Birding, also known as bird watching, continues to grow in popularity. There are an estimated 46 million birdwatchers in the United States and more than 700 species of migratory birds, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

A birder's team, made up of well-known authors, editors, educators, conservationists, eco-tourism experts and members of the business community, has been appointed and will work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to increase quality bird watching at the 547 National Wildlife Refuges and other important bird habitats.

As a part of this birding initiative, the Fish and Wildlife Service is working with the National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) to improve information on bird watching along many of the 126 nationally designated America's Byways routes. There already are 62 national wildlife refuges, and several of America's Byways also are closely associated with designated birding trails.

The newly updated Birds of the Byway brochure will be reprinted this spring and will be available to the public by early summer. Sponsorships for the reprinting still are being sought.

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According to the NSBP, birding can play a significant role in a byway's continued success as it fosters sustainable economic development. Recent estimates from a study on birding in the United States indicate that up to 84 percent of non-consumptive recreation users are birders.

Here in Minnesota's central lakes area, the nationally designated Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway has had a popular birding brochure for many years. The Birds of the Byway brochure was developed through a grant from the Minnesota Office of Tourism (now Explore Minnesota Tourism) in 2000, with local support from the Whitefish Area Lodging Association, Ideal Community Service Organization, DNR-Nongame Wildlife Program and local businesses. Well-known Minnesota birders Steve and Jo Blanich provided all the local bird research for the brochure.

The Blaniches are in the process of updating the information and will complete their yearlong review in May. The newly updated Birds of the Byway brochure will be reprinted this spring and will be available to the public by early summer. Sponsorships for the reprinting still are being sought.

To learn more about this project, contact the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway at infor@paulbunyanscenicbyway.org. For more information on America's Byways, visit www.byways.org.

Some information for this article came from the March/April issue of Vistas.