird watching became an immense industry. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, one report claims that in America "an estimated 70.4 million people now go out-of-doors to watch birds one or more times per year" (Cordell & Herbert, 2003, p. 3). Much has been written on how and why bird watching has grown in popularity during the last 150 years or so. 2 This essay will look instead at the effects produced by the nearly infinite acts of looking inherent to a hobby that has been described as one of "Americans' most-favored [outdoor] activities" (Cordell & Herbert, p. 3)


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