A Big Year
By Bob Kowalski
Would you go to the ends of the earth to see a bird? What if it were a really special bird: one with beautiful feathers, an entrancing call, or a silly dance? What if seeing that one special bird would allow you to win a contest?
If that contest doesn't get you on television or win you any cash prizes, would you still do it? For those who participate in the "Big Year," the honor of beating the previous record is the only reward they get or even want.
A "Big Year" is a year in which a person attempts to see as many different species of birds as possible within a particular region. For most in North America who participate in a "Big Year," this region is the lower 48 American states, plus Alaska, Canada, and a couple of French islands off the Canadian coast.
You may be thinking that looking at birds is silly, but just think about the numbers of the recent record holders and the commitment it takes to get these numbers. One recent "Big Year" winner managed to see 744 birds in one year, missing the record by just one bird. Big Year birders travel by train, plane, boat, car, bicycle, and of course, by foot. They can cover over 150 thousand miles to get numbers of sightings this high. They can also spend a small fortune.
Just to clarify, the birds these contestants are counting are the number that they see in a particular year. You see, the contest is based on an honor system. No pictures or other evidence is required as proof of a sighting. Most birders take great pride in their reputation and their abilities to see or hear and then identify a bird. Usually, important sightings of the rare birds needed to get counts in the 700s are visited by hundreds of birders. It is pretty hard to cheat your way to a record-breaking year, but in general, few are interested in cheating.
This honesty comes from the fact that most people who want to break such a record know the greatest rewards are not necessarily in winning. Such rewards are in being able to commit a year of your life to doing something you love. Rewards are found in seeing amazing, inspiring creatures like the California Condor or the Magnificent Frigate bird. Rewards also come in spending time with people who, like you, want to spend their time looking to the skies and trees for glimpses of emerald, crimson, or cerulean blue feathered jewels.
You don't have to be able to travel a continent to have a big birding experience though. Have a big month. Or a big weekend. Set a personal record, learn to identify the species that live in your part of the world, or try to learn the calls of just two species of birds. You will soon find looking at birds isn't such a strange way to spend your time.
Extra! Extra! Backyard Birding
Many schools, families, and young birders across the country participate in the "Great Backyard Bird Count." While not as long as a "Big Year," the "Great Backyard Bird Count" happens every year. It depends on birders and families across the country to watch feeders and other areas in their yards and count the number of birds they see. Unlike the "Big Year," the goal is not to see who can count the most birds. Instead, participants in this event work together to help bird experts get a good idea of how birds are doing. Participants are given checklists and enter their sightings on a website. Called a "citizen-science" project, this event is open to anyone, requires no travel, and happens every year over one weekend in February.
Read this sentence:
A "Big Year" is a year in which a person attempts to see as many different species of birds as possible within a particular region.
What does "Big Year" mean in this context?
A. Year with the most travel
B. Year with the most money
C. Year with the most prizes
D. Year with the most sightings