North American Big Year 2016: The Final Countdown

Which birder will see the most species and set a new record?

House Finch and Northern Cardinal. Photo: Deborah Bifulco/Great Backyard Bird Count

There’s less than a month left in the year, and the competition for which birder can see the most species in North America—or, rather, the American Birding Association Area, which includes the 49 continental United States, Canada, the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, and offshore waters—during 2016 is heating up even as it winds down. In July, two birders—John Weigel and Olaf Danielson—separately broke the top record of 749 species, set by Neil Hayward in 2013. As December advances, both birders are approaching 800 birds. And several other birders trail close behind while setting personal records.

 

Who will take the top prize? Between John and Olaf, it really is too close to predict—just a few good birding days could mean the title. We’ve officially reached the North American Big Year final countdown. We'll be updating this page regularly with any news, so check back to follow along with Audubon.

John:
780
species

Olaf:
776
species

0
days to go

Updates

January 4: The Results Are In!
Today, the American Birding Association announced the final tally for the big year. During 2016, John managed to see a staggering 780 bird species. (He topped out his list with a Graylag Goose, Red-footed Booby, and Whooper Swan in his final week.) Olaf followed close behind, with 776 birds, followed by Laura Keene with 759 birds, and Christian Hagerlocher with 750 birds. Congratulations to all four birders who broke the previous big year record of 749 birds!
 
N.B.: The final tallies will likely change. Each birder has a set of “provisional” species, which aren’t on the ABA’s checklist—yet. Once these species (the Pine Flycatcher, Common Shelduck, and Common Vireo) are reviewed and added to the checklist in the coming months, the final species counts will change, but the rankings will remain the same.
 
January 1: Olaf Finds One Last Bird, Year Ends with John Still Ahead
In the final days of the year, Olaf didn't let up, going after two of the birds Kenn Kaufman mentioned as possibilities in our previous update. After failing to spy a Kelp Gull in Newfoundland after several days of searching, the Norwegian birder made his way to Idaho, where he reported seeing the Red-flanked Bluetail. That brought his final count for 2016 to 776 birds, versus John's 777 birds. Right now, it appears John will be the big year champ, but we'll have to wait a few days for the ABA to review the final species lists of all competitors and announce an official winner. 
 
December 30: Kenn Kaufman on Which Birds John and Olaf Could Still Get 
With one day left, we asked Audubon Field Editor Kenn Kaufman about John and Olaf's possible strategies and which birds they could have seen in these final days. Here's Kenn: 
 
"The only birds they still need for their year lists are the extreme rarities. A possible Kelp Gull was found and photographed in Newfoundland on December 23. Kelp Gull is on John's list, but not Olaf's. However, there's a question about the ID of the Newfoundland bird. Kelp Gulls are usually rarities in North America, but for a few years there were some nesting on the Chandeleur Islands off the coast of Louisiana. Unfortunately, those birds also interbred with Herring Gulls, so there are a few Kelp X Herring Gull hybrids wandering around. Experts are debating whether the current Newfoundland bird is a pure Kelp Gull or a hybrid. 
 
December 26th produced reports of two major rarities. A possible Long-billed Murrelet was sighted on the coast of Massachusetts. It may be hard to re-find, but that's a species that John and Olaf both need for the year. Also on the 26th, a Red-flanked Bluetail was photographed at Hell's Gate State Park, Idaho. John has that species for the year already, but Olaf doesn't. It's hard to guess whether the Idaho bird might stick around long enough for Olaf (and others) to see it, but this vagrant from Asia just might have settled in on a winter territory.  
 
So, the big year birders had to make some tough decisions on strategy in these final days: which birds to chase, and when?" 
 
December 25: John Breaks His Silence, Adds a Bird 
For almost a full month, there was nary a peep from John, leaving many big year followers wondering whether he was due for a big update—or a big upset. On Christmas day, he updated his blog with a new species: a Smith's Longspur, which he saw in Oklahoma. The bird is one that Olaf had already sighted and that experts considered a given for John in the final weeks. (He also added a provisional species, a Graylag Goose.) That gives John a lead of two as we head into the final week of the competition.

 

December 21: The Race Gets Even Tighter

There’s only nine days to go, and Olaf is still adding to his list. In Portland this week, he finally saw a Brambling—and managed to get photographic evidence. The small brown bird with a black head is common in Europe and Asia, and occasionally strays down to the U.S. West Coast from Alaska during migration. That puts Olaf only one bird behind John as they enter the final stretch.

 

December 16: Olaf Snags One More, Now Two Behind 

What suspense! With only half the month left, Olaf updated his blog yesterday to say that he found a Rustic Bunting in Neah Bay, Washington last week. He headed there specifically for the bunting, and despite cold and snowy conditions, managed to find it within an hour of arriving. The bird brings Olaf's total to 774 and puts him only two behind Weigel, whose blog has been quiet most of the month. Could Weigel be saving up for a big update? We'll see. 

 

December 9: Olaf Pulls Within Three 

The top two birders are keeping apace and tracking down the same species in quick succession. Last night, Olaf reported a La Sagra’s Flycatcher in Key Biscayne, Florida, closing John’s lead to three species. He also added a Common Shelduck, which he spotted in Quebec, to his provisional list. (Provisional birds are those that require approval from the American Birding Association before counting towards a big year total. Audubon does not include provisional species in its official counts. Read the complete rules here.) What’s more, both species—La Sagra’s Flycatcher and Common Shelduck—were recently seen by John in the same locations. Olaf is on John’s tail, with only 22 days to go.

Meet the Contenders

John Weigel: 780 species 

as of December 31

 

John Weigel, an American living in Australia, is the current record holder for the Australia's Big Year Down Under, having seen 770 bird species in 2014. He blogs about his Big Year at Birding for Devils, so named to create awareness about the plight of Tasmanian Devils and raise money for a breeding facility for the endangered marsupials.

 

Olaf Danielson: 776 species

as of December 31

 

Bradley McDonald, who goes by the pen name Olaf Danielson, lives in South Dakota with his family. His daughter has joined him on many of his birding adventures this year, which he documents on his blog The Bad Weather Big Year. His Big Year is dedicated to his grandmother, who introduced him to birding when he was a child growing up in northwest Wisconsin.

While John and Olaf have commanding leads, two other birders are also having stellar Big Years. Photographer Laura Keene from Ohio has now broken the previous record with 759 species sighted this year (as of December 31), making her the second woman to break 700. And Christian Hagenlocher, who blogs at The Birding Project, has seen 750 species (as of December 31), making him the youngest birder to pass 700 species in the North American Big Year. 

The Big List

John and Olaf's species lists are remarkably similar. Scroll through their combined list below, with those birds unique to John in blue and those birds unique to Olaf in green.

 

Abert's Towhee Emperor Goose Pinyon Jay
Acadian Flycatcher Eurasian Collared-Dove Piping Plover
Acorn Woodpecker Eurasian Skylark Plain Chachalaca
Alder Flycatcher Eurasian Tree Sparrow Plain-capped Starthroat
Aleutian Tern Eurasian Wigeon Plumbeous Vireo
Allen's Hummingbird European Starling Pomarine Jaeger
Altamira Oriole Evening Grosbeak Prairie Falcon
Amazon Kingfisher Eyebrowed Thrush Prairie Warbler
American Avocet Far Eastern Curlew Prothonotary Warbler
American Bittern Fea's Petrel Purple Finch
American Black Duck Ferruginous Hawk Purple Gallinule
American Coot Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl Purple Martin
American Crow Field Sparrow Purple Sandpiper
American Dipper Fieldfare Pygmy Nuthatch
American Flamingo Fish Crow Pyrrhuloxia
American Golden-Plover Five-striped Sparrow Razorbill
American Goldfinch Flame-colored Tanager Red Crossbill
American Kestrel Flammulated Owl Red Knot
American Oystercatcher Flesh-footed Shearwater Red Phalarope
American Pipit Florida Scrub-Jay Red-bellied Woodpecker
American Redstart Fork-tailed Flycatcher Red-billed Pigeon
American Robin Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel Red-billed Tropicbird
American Three-toed Woodpecker Forster's Tern Red-breasted Merganser
American Tree Sparrow Fox Sparrow Red-breasted Nuthatch
American White Pelican Franklin's Gull Red-breasted Sapsucker
American Wigeon Fulvous Whistling-Duck Red-cockaded Woodpecker
American Woodcock Gadwall Red-crowned Parrot
Ancient Murrelet Gambel's Quail Red-eyed Vireo
Anhinga Garganey Red-faced Cormorant
Anna's Hummingbird Gila Woodpecker Red-faced Warbler
Antillean Nighthawk Gilded Flicker Red-flanked Bluetail
Aplomado Falcon Glaucous Gull Red-footed Booby
Arctic Loon Glaucous-winged Gull Red-headed Woodpecker
Arctic Tern Glossy Ibis Red-legged Kittiwake
Arctic Warbler Golden Eagle Red-naped Sapsucker
Arizona Woodpecker Golden-cheeked Warbler Red-necked Grebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher Golden-crowned Kinglet Red-necked Phalarope
Ashy Storm-Petrel Golden-crowned Sparrow Red-necked Stint
Atlantic Puffin Golden-crowned Warbler Red-shouldered Hawk
Audubon's Oriole Golden-fronted Woodpecker Red-tailed Hawk
Audubon's Shearwater Golden-winged Warbler Red-throated Loon
Bachman's Sparrow Grace's Warbler Red-throated Pipit
Bahama Mockingbird Grasshopper Sparrow Red-whiskered Bulbul
Baird's Sandpiper Gray Catbird Red-winged Blackbird
Baird's Sparrow Gray Flycatcher Reddish Egret
Bald Eagle Gray Hawk Redhead
Baltimore Oriole Gray Jay Redwing
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel Gray Kingbird Rhinoceros Auklet
Band-tailed Pigeon Gray Partridge Ridgway's Rail
Bank Swallow Gray Vireo Ring-billed Gull
Bar-tailed Godwit Gray-cheeked Thrush Ring-necked Duck
Barn Owl Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch Ring-necked Pheasant
Barn Swallow Gray-headed Chickadee Ringed Kingfisher
Barnacle Goose Gray-headed Swamphen Rock Pigeon
Barred Owl Gray-tailed Tattler Rock Ptarmigan
Barrow's Goldeneye Great Black-backed Gull Rock Sandpiper
Bay-breasted Warbler Great Blue Heron Rock Wren
Bell's Sparrow Great Cormorant Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Bell's Vireo Great Crested Flycatcher Rose-throated Becard
Belted Kingfisher Great Egret Roseate Spoonbill
Bendire's Thrasher Great Gray Owl Roseate Tern
Berylline Hummingbird Great Horned Owl Ross's Goose
Bewick's Wren Great Kiskadee Ross's Gull
Bicknell's Thrush Great Knot Rosy-faced Lovebird
Black Guillemot Great Shearwater Rough-legged Hawk
Black Noddy Great Skua Royal Tern
Black Oystercatcher Great-tailed Grackle Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Black Phoebe Greater Pewee Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Black Rail Greater Prairie-Chicken Ruddy Duck
Black Rosy-Finch Greater Roadrunner Ruddy Ground-Dove
Black Scoter Greater Sage-Grouse Ruddy Turnstone
Black Skimmer Greater Scaup Ruff
Black Storm-Petrel Greater White-fronted Goose Ruffed Grouse
Black Swift Greater Yellowlegs Rufous Hummingbird
Black Tern Green Heron Rufous-backed Robin
Black Turnstone Green Jay Rufous-capped Warbler
Black Vulture Green Kingfisher Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Black-and-white Warbler Green Parakeet Rufous-winged Sparrow
Black-backed Woodpecker Green-tailed Towhee Rustic Bunting
Black-bellied Plover Green-winged Teal Rusty Blackbird
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Groove-billed Ani Sabine's Gull
Black-billed Cuckoo Gull-billed Tern Sage Thrasher
Black-billed Magpie Gunnison Sage-Grouse Sagebrush Sparrow
Black-capped Chickadee Gyrfalcon Saltmarsh Sparrow
Black-capped Gnatcatcher Hairy Woodpecker Sanderling
Black-capped Petrel Hammond's Flycatcher Sandhill Crane
Black-capped Vireo Harlequin Duck Sandwich Tern
Black-chinned Hummingbird Harris's Hawk Savannah Sparrow
Black-chinned Sparrow Harris's Sparrow Say's Phoebe
Black-crested Titmouse Hawaiian Petrel Scaled Quail
Black-crowned Night-Heron Hawfinch Scaly-breasted Munia
Black-faced Grassquit Heermann's Gull Scarlet Tanager
Black-footed Albatross Henslow's Sparrow Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Black-headed Grosbeak Hepatic Tanager Scott's Oriole
Black-headed Gull Hermit Thrush Scripps's Murrelet
Black-legged Kittiwake Hermit Warbler Seaside Sparrow
Black-necked Stilt Herring Gull Sedge Wren
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Himalayan Snowcock Semipalmated Plover
Black-tailed Gull Hoary Redpoll Semipalmated Sandpiper
Black-throated Blue Warbler Hooded Merganser Sharp-shinned Hawk
Black-throated Gray Warbler Hooded Oriole Sharp-tailed Grouse
Black-throated Green Warbler Hooded Warbler Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Black-throated Sparrow Hook-billed Kite Shiny Cowbird
Black-vented Shearwater Horned Grebe Short-billed Dowitcher
Black-whiskered Vireo Horned Lark Short-eared Owl
Blackburnian Warbler Horned Puffin Short-tailed Albatross
Blackpoll Warbler House Finch Short-tailed Hawk
Blue Bunting House Sparrow Short-tailed Shearwater
Blue Grosbeak House Wren Siberian Accentor
Blue Jay Hudsonian Godwit Siberian Rubythroat
Blue-footed Booby Hutton's Vireo Sinaloa Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Iceland Gull Slate-throated Redstart
Blue-headed Vireo Inca Dove Slaty-backed Gull
Blue-throated Hummingbird Indigo Bunting Smew
Blue-winged Teal Island Scrub-Jay Smith's Longspur
Blue-winged Warbler Ivory Gull Smooth-billed Ani
Bluethroat Jack Snipe Snail Kite
Boat-tailed Grackle Juniper Titmouse Snow Bunting
Bobolink Kelp Gull Snow Goose
Bohemian Waxwing Kentucky Warbler Snowy Egret
Bonaparte's Gull Killdeer Snowy Owl
Boreal Chickadee King Eider Snowy Plover
Boreal Owl King Rail Solitary Sandpiper
Botteri's Sparrow Kirtland's Warbler Song Sparrow
Brambling Kittlitz's Murrelet Sooty Grouse
Brandt's Cormorant La Sagra's Flycatcher Sooty Shearwater
Brant Ladder-backed Woodpecker Sooty Tern
Brewer's Blackbird Lapland Longspur Sora
Brewer's Sparrow Lark Bunting South Polar Skua
Bridled Tern Lark Sparrow Spectacled Eider
Bridled Titmouse Laughing Gull Spot-breasted Oriole
Bristle-thighed Curlew Lawrence's Goldfinch Spotted Dove
Broad-billed Hummingbird Laysan Albatross Spotted Owl
Broad-tailed Hummingbird Lazuli Bunting Spotted Sandpiper
Broad-winged Hawk Le Conte's Sparrow Spotted Towhee
Bronzed Cowbird Le Conte's Thrasher Sprague's Pipit
Brown Booby Leach's Storm-Petrel Spruce Grouse
Brown Creeper Least Auklet Steller's Eider
Brown Noddy Least Bittern Steller's Jay
Brown Pelican Least Flycatcher Stilt Sandpiper
Brown Thrasher Least Grebe Streak-backed Oriole
Brown-capped Rosy-Finch Least Sandpiper Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher Least Storm-Petrel Summer Tanager
Brown-headed Cowbird Least Tern Surf Scoter
Brown-headed Nuthatch Lesser Black-backed Gull Surfbird
Buff-bellied Hummingbird Lesser Goldfinch Swainson's Hawk
Buff-breasted Flycatcher Lesser Nighthawk Swainson's Thrush
Buff-breasted Sandpiper Lesser Prairie-Chicken Swainson's Warbler
Buff-collared Nightjar Lesser Sand-Plover Swallow-tailed Kite
Bufflehead Lesser Scaup Swamp Sparrow
Buller's Shearwater Lesser Yellowlegs Tennessee Warbler
Bullock's Oriole Lewis's Woodpecker Terek Sandpiper
Burrowing Owl Limpkin Thayer's Gull
Bushtit Lincoln's Sparrow Thick-billed Kingbird
Cackling Goose Little Blue Heron Thick-billed Murre
Cactus Wren Little Egret Thick-billed Vireo
California Condor Little Gull Townsend's Solitaire
California Gnatcatcher Little Stint Townsend's Warbler
California Gull Loggerhead Shrike Tree Swallow
California Quail Long-billed Curlew Tricolored Blackbird
California Scrub-Jay Long-billed Dowitcher Tricolored Heron
California Thrasher Long-billed Thrasher Trindade Petrel
California Towhee Long-eared Owl Tropical Kingbird
Calliope Hummingbird Long-tailed Duck Tropical Parula
Canada Goose Long-tailed Jaeger Trumpeter Swan
Canada Warbler Long-toed Stint Tufted Duck
Canvasback Louisiana Waterthrush Tufted Flycatcher
Canyon Towhee Lucifer Hummingbird Tufted Puffin
Canyon Wren Lucy's Warbler Tufted Titmouse
Cape May Warbler MacGillivray's Warbler Tundra Swan
Carolina Chickadee Magnificent Frigatebird Turkey Vulture
Carolina Wren Magnificent Hummingbird Upland Sandpiper
Caspian Tern Magnolia Warbler Varied Bunting
Cassin's Auklet Mallard Varied Thrush
Cassin's Finch Mangrove Cuckoo Variegated Flycatcher
Cassin's Kingbird Manx Shearwater Vaux's Swift
Cassin's Sparrow Marbled Godwit Veery
Cassin's Vireo Marbled Murrelet Verdin
Cattle Egret Marsh Sandpiper Vermilion Flycatcher
Cave Swallow Marsh Wren Vesper Sparrow
Cedar Waxwing Masked Booby Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Cerulean Warbler McCown's Longspur Violet-green Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee McKay's Bunting Virginia Rail
Chestnut-collared Longspur Merlin Virginia's Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler Mew Gull Wandering Tattler
Chihuahuan Raven Mexican Chickadee Warbling Vireo
Chimney Swift Mexican Jay Western Bluebird
Chipping Sparrow Mexican Violetear Western Grebe
Chuck-will's-widow Mexican Whip-poor-will Western Gull
Chukar Mississippi Kite Western Kingbird
Cinnamon Teal Monk Parakeet Western Meadowlark
Clapper Rail Montezuma Quail Western Sandpiper
Clark's Grebe Mottled Duck Western Screech-Owl
Clark's Nutcracker Mottled Petrel Western Spindalis
Clay-colored Sparrow Mountain Bluebird Western Tanager
Clay-colored Thrush Mountain Chickadee Western Wood-Pewee
Cliff Swallow Mountain Plover Whimbrel
Colima Warbler Mountain Quail Whiskered Auklet
Common Black Hawk Mourning Dove Whiskered Screech-Owl
Common Chiffchaff Mourning Warbler White Ibis
Common Crane Murphy's Petrel White Wagtail
Common Eider Muscovy Duck White-breasted Nuthatch
Common Gallinule Mute Swan White-collared Seedeater
Common Goldeneye Nanday Parakeet White-crowned Pigeon
Common Grackle Nashville Warbler White-crowned Sparrow
Common Greenshank Nelson's Sparrow White-eared Hummingbird
Common Ground-Dove Neotropic Cormorant White-eyed Vireo
Common Loon Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet White-faced Ibis
Common Merganser Northern Bobwhite White-headed Woodpecker
Common Murre Northern Cardinal White-rumped Sandpiper
Common Myna Northern Flicker White-tailed Hawk
Common Nighthawk Northern Fulmar White-tailed Kite
Common Pauraque Northern Gannet White-tailed Ptarmigan
Common Pochard Northern Goshawk White-tailed Tropicbird
Common Poorwill Northern Harrier White-throated Sparrow
Common Raven Northern Hawk Owl White-throated Swift
Common Redpoll Northern Jacana White-throated Thrush
Common Ringed Plover Northern Mockingbird White-tipped Dove
Common Sandpiper Northern Parula White-winged Crossbill
Common Scoter Northern Pintail White-winged Dove
Common Snipe Northern Pygmy-Owl White-winged Parakeet
Common Tern Northern Rough-winged Swallow White-winged Scoter
Common Yellowthroat Northern Saw-whet Owl Whooping Crane
Connecticut Warbler Northern Shoveler Wild Turkey
Cook's Petrel Northern Shrike Willet
Cooper's Hawk Northern Waterthrush Williamson's Sapsucker
Cordilleran Flycatcher Northern Wheatear Willow Flycatcher
Cory's Shearwater Northwestern Crow Willow Ptarmigan
Costa's Hummingbird Nuttall's Woodpecker Wilson's Phalarope
Couch's Kingbird Nutting's Flycatcher Wilson's Plover
Craveri's Murrelet Oak Titmouse Wilson's Snipe
Crested Auklet Olive Sparrow Wilson's Storm-Petrel
Crested Caracara Olive Warbler Wilson's Warbler
Crimson-collared Grosbeak Olive-sided Flycatcher Winter Wren
Crissal Thrasher Orange-crowned Warbler Wood Duck
Curlew Sandpiper Orchard Oriole Wood Sandpiper
Curve-billed Thrasher Osprey Wood Stork
Dark-eyed Junco Ovenbird Wood Thrush
Dickcissel Pacific Golden-Plover Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay
Double-crested Cormorant Pacific Loon Worm-eating Warbler
Dovekie Pacific Wren Wrentit
Downy Woodpecker Pacific-slope Flycatcher Yellow Grosbeak
Dunlin Painted Bunting Yellow Rail
Dusky Flycatcher Painted Redstart Yellow Warbler
Dusky Grouse Palm Warbler Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Dusky Warbler Parakeet Auklet Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Dusky-capped Flycatcher Parasitic Jaeger Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Eared Grebe Pectoral Sandpiper Yellow-billed Loon
Eastern Bluebird Pelagic Cormorant Yellow-billed Magpie
Eastern Kingbird Peregrine Falcon Yellow-breasted Chat
Eastern Meadowlark Phainopepla Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Eastern Phoebe Philadelphia Vireo Yellow-eyed Junco
Eastern Screech-Owl Pied-billed Grebe Yellow-footed Gull
Eastern Towhee Pigeon Guillemot Yellow-green Vireo
Eastern Whip-poor-will Pileated Woodpecker Yellow-headed Blackbird
Eastern Wood-Pewee Pin-tailed Snipe Yellow-legged Gull
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Pine Bunting Yellow-rumped Warbler
Egyptian Goose Pine Grosbeak Yellow-throated Vireo
Elegant Tern Pine Siskin Yellow-throated Warbler
Elegant Trogon Pine Warbler Zenaida Dove
Elf Owl Pink-footed Goose Zone-tailed Hawk
  Pink-footed Shearwater  

Bird Sightings by State

The map below shows in which U.S. states John Weigel and Olaf Danielson sighted birds for their North American Big Year. Hover over each state for species counts for each birder. John's favorite states are colored blue; Olaf's are colored green; and those they share are colored teal.


Canadian sightings are not featured. Olaf spotted 57 birds in Canada (British Columbia, Newfoundland, and Quebec); John spotted 35 there (British Columbia and Newfoundland).