A new look at your backyard birds: what are they really worth?

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Hello and welcome to my research blog. My name is Nick Newberry and I very much look forward to sharing my summer research journey with you. I have just finished my junior year as a biology major at the College with a study abroad experience in Madagascar. I hope you enjoy my posts and I encourage you to share, comment or otherwise interact with me throughout the summer research process.

Introduction and pleasantries taken care of, I would like to introduce you to what you came to this blog to read about: my research. This summer I will be investigating the relationship between birds and housing prices from both an economic and biological standpoint. I will do so by conducting short bird counts in front of recently sold homes. All of my surveys will take place in the greater Williamsburg area. So, for those of you who live in the area don’t be surprised if you see a binocular-toting college student standing around in your neighborhood this summer. Actually, it is my hope that you will share what you learn here about my research with your neighbors. I encourage you to read the abstract below to gain a better understanding of the what’s and the why’s of my research. The “How”, however, should be quite interesting and is what this blog is about, so, please join me in this journey to find out how, why and if birds impact how we value our homes.

Abstract

Every day many thousands of houses are sold in the United States from cities to the countryside and everywhere in between. Each sale is a unique process with many different variables determining a home’s final sale price. While it may be difficult to predict exactly how much any specific house will sell for, larger scale buying trends are easier to assess. Much like predicting how far an individual wave will break on a beach is near impossible, the height of the high tide is much more predictable. I am hoping to study enough individual houses, waves, to be able to find trends in how homebuyers value houses on a local level, the tide. Across the world, rapidly growing suburban areas, such as that around Williamsburg, affect birds in a variety of ways as these suburban birds both rely on and suffer from increasingly frequent contact with suburbia. The patchwork of microlandscapes individually managed by homeowners for aesthetics and comfort that are our private homes, gardens and yards are a large, important part of this puzzle. There is a growing body of research on the effects of human mediated disturbance on avifauna in suburbia, however there has so far been little exploration of the inverse, how birds impact humans.

 

Across much of the world the amount of land managed by individual homeowners in the areas outside of cities, known as suburbia, is growing at a rapid place as people increasingly move to cities and the areas immediately around them. Furthermore, many of these suburbs fall at strategically important areas for migratory birds. With an imminent increase in human-habitat-bird interactions between these players there is significant need for increased research effort in this area. As modern conservation moves away from strictly looking to parks to conserve our wildlife it becomes imperative that significantly modified habitats such as those found in suburbia be looked to for solutions to the increasingly imperiled avifauna of the 21st century. It has been found that suburban areas often support a higher diversity of birds than similar undeveloped land because of their patchwork of landscapes. On the large scales projected for the near future, proper management of private properties in suburban areas has the potential to support many hundreds of species that are facing a multitude of pressing issues from climate change to domestic cat predation. To this point the ecosystems and the interactions between humans and nature in suburbia have remained relatively understudied to the determent of both humans and birds.

 

On the economic side it has long been understood that landscaping, parks and wildlife contribute to a buyer’s understanding of how much a house should cost. However, the complex economic relationships between birds, their habitat, and the suburban housing market remain poorly understood despite the potential for clear economic incentives to affect positive change for increasingly imperiled bird populations. This research aims to empower suburban residents and developers to make the required modifications to the landscapes around their houses to maximize the property’s value while aiding birds at the same time.

 

My research is based off of a similar study in the arid southwestern United States, which found that the presence of one desirable bird species to a property was strongly correlated with a $32,028 increase in a house’s sale price not explained by widely used house pricing models. We are replicating this study in a different ecosystem with a much higher diversity of birds and a very different set of environmental variables to see if these results may be applicable outside of arid ecosystems. When all is said and done I hope to have surveyed a total of 215 recently sold houses in 60 neighborhoods near the City of Williamsburg, Virginia. I will survey each house three times using eight-minute point counts used to determine both which species and how many of each species are present.

 

Along with point count data I will also use satellite-sourced and local real estate data to analyze my results.

 

Should conclusive results come from my study the goal is to provide the results of this study to local key stakeholders and media outlets. Ideally they could then use this information to educate homeowners and developers alike about economic incentives available to plan for birds in their collective large-scale transformation and management of land.