21 Days and Counting: My Bird-A-Day List So Far

It’s day 21. I’ve made it to day 21.
I just have to let that sink in for a moment, because I’m kind of surprised—I didn’t think I would last this long.

When I started this Bird-A-Day Challenge on New Years Day (click here to learn more), I wasn’t even sure I would last two weeks. (I expected 14 species of birds would just about sum up how many I could see during my day-to-day life—especially in winter.)

But, much to my amazement, I do see at least 14 species. (Here’s the list from my first 14 days). In fact, I see many others (scroll down to see my entire list so far). What’s more, I even see some less ordinary birds—now that I’m looking for them.

Here’s my strategy: I’m saving the common birds that I can see everyday for the times when I really can’t run out to find something more exceptional. That’s what’s gotten me this far. As a result, I’m hanging in there with the big guys—the much more sophisticated and serious birders who are also playing this game.

Yes, there are others. At least 19 of them, judging by this website. Plus my husband and I, which makes 21 (and counting).

I first heard about the challenge byway of my husband, Mike Newhouse, who was told about it by this New Jersey birder Chris Takacs, who is on that aforementioned website’s list of 19. Does the challenge's origin have roots much deeper than that? I don’t know. Here’s what Audubon field editor and bird guid author Kenn Kaufman told me when I mentioned what I’m doing:

“Your idea sounds like an interesting challenge. As you know, many birders keep year lists every year, starting over every January 1st just for fun. Usually this is done in a casual way, but a few birders go completely crazy about pursuing the year list (I did that myself as a teenager, as I described in my book "Kingbird Highway"). But even the year-listers usually go in spurts of activity, chasing birds on weekends or on concentrated trips.

“Finding one new bird every day sounds like a calmer approach at first thought, but in some ways it can be a lot more challenging. You can't just go find 31 species on January 1st and then coast for the rest of the month. It will require some strategy, saving some nearby possibilities for weekdays, perhaps strategically going after more distant things on weekends. Finding 59 species during January and February in the New York area is a plausible goal, but by March you're going to be scanning the sky for early migrants—come on, Eastern Phoebe! come on, Tree Swallow!

"It actually sounds like fun.”

Kenn said it would be interesting to see how long I can hang in there. As he and others have told me, the probability that I can last long enough to list a different bird for 365 consecutive days is quite slim.

The doubters are in good company. When I divulged what I’m doing to well-known bird author Scott Weidensaul, who wrote the Pullitzer Prize finalist "Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds," I could almost hear him cracking a smile on the other end of the phone. Thus I proceeded to try to convince him—and probably me, too—that perhaps I could do this, and even if I didn't make it very far it would be ok...

“I’m having so much fun,” I told him. “I’m noticing things that I’ve never paid much attention to before—common birds on my busy commute and all sorts of ducks that I’ve always somewhat ignored. I’m getting outside, too—even though I almost need a pair of snowshoes and a thermal facemask to go out birding in this frigid, snowy weather we’re having here in New York…And, would you believe? I’m asking my husband to go birding on weekends?”

Scott knows that I’m not a lister—that I even sometimes shy away from activities that involve the subject matter consuming my everyday business (editing articles largely about birds for Audubon Magazine.) He seemed pleased.

So, here I am, on day 21. Still plugging away. And hoping I don’t have to use that chickadee that’s flitting about at my feeder—just yet.

Stay tuned for Audubon Magazine Facebook status updates about my daily progress. I'll post longer weekly updates here on The Perch every Friday. And please be sure to tell me about all the great birds YOU’RE seeing as well: List your daily bird by commenting on this blog post or on Audubon Magazine’s Facebook page. I look forward to hearing from you.

Happy Birding!

My Bird-A-Day List So Far
Day 1, January 1 2011: Common Redpoll
Day 2: Red-tailed Hawk
Day 3: Downy Woodpecker
Day 4: Pigeon
Day 5: Greater Scaup
Day 6: Snow Goose
Day 7: Carolina Wren
Day 8: Red-bellied Woodpecker
Day 9: Canvasback
Day 10: Junco
Day 11: Great Black-backed Gull
Day 12: American Crow
Day 13: Bald Eagle
Day 14: Tundra Swan
Day 15: Purple Sandpiper
Day 16: Red-throated Loon
Day 17: Common Merganzer
Day 18: White-throated Sparrow
Day 19: Common Goldeneye
Day 20: Double-crested Cormorant
Day 21: Red-breasted Merganzer

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