The movie The Big Year, starring Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson, opens next Friday. The sweet, and, of course, funny film tells the story of three birders hell-bent on tallying the most avian species in a calendar year. Here’s a sneak-peek at a clip from the movie, narrated by comic genius John Cleese.
And for a little more context, here’s more on the history of the Audubon-Big Year connection, from the book the movie is based on, Mark Obmascik’s The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession.
|On Christmas Day, 1900, an Audubon Society ornithologist named Frank Chapman came up with a better idea. Instead of killing birds, Chapman said, outdoorsmen should count them. On December 25 of that year, twenty-seven bird lovers from New Brunswick, Canada, to Monterey County, California—a total of thirteen states and two provinces were represented—went afield. They found 90 species and 18,500 individual birds, but most importantly, these bird lovers discovered each other. The first continental birdwatching network was born.
Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count began as a way for birders to meet and greet others with the same quirky obsession. With their annual state-of-the-union census of bird populations across North America, Christmas counters told themselves that serious ornithology was being conducted here. Though this technically was true—university biologists did occasionally rely on Audubon-reported counts to analyze trends among avian species—the Christmas Bird Count also served as a hotbox for birders with competitive blood. Soon some Christmas teams began to compete with other teams to report the biggest list, and some birders began to compete with other birders on their own team to report the most species. Today the Christmas Bird Count has become a birding tradition nearly as strong as spring migration, with more than 52,000 people joining 1,800 different counts across North America.
Inevitably, some birders stopped waiting for Christmas to compete. The result was a Big Day. By rising at midnight to shine lanterns on owls, working the brush at dawn for songbirds, scoping the lakes at noon for waterfowl, and then scrambling through new habitat as the sun set, Big Day participants combines strategy and endurance in a race to see the most species in a single twenty-four-hour period. By the end of World War I, a Big Day with one hundred species, a Century Run, was something to brag about.
Then came Roger Tory Peterson. In 1934, at the age of twenty-five, he converted birding from a pastime of the peculiar to a sport for the masses.
Lights, Binoculars, Action! Audubon magazine’s exclusive interview with Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson.
The Big Screen Author Mark Obmascik writes about what it’s like to have his book made into a major motion picture featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Will birding ever be the same?