Big Years get a bad rap. These attempts to see or hear as many species as possible in a calendar year tend to make birders ultra-competitive, and such a single-minded pursuit can put off more casual birdwatchers. So, in the early days of 2022, Audubon staff members launched a different sort of Big Year, one designed to include both experienced and beginning birders. “We decided to do something that was a little more collaborative,” says Chad Witko, senior coordinator for avian biology.
In a strategy suited to the remote-work era, Audubon’s team used eBird to combine lists. Rather than hopping planes to pick up regional specialties as in some Big Years, they relied on colleagues to add birds from their own neighborhoods and vacations. The shared effort forged stronger bonds among coworkers—and was just plain fun. As a new year begins, it’s a perfect time for your far-flung friends, family, or colleagues to team up and go big. Here’s how.
Prep your team with a Zoom intro to eBird led by someone familiar with the platform. Gregoriah Hartman, Audubon's director of network action and leadership development, hosted trainings for the team and touted the value of eBird data for science and conservation, including at Audubon: “Every time you log an observation, it’s going to help us later on.” Set everyone up with an eBird account, then create one for the team; individuals will share observations through the team account.
Audubon staff used Slack to stay in touch, but programs like WhatsApp or a group text work, too. A messaging platform is important not only for coordinating your Big Year, but also for bonding with your crew. “It’s really fun seeing people interact on Slack about this and finding their own joy in it,” says Stephanie Beilke, senior manager of conservation science at Audubon Great Lakes.
As each member submits a checklist of observed species, they can use eBird’s “share” icon and enter the team name. Add all members to your team contact list and then as its “friends” so that checklists they share automatically join your tally. If your progress hits a plateau, use the “target species” function to generate a list of birds to seek out, ranked by how likely you are to encounter them.
So far, Audubon staff have recorded 1,709 species. It’s an impressive number, but that’s not the real reward. “The goal was to have fun and see what we could find,” Beilke says. “You can do a Big Year and just celebrate birds.”
This story originally ran in the Winter 2022 issue as “Make It Count.” To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.