Last year, the Cornell Lab Of Ornithology had this really cool idea to get as many people counting as many birds as they could, in as many places as possible. This call to massive birding was known as the Global Big Day and it was meant to be the first of many GBDs to come. It was organized to boost eBird use, raise funds for bird conservation, and just get more people out birding. It resulted in the participation of thousands of birders from various corners of the globe, a birdwatching synchronization of sorts. I honestly don’t know why this hadn’t been previously done because, obviously, is there any better way to spend a day in early May than reveling in the fresh eye treats and songs of spring migrants?

Yellow Warbler

This Yellow Warbler was looking fresh before it left Costa Rica.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, of course there isn’t! What are you going to do, stare at some mobile device like a 21st century zombie and watch videos of people doing silly things? Go to political rallies to get your emotions manipulated by potent, practiced con-artists? No, everyone should be out birding. It’s positive (except maybe when missing out on a sleepless twitch), it’s what’s real, it’s unpredictable, and it’s magic. How can we say that magic is a farce when the May blossoms are backdropping bright, breeding plumaged Canadas, Magnolias, Chestnut-sideds, chocolate Bay-breasteds, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks? When a new morning greets us with a symphony of wood-warblers, thrushes, and other spring birds? When we scuff our knees and test the resiliency of our joints to peer into a bush at a Swainson’s Warbler in an urban park? Ok, that last example might be more indicative of obsession than something from the world of Doug Henning but I bet you get the point.

Today, it’s time to celebrate that combination of magic, obsession, and passion once again with the 2016 Global Big Day! The Cornell team is no doubt having a fantastic day of birding up there in beautiful spring Colorado while they identify Cassin’s Sparrow, Prairie Falcon, Lazuli Bunting, and other western birds in some of the same places I surveyed in 1997 and 2001. In Costa Rica, I’m not sure if we will get as much competitive participation as last year, but I do suspect that a lot of people will just be out there birding and submitting the results to eBird. As for myself, I won’t be doing a full on Big Day because I already tried one a few weeks ago and need to recharge the Big Day batteries for a lot longer than a month before attempting (going through) that again. Don’t get me wrong, it was an excellent 20 hours of non-stop birding interspersed with bites of life-giving dark chocolate but I think I will at least wait until the winter birds are here again before beginning the birding day at midnight. I can also wait because the results of that birdathon were 260 species, and some fine, new, year birds like Upland Sandpiper, Common Potoo, and Purplish-backed Quail-Dove. I will nevertheless be counting birds despite not actually going birding.

Say what?

Yes, ironically, the 2016 Global Big Day happens to be the same day when I am scheduled to take a visiting in-law relative out for a day trip. BUT, since we are supposed to go to the La Paz waterfall area, automatic bird counting is going to happen and that’s a good place to do it. I might also make some baffling stops en route to see if I can hear or see silky-flycatchers, ground-sparrows, and other incidental birds. Ignoring any and all complaints, the windows will be down so I can hear more vocalizations, and I might even wander off into the forest at some point. It’s going to be a day of incidental birding and that will be interesting unto itself because I will be passing through two or three life zones. It will be birding on the sly at its best and if the birds are singing, I might even break 100 species.

white-bellied mountain gem

I hope I see a White-bellied Mountain-gem.


Whatever I happen to identify, I hope it contributes some species to the overall GBD total.

Where did you bird on this massive day of synchronized bird counting?

Written by Patrick O'Donnell
Patrick O'Donnell became a birder at the age of 7 after seeing books about birds in the Niagara Falls, New York public library. Although watching thousands of gulls in the Niagara Gorge was sublime, more bird species (and warmer weather) eventually brought him to Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and other very birdy tropical places. A biologist by training, he has worked on bird-related projects in Colorado, Washington, Peru, and other locales, and has guided birders in Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. These days, he lives in Costa Rica where he juggles guiding, freelance writing, developing bird apps for Costa Rica and Panama, posting on his Costa Rica birding blog, and discussing dinosaurs with his young daughter.