Generate buzz, fun, and data by starting a local Big Year competition in 2015

By Team eBird December 29, 2014
Mountain Plover

Birders chasing reported Red-throated Pipits found one of the stand-out rarities in 2014 in Monterey County at the same location, illustrating how more coverage leads to finding more birds. This Mountain Plover delighted birders near Moss Landing, CA in early November. Photo by Bill Hill.

Over the years at eBird, we’ve found that one simple equation always holds true: birders + competitive spirit = more data for science and conservation. Many birders enjoy friendly competition. It inspires us to challenge ourselves, to push our birding skills to the max, and most importantly, to get in the field as much as we can. But what might seem to be frivolous games to many, in fact generate hundreds of thousands of complete checklists that are of high value for science and conservation. In 2015, consider challenging your friends to a friendly local eBirding competition. Read more for a few ideas.

Healthy competition in birding can take on many forms: whether it’s competing with yourself to try to break your past year or month records in a geographic region, or competing against a group of friends to see how many birds you can find in your yard or patch this year, we routinely push each other to get out in the field through these fun games.

For example, in 2014, a group of friends in Monterey County, CA, ran a competitive big year through eBird, resulting in a substantial increase in overall checklist submissions, and a heck of a lot of fun. Below is the Top 100 eBirders for Monterey County in 2014 as of Christmas. In addition to the top 2 eBirders being tied for first place and pushing each other to get out as much as possible, the top 5 eBirders in the county submitted more than 3000 complete checklists this year!


Another group in Vermont has been doing a statewide competition between Vermont’s counties for the past four years. With just a few days to go, the 4th annual Vermont County eBird Quest is in the home stretch. Part discovery, part conservation, but mostly fun, this annual year-long bird quest has been a success year after year. Each county seeks to document bird diversity, with the added incentive of vying for top honors of the maximum species count: Vermont eBird provides the scoreboard. Even if birders are not vying for some top honors, there’s always the County 150 Club. Each person that records 150 or more birds in one year in a county is added to this honor roll. Visit Vermont County eBird Quest to read the rules or the Vermont Location Explorer page for 2014 to see the results from the various counties.

Dozens of other counties engaged in similar competitions this past year. In Berkshire, MA, five birders worked hard to push their county year lists as high as possible and found tons of great birds in the process, hugely improving the eBird coverage in this little known western Massachusetts county.

Developing a county-level competition like this can accomplish a lot. At eBird we’re always looking for an increase in data volume because the more data we have to work with, the more we can do in terms of modeling and ultimately conserving birds and biodiversity. A county-level competition like this not only generates lots of data, but it tends to generate lots of data year-round, and often from portions of the county that aren’t well covered. In order to see all the possible birds in a county in a year, birders have to get to all the habitats where the various birds breed, do a lot of migration birding, and generally be out there birding a whole lot! All of these things lead to more, and better, data for eBird. If your home county is already well covered, try challenging some birders to a county big year in a county that is poorly covered close by.

If county-level birding isn’t your thing, check out the eBird Yard/Patch tool. This tool allows you to pit your yard or local patch against those of others in the region, and see how your totals stack up each year. Yard list competitions can be really fun at the local level, and they can generate a lot of repeated eBird checklists from the same location over time. These kinds of data allow us to really begin to understand the ebb and flow of birds in your region. When thousands of yards are stitched together across the landscape, broad-scale patterns begin to emerge. You don’t need to cover a lot of ground to make a big contribution to eBird!

Throw down the gauntlet in 2015 and challenge your friends to some competitive birding. It’s not for everyone, but for those of you who enjoy this sort of thing, it really adds a lot of value to the eBird database, so please–let the games begin!