Global Big Day 2017: birding's biggest day ever

By Team eBird May 17, 2017
Flame Robin Petroica phoenicea

Birds are inspiring creatures. Their amazing migrations and behaviors capture our imagination, and their global presence lets us appreciate them wherever we are in the world. The power that birds have to bring people together across cultures, languages, and international borders is truly exceptional. Global Big Day is the realization of the magic of birds—a single day where the birding world unites in a shared pursuit, seeking to answer the simple question: how many birds can be seen in one day?

On 13 May 2017, almost 20,000 birders from 150 countries around the world joined together as a global team, contributing more than 50,000 checklists containing 6,564 species—more than 60% of the world’s birds. This is a new record for the number of bird species reported in a single day, and it’s thanks to you. From Antarctica to Zimbabwe, your contributions make this possible.

For us, Global Big Day is a celebration of birds. By bringing people together, Global Big Day showcases the great birds from each region—helping bring awareness to birding and conservation regionally and globally. This year (as in previous Global Big Days), the friendly competition in South America continued to evolve as an inspiring story, with four countries topping 1,000 for the single-day tally: Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. In past years Brazil and Peru had always vied for the #1 slot for species totals, and in 2017 we have a new champion: Colombia.

This wonderful graphic was created by Mauricio Ossa Aristizabal. Click to see a full-size version that shows birders all over Colombia sharing in the joy of Global Big Day.

With 1,486 species on a single day, the organization and passion of the Global Big Day Colombia team was truly impressive, reporting almost 2,500 complete checklists—and close to 15% of the world’s birds—from a single country, on one day! Global Big Day in Colombia was genuinely a grassroots effort, with hundreds of individuals coming together from throughout the country. Groups of youth birders took to local parks, and far-ranging diehards visited remote places to target specific species, calling back their sightings to friends since they didn’t have any way to get to the internet. Congratulations Colombianos.

Peru (1,338), Ecuador (1,259), and Brazil (1,079) were not far behind, and their contributions include large numbers of specialties that are either endemic to their country or were species that are not easily found elsewhere. South America’s amazing total of 2797 shows just how many birds were tallied as thousands of birders in each of these countries celebrated their continent’s remarkable avian diversity on this single day. See more in our South America summary below.

Watch continued real-time Global Big Day updates and full totals here. Sightings will keep coming in during the coming days and months, so these totals will do nothing but increase. Want to see how all of the countries compare? Check it out here. See below for regional Global Big Day highlights.

North America

Western Screech-Owl by Joshua Covill/Macaulay Library

In the United States, much of the east coast was affected by rain and inclement weather. This kept some inside, but many of those that ventured forth were rewarded with great sightings: the total was 709. Texas and California topped the state rankings, with New Mexico rising up to third this year. The biggest single-party total came from Colorado, where the team of Mike McCloy, Matthew Daw, and Andy Bankert garnered 214 species. Congrats to Paul Sherwood, who contributed the most complete checklists during Global Big Day for the US: 78!

Further north in Canada, 397 species were reported, including sightings from the far north in the territory of Nunuvut. British Columbia topped the provincial species totals, with its 264 species edging out Ontario’s 246 species, but it was Ontario that dominated the checklist totals with a whopping 1923 checklists. Kudos also to Quebec for the #2 spot for checklists, with 882.

Mexico & Central America

White-collared Manakin by Carlos Echeverría/Macaulay Library

For the Cornell Lab’s Team Sapsucker, the focus this year was on the Maya Forest of the Yucatán Peninsula. The teams split into three, covering ground in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala—highlighting the critical importance of this region to migrant songbirds of the Americas, as well as the local resident and endemic species. Team Sapsucker would like to offer a sincere thanks to CONABIO, the Petén Birders Club, Belize Bird Conservancy, LOWA boots, the Mayan Jays, Chan Chich Lodge, the Yucatan Jays, and Black Rock Lodge—as well as all of the local birders and people that made this possible. Learn more here.

Above and beyond Team Sapsucker, the local efforts were nothing short of inspirational. Dozens of teams of young birders and local community monitors ventured forth to put the birds of their homes and towns on the map. Sometimes with just 1-2 pairs of binoculars to share between the participants, it has been magical to see and hear the excitement of people being able to contribute and make their sightings count. On the competitive side, 41 birders in this region had more than 200 species on Global Big Day! Impressive.

South America

Speckled Tanager—one of Colombia’s 1,486 Global Big Day species. Photo by Luis Agudelo/Macaulay Library

There is no doubt that South America is the bird continent. As mentioned before, there were four countries here that each exceeded 1,000 species: Colombia (1,486), Peru (1,338), Ecuador (1,259), and Brazil (1,079). Not to be forgotten, Venezuela is another hyper-diverse country and as of this writing its total of 747 was edging out Mexico for the #5 spot globally. These herculean efforts have been humbling to those of us back here at eBird HQ, and we’re continually amazed by the reach of the birding community in South America. From the marvelous map of Colombian Global Big Day birders above to tools like CORBIDI’s Peruvian participation map, it’s no wonder that more than 25% of the world’s birds were reported from this continent in a single day.

Bolivia also reported 486 species on Global Big Day—a big jump from last year, and a testament to the growth of the birding community in the country. With a newly published field guide, and a burgeoning birding club, we look forward to seeing what sightings continue to come from Bolivia into the future. Argentina’s 677 species was a new benchmark for their Global Big Day totals, thanks to the great coordination efforts of Aves Argentinas. Chile tallied 256 species on a fantastic 487 checklists—perhaps one of the best list-to-species ratios in the world!

As always, there is so much to talk about for birds in South America that it is tough to do it justice. There are countless other exciting local stories of triumph and discovery, and we thank all of you for sharing them with us.

West Indies

Cuban Tody was one of the 26 species reported from Cuba on Global Big Day. Photo by Yeray Seminario/Macaulay Library.

With one of the highest endemic species ratios, the avifauna of the West Indies is important to have represented on Global Big Day. Check out the list of species reported, and you can’t help but fall in love with classic and unique Caribbean species like todies. Trinidad and Tobago’s 164, the Bahamas’ 129 and Puerto Rico’s 95 topped the species totals, and there was participation through many of the islands, thanks to help from BirdsCaribbean, SOPI, and many other great groups working on birds in the region.


Cape Rock-Thrush by Billi Krochuk/Macaulay Library

As with past Global Big Days, Africa represents the region with the least coverage in relation to the ‘available’ birds. With incredible diversity across much of the continent, yet difficult access and few birders, the total Africa tally came in at under 1,000 species this year. However, there were some great efforts in South Africa (thanks to help from BirdLife South Africa), Kenya, and Zimbabwe (thanks to BirdLife Zimbabwe).

In addition, scattered lists from places like DR Congo, Ghana, and Malawi made a significant difference to the global tally. Exemplary individual efforts included Francis Cherutich with 206 species and 47 checklists in Kenya, Geoff Dobbs’ 151 species from Gambia, and Rudi Minnie’s 124 in South Africa. Great stuff!


Pacific Reef-Heron by Chen Hai/Macaulay Library

As in years past, India topped the contributor list in Asia. With 613 species they surpassed their previous year’s totals, thanks to BirdCount India and the excellent Indian eBirding community. There were also great sightings throughout the Himalayas, from Bhutan to China, and Myanmar to Nepal. Chinese eBirders contributed 102 lists, which is more than double last year’s total!

In Southeast Asia, Bird Conservation Society of Thailand’s ‘Campus Big Day’ got college students out across Thailand to have a campus-vs-campus competition—helping get 50 different eBirders out across Thailand on 13 May. Further south in Malaysia, Wild Bird Club Malaysia and Borneo Bird Club Sabah helped to publicize and promote this event across both Borneo and the peninsula, and eBirders reported 377 species by the end of the day: good enough for 17th place for all the world’s countries. It is excellent seeing all of these sightings—with many of the birds in this region threatened by cagebird trade and habitat loss, having a more complete picture of distribution in the region is very important.


Little Ringed Plover by César Diez González/Macaulay Library

May is a great time to be birding in Europe. With 37 countries participating in Global Big Day, it seems many birders agree! Iberia and Turkey topped the species tallies, with Spain at 281, Turkey coming in at 249, and Portugal at 213. There were some impressive efforts elsewhere as well, with a Norfolk big day in the UK by Rob Martin that tallied 151—almost as many species as were seen in Italy by all Global Big Day birders! In Sweden, Johan Södercrantz and Johan Nilsson saw 139 species, helping bring the entire Sweden tally to 193—surpassing Norway’s 134 and Finland’s 156. Along the Black Sea, both Bulgaria (146) and Moldova (104) ended up with more species than Romania (53). See all 419 European species here.


Golden-headed Cisticola by Luke Shelley/Macaulay Library

Australia’s delightfully unique species make a serious contribution to Global Big Day totals, and the work by the eBird Australia team never fails to make sure that they’re seen. This year’s 487 species came from about 350 different eBirders, covering ‘the island continent’ from Tasmania to the Top End. Malcolm Graham and Steven Pratt did a big day in Queensland, and tallied 144 species on the day—taking first place for the region.

And there you have it. The third Global Big Day in the books—a new benchmark for a single day of birding. The most exciting part is that the fun and excitement of making your sightings count doesn’t have to happen on just one day a year. Here at eBird, we treat every day like it’s Global Big Day. 365 opportunities to go out, see what’s around, and make a difference for the birds that we all care about. Your sightings from your local park or backyard garden are as valuable as those from far-flung hotspots or remote rainforest lodges. And data entry on eBird Mobile makes it easier than ever to get your sightings in as soon as possible.

Global Big Day is just the beginning of what is possible when we all unite and work together as a global team, as Team eBird. Your knowledge of the birds you’re familiar with is an amazingly powerful tool, enabling you to track what you find and help inform and change the future of birds—and as a result, the future of our world’s environment. One checklist at a time, let’s have some fun and make it count. Thank you for all that you do.