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story.lead_photo.caption Kris Christopher, with the assistance of volunteer Anne Hutton, left, and other visitors at the Marion Access on the Missouri River, look for eagles Saturday using high powered lenses to spot the elusive birds during Eagle Days, hosted by Runge Nature Center. The event was sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Photo by Mark Wilson / News Tribune.

Birding, or birdwatching, is a rapidly growing hobby in Missouri.

Missouri boasts 6,636,755 acres of important bird areas, according to the National Audubon Society, making it a prime state for birding.

More than 45 million people nationwide are birders, and they spend nearly $41 billion annually on the hobby.

The number of birders in Missouri could be up to 250,000, according to Audubon Society of Missouri.

Jefferson City is home to its own Audubon group, whose members include Regina and Steve Garr, who own local birding store Birds-I-View.

"It's all about enjoying birds and appreciating them," Regina Garr said.

Garr and her husband keep a journal of different bird species they see in their yard and garden. They also have a list at their store for others to share which birds they have seen.

"Like any other hobby, it's something that's not the same every day — it's a challenge," Garr said. "Birders are always trying to see another species."

Edge Wade, a conservation partnership coordinator for the Audubon Society of Missouri, attributes the appeal of birding to birds' presence everywhere and the ease of watching them.

"People become intrigued with the activities of birds and their ability to survive in difficult conditions," Wade said. "The more one watches birds and learns about them, the more intriguing they become."

Wade said people look forward to seeing certain species returning to the state in the spring.

She called birders a community and noted it is more than a hobby for them.

"For them, birding is a daily activity, a lifestyle," Wade said. "These are members of 'the birding community,' that is, people who regularly communicate to report their bird sightings and learn of others' sightings, and to discuss directions to and conditions of birding locations in Missouri."

Runge Conservation Center naturalist Austin Lambert has been birding since he was 10 years old.

"I just always enjoyed spending time outside," Lambert said. "There was no one thing that got me into it; I just enjoyed being out in nature and was curious about everything.

For the past two springs, Lambert has been leading birdwatching walks at the nature center. Anyone can go on the walk with a pair of binoculars to see the birds better. Lambert leads the group on a trail, stopping at hotspots to see different species. Cole County has 21 birding hotspots.

The group often includes Regina and Steve Garr, who joke that to other people they look like the "bird nerds."

Lambert said learning the different species of birds and their calls takes time, noting even he is still learning.

Missouri is home to 435 bird species and was home to five that are now extinct, according to the Audubon Society of Missouri.

"Birds are easy to watch; they might be hard to find in a particular tree, but there's birds everywhere," Lambert said.

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