Snowbirds or staybirds: A change in migratory trends? - East Valley Tribune: Chandler

Snowbirds or staybirds: A change in migratory trends?

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Posted: Sunday, August 3, 2014 8:00 am

Is it time to rid our vocabulary of the term “snowbird?”

It’s a question we have been pondering for weeks at AZ Local Media, which includes newspapers and websites from Surprise to Tucson, including the East Valley Tribune.

In fact, we’re wondering if there may be just as many, if not more, “staybirds” in the Valley.

Sure, there always will be Americans who keep two homes, one in Sleepy Eye, Minn., and another in Sun City; one in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and another in Mesa.

But for years now, the migratory patterns and numbers of snowbirds have been something of a mystery.

Arizona State University, which used to track snowbirds flocking in and out of the state, no longer does so. The Valley’s proliferation of single-family homes has made research more difficult than it was when snowbirds arrived annually in their RVs, parking for six months or more in places like Apache Junction.

So we are taking on a project to determine whether the term snowbird and all that it implies remains accurate.

We want to find out if those we have come to know as snowbirds truly keep two residences and treat them as two homes — half a year in Medford, Wis., and half a year in Gilbert.

Or, has that pattern been altered?

Are snowbirds now staybirds?

Do they live in Arizona most of the year and take off for a few weeks or a month to visit their hometowns or vacation elsewhere when the sun blazes in the Southwest, and then return to their true home here in Arizona?

This won’t be an easy task.

Normally a project such as this has a beginning, middle and end.

Consider this the beginning.

The middle will continue as long as it takes to squeeze out enough information from snowbirds, former snowbirds, businesses who rely on snowbirds and experts in the field of economics and other sciences. In other words, months.

As for the end, honestly, we don’t know yet.

But we will work to get to that point, researching and publishing a series of stories that will shed some light on an issue that has a significant cultural, social and financial impact on our state.

We will begin by asking questions of a variety of people, groups and organizations to determine how things have changed since ASU last charted the snowbird pattern. Some of that information will involve hard numbers from government agencies and chambers of commerce. Some of it will be anecdotal, stories from business owners and others who make their living by providing goods and services to snowbirds and staybirds.

And then there is you.

We need to hear the stories of how your lives in the Valley have changed — or not — over the years.

Do you stay in your home here longer than you did five or 10 years ago? If so, why?

Have your annual vacations changed over the years? What about those of your friends and neighbors?

Also, let us know what kinds of questions you think we should be asking to obtain an accurate definition of “snowbird.”

Keep an eye out for our Snowbird/Staybird logo over the next several months to learn what we have been finding out.

If you have suggestions for stories or comments, contact:

• Kelly Mixer, managing editor, kmixer@ahwatukee.com, (480) 898-7913.

• Eric Mungenast, assistant managing editor, emungenast@evtrib.com, (480) 898-5647.

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