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Birders shattered records on Global Big Day

Global Big Day
A report of 250 Eastern Kingbirds in El Salvador on Global Big Day marked the day’s high count for the species, according to eBird data. Photo by Michael G. Mill/Shutterstock

Much has been written in recent months about the fact that more people than ever seem to be watching birds, largely because so many of us have been under stay-at-home orders and have been noticing the birds in our yards and neighborhoods.

The results of an annual event for birdwatchers — the Global Big Day on May 9 — further proves that the trend is real. This year, Global Big Day set a new world record for birds documented in a single day. Participants reported 2.1 million bird observations, recording 6,500 species. An all-time high of 50,000 participants submitted more than 121,000 checklists, shattering the previous single-day checklist total by 30 percent.

Sightings were submitted to eBird, which uses the data to power science, outreach, and conservation efforts around the world.

“Global Big Day,” says eBird coordinator Ian Davies, “collected more information on birds than was submitted during the first 2.5 years of eBird’s existence.” Since the program launched in 2002, eBird has amassed more than 810 million observations of birds.

Participants birded where they could do so safely, presumably following social distancing guidelines. Checklists were contributed from every continent. Colombia had the most species (1,445) of any nation, and the United States had the most checklists — more than 68,200.

Birds and nature become a welcome distraction

The record-breaking numbers are part of a larger trend that has become pronounced in recent months as birds and nature have become a welcome distraction for many.

During the first two weeks of April, for example, eBird checklist submissions jumped 46 percent compared with the same period the previous year. And contributions of photo and audio recordings to the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library wildlife media archive and downloads of the Lab’s free Merlin Bird ID app were all up by 50-100 percent.

I asked Chris Wood, an eBird project leader, if the team at eBird is seeing a wider picture of spring migration this year since birders are more spread out than usual and not concentrated at hotspots.

“I think it is probably too early to say that we are getting a broader picture of spring migration than in the past, but you very well may be correct,” he says. “We (scientists) always like more data before we are willing to say anything definitively.

“The other thing that plays into this is that the popularity of birdwatching and submitting data to eBird overall is also increasing, so it looks like we will have at least 25% more data this spring than in previous years.”

A version of this article will be published in the July/August 2020 issue of BirdWatching magazine. Subscribe here

View eBird maps showing migratory movements of many North American birds

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at

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