magnolia warbler, nature, birding

In November of 2015,  I saw a Northern Mockingbird 20 out of the 30 days. A Brown-headed Nuthatch? 3 of the 30 days. European Starling? 8 days.

If you’re a rational person, you’re asking yourself two questions:

  1. How does she know that?
  2. Why does she care?


Because I like symmetry, I’ll give you two answers:

  1. I’m a little bit crazy.
  2. I really, really like data.


On May 22, 2015, I embarked on a 365 day-long project. For the duration of a year, I was going to record every species I saw every single day. Yep, that’s right. I was going to list every day for an entire year.

I started out using little paper notebooks, keeping them in my pocket, backpack, or purse and jotting down the species when I saw them. When a raptor crossed my view but I couldn’t quite identify it, I simply wrote, “Raptor species,” recording as much as I did know. Eventually I switched to a note-tracking system on my phone after a near-miss between my notebook and a lake. Periodically, I would upload the list into an Excel file. Slowly, the days ticked by, and my long list accumulated.

excel, data, science, birds

Example data sheet.

My friends laughed at me, and I laughed along with them. Why did I care how many times I saw a Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, Brown Pelican, or one of the many hundreds of other species I tallied during the 365 days? Wasn’t I acting a little too Type-A? A little too neurotic?

Ah, but here’s where my love of data comes in. As I write, I am compiling an analyzable data sheet which will tell me exactly how many times I saw every bird on my list for the year. I’ll be able to tell you the average number of species I saw in a day, in a month, in a summer.

The birds I see form an integral part of my environmental landscape. According to Audubon’s modeling, 314 North American bird species will be seriously threatened by climate change by the end of this century. I want to know how many of these species I saw during the past year, how many I see on a regular basis. So often, scientific models and predictions remain intangible to people; using my day-to-day bird experiences, I want to show people that they will lose an element of their lives if these birds disappear forever.

Data analysis often takes a while, but stay tuned for my results. I have to admit, after carefully paying attention for so long, I’m having a hard time stopping myself from continuing to record everything I see!

Written by Erika Zambello
Erika Zambello is a National Geographic Young Explorer who grew up in Maine, inspiring a deep interest in nature at an early age. She fell in love with birding after receiving a Sibley field guide for Christmas during her senior year in college, and has birded across the eastern seaboard and internationally ever since. To inspire others to protect birds and the environment, she has blogged for the Conservation Fund, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Triangle Land Conservancy, and Duke University, and is writing a birding guide to Northern New England for Wilderness Adventures Press. She has founded, and is currently living along the Emerald Coast in Florida's Panhandle. You can check out her exploration site or follow her on Instragram.