By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Average is a relative term.

But, if someone were to paint a picture of the average birder, she might look something like this: 50 years old, above-average income and education and most likely to be white.

Yes, she would live in the south, the urban south.

That's not to suggest, however, that birders don't come in virtually every other form as well.

All told, according to a new report issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were 48 million birdwatchers in the U.S. in 2006 -- fully 21 percent of the nation's population.

But birders are an easy group to accumulate, as they are defined as someone taking a trip 1 mile or more from home for the primary purpose of observing birds or tried to identify birds around the house.

As a result, people who simply noticed birds while mowing lawns are not birders.

Backyard birding, however, does count, and is the most common form. Fully 88 percent are backyard birders.

Only 20 million people are active birders, taking trips from home.

Higher income and education levels equal birding habits. Fully 29 percent of people who live in households that earn more than $75,000 were birdwatchers -- 8 percent higher than the national average of 21 percent.

FWS found that unlike hunting and fishing, where men were overwhelmingly in the majority, a larger percent of birders were women -- 54 percent in 2006.

And while the greatest number of birders are in metropolitan areas, birdwatching is a sport that rural residents enjoy at a higher rate than their urban counterparts.

Nearly 27 percent of people living in small cities and rural areas are birders, 6 percent above the national average.

Kansas, specifically, is right at the national average as far as birdwatching, with 21 percent of its residents counted among participants.

Montana has the highest participation, with 40 percent of its residents.

All told, Kansas has 493,000 birders.

Because of the sheer numbers, birding is becoming a huge economic force, with $12 billion spent on trips and $24 billion on equipment in 2006 alone.

More than half the trip costs were for food and lodging.

Because of that spending, birding creates 671,000 jobs, and $28 billion in employment income. State and federal tax revenues amounted to $10 billion.