Calling all birders for Global Big Day

A chickadee visited my bird feeder this morning

With being home more during this pandemic, one of my activities I use to fill time is watching birds. There are quite a few LBBs, as my mom would have called them (little brown birds) around our apartment building, so before the last couple of snowfalls, I put out a feeder for them. They quickly found that a new restaurant opened in the neighborhood, and they frequent the feeder all day long. They are fun to watch, even if a little messy, and I have swept seeds off of the downstairs neighbor’s concrete slab in front of his door several times. Luckily, he is a super nice guy and does not seem to mind.

Being an outdoor reporter has a lot of perks, as I have said many times. One of those perks is that you get to learn about all the cool things that are going on with various groups related to the outdoors. One of those things I just found out about in an email I received from eBird. It is called Global Big Day.

Global Big Day is May 9, 2020 this year. The idea is to get birders from around the world to report their sightings wherever they are. Of course, many people are not going out like they normally would, but eBird does not ask for anything more than 5-10 minutes of looking around right where you are, if you are not comfortable venturing out. I am sure thousands of people will venture, out, however, as birding is largely a solitary undertaking, or it can be. Either way, to me, it gives a person something to do, with a great learning opportunity attached to it.

There are two cell phone apps that will make the day much easier. One of those is the eBird app and the other a bird ID app called Merlin Bird ID. Both can be found in your App Store. I downloaded both of them and lost the next half hour of my life. They are really cool apps. The first time you use either, it will ask to be allowed to view your location, and then download bird packs based on that. The Merlin app gave me the Midwest pack and the eBird app the Wisconsin pack. For those who would rather not use a their cell for whatever reason, sightings can be recorded on the eBird.org website also. But the app makes it super easy to submit a checklist in the field.

A checklist is simply a list of the birds that you see and hear. When you first log onto the eBird app, unless you are good with scientific names of birds (and I, for one, am not), go into the settings and change the names to common names. Now you’re all set to go out and start logging sightings!

One of the coolest things about Merlin is it can help you ID birds that you have no idea about. First you start off with identifying a bird by size. From there, you choose what colors the bird is. The app will populate a list of birds for you. It includes several full color pictures for each bird as well as audio of the bird’s calls and songs. From there, you can go back to the eBird app and log your sighting.

In the eBird app, if you think you know what a bird it, you can choose it from the list, then hit the “Merlin” button. That will bring you to the Merlin ID app and you can go through the same procedure, if you are not sure what bird you are looking at or hearing. Then you log how many you saw. You can also add notes, which I did in my short survey today. I added the chickadees and sparrows were at the bird feeder and the robins were in the yard.

For those who are out somewhere, or even walking their own property, you can record a track to see where you went and what you saw. The whole thing is really cool if you are into wildlife and are looking for something to do while you are at home, or even in the field. It can be done while hiking, fishing (I imagine fly fishing a stream and logging birds at the same time would be a great day), biking or any other activity. Just remember you will need cell phone reception, which can be sketchy in some areas, especially in northern Wisconsin.

I would recommend doing a checklist or two before May 9, just to get used to the platform. If you are like me, you will start looking up a few birds and, like I said, all of a sudden half an hour will have gone by. But I have certainly spent more time in less productive ways.

On May 9, each birder can complete a checklist, or several checklists. The idea is to get as many birders as possible to report their sightings all in one day. Last year over 35,000 birders is 174 countries recorded over 92,000 checklists in the 24-hours of Global Big Day, which runs from midnight to midnight. The goal for 2020 is to surpass 100,000 checklists.

It is easy to get involved. Go to ebird.org and set up a free and quick account. Download the apps, and you are ready to go. All you have to do is get out and look around, really. I think it will be a fun way to spend some time. Of course, birders can, and do, complete checklists all the time, but Global Big Day gives everyone a chance to be part of a global team, looking for bird populations. This information can be used to determine any changes in population numbers and ranges of different species.

On the Global Big Day page of the eBird website, birders can check in throughout the Big Day and find out what other birders across the globe are finding in their birding adventures throughout the day, too. We’ve got a couple weeks to get used to the platform and to make some discoveries on our own. Then join the global team on May 9, if you get a chance, and log whatever you find. I have found myself not busy that day, so I know I’ll be checking the birds out in my neighborhood at least.

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