You’re probably thinking, “That title is redundant. Where’s the editor?” I promise, it’s deliberate. Hear me out.
The birding world is full of annual events. These include hundreds of birding festivals. I’ll write more about festivals in a future column but be aware that the Hagerman Bird Festival is coming up this weekend (visitsouthidaho.com/event/hagerman-bird-festival). I’ve participated in that one in the past, and it’s a lot of fun! Most festivals were cancelled in 2020 due to COVID. Those reopening across the country in 2021 may be virtual, live, or a combination.
For now, I want to talk about the two biggest events that occur in May and that are not held just in one spot. That is, these events literally happen all over the world at the same time. And this year, they are both happening on the same date – May 8. These are the Global Big Day (ebird.org/news/global-big-day-8-may-2021) and World Migratory Bird Day (www.migratorybirdday.org).
First, Global Big Day. This is a day to observe and count as many species as possible all over the world. The not-so-secret secondary goals are to beat what happened last year. So, what happened last year? Global Big Day brought more birders together virtually than ever before. Over 50,000 people from 175 countries submitted a staggering 120,000 checklists with eBird, setting a new world record for a single day of birding.
You can play, too. An eBird checklist is simply a list of the birds you’ve seen at some place over some time period. You may identify species to the best of your ability — you don’t have to be perfect — count the numbers and tell eBird where you were and how much time you spent counting birds. When you use the free phone app, eBird knows where you are. If you turn on the “Record Track” option, it will also keep track of your time and distance.
I use these features all the time, even when I’m just walking my dog, Sienna, around the neighborhood. I’ve been using eBird all over the world since 2002, and even though I’m pretty politically expressive, no black helicopters have come to get me. Relax.
If you are new to this global birding community, check out the free, eBird “Essentials” course on the eBird website (see link above). This site emphasizes how much a citizen scientist can contribute to the global understanding and conservation of birds. If you enjoy seeing and hearing birds, you can help!
World Migratory Bird Day is a different deal. It’s not focused on counting birds around the world and continuing to build the scientific foundation. Rather, it offers educational content that seeks to teach people about birds and bird conservation, with a focus on the annual theme. This year’s theme, “Sing, Fly, Soar — Like a Bird!” inspires people to inhabit the minds and bodies of birds as poets and song writers have done for millennia.
But before I go deeper on this initiative, I want to cover a bit of its history because I was there. In 1993, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, one of the early partners in Partners in Flight, created International Migratory Bird Day. This was the centerpiece for the education component of Partners in Flight. The idea was to create a clearinghouse for education and communication materials that pertain to bird conservation.
Partners in Flight itself was created in 1990 as a partnership for the conservation of “landbirds.” These are all the warblers, sparrows, flycatchers, vireos, buntings, and other species that were not being addressed by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. That mother-of-all-bird-plans was created in 1986.
Early products of International Migratory Bird Day were news releases, magazine articles, newsletters, posters, brochures, pins, patches, hats, t-shirts, and other campaign products. Over the years, this stream of products naturally evolved to include more digital products and fewer analog ones. And more and more materials were moved to the website.
As the interest in International Migratory Bird Day expanded over the years, it also expanded over the globe. For many years, the date of this annual event was the second Saturday in May, as it is this year. This date works well for the continental U.S., but does not work well for Mexico, Peru, or basically any location south of the U.S.
The farther south you go, the earlier birds migrate and the larger the number of species that don’t migrate at all. Many species of the tropics are residents — they stay in the same place all year — much like our house finches. Unlike our finches, a given species may nest in any month.
Since 2007, International Migratory Bird Day has been coordinated by Environment for the Americas. In 2018, that organization joined other global bird conservation partnerships to create a single, global bird conservation education campaign. The name of the event was then changed to World Migratory Bird Day. There are now over 700 events and programs dedicated to introducing the public to birds and bird conservation.
Past themes have focused on biological content; for example: Life Cycles of Migratory Birds, Birds in a Changing Climate, The Boreal Forest, and Exploring Habitats. They’ve looked at bird conservation — Power of Partnerships, Collisions, Conserving Colonial Waterbirds, and Connecting People to Bird Conservation. Finally, the theme in several years has had a high cultural content — Why Birds Matter, Celebrate Birds in Culture, Tundra to the Tropics, and this year’s theme.
There is still time for anyone to participate in one or more of the World Migratory Bird Day activities. But even better, if you are involved in any sort of group, you might get engaged for next year to offer an activity in your community, school, or organization. Environment for the Americas is happy to provide a lot of free content.
One of the really cool things that World Migratory Bird Day does every year is, not only select a theme, but also choose the art that will best illustrate that theme. An expert panel discusses what sorts of species and other content will best convey the theme, and then artists are given an opportunity to send proposals.
This year’s winning artist is Sara Wolman. Sara is not only a terrific artist, but she is also the Visual Information Specialist at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. You can read her story at the subject website and see more of her art at: sarawolman.com. Every year, I look forward to discovering yet more fantastic art that I had not been aware of before.
One of the hidden gems at the World Migratory Bird Day website is their product catalog. Once at their website, click on “Shop,” if you dare. When I had an office, I covered my walls with posters of the annual art. I love the big, bold, colorful birds created by a wide variety of artists. I was always happy, when traveling through Latin America, to see these posters in university rooms, ornithological labs, and birding lodges from Mexico to Argentina. Decorate your space with these!
I also have a t-shirt of each theme as well, and many of these remain in permanent circulation. Several others have been worn out. You will also find pins, patches, hats, books, tea towels, temporary tattoos (a big hit among younger kids), games, bracelets, bird friendly coffee, socks, water bottles, materials to prevent window collisions, and many other products literally too numerous to mention.
Mid May is my favorite time of year because most of “our” birds have returned from the tropics, and they’re singing their brains out. There are also a few species still migrating to the north and yet other species moving around looking for the right place to nest. So much is going on! So, whether your particular interest is in data or art or both, join the Global World Bird Day on May 8. Birds are wonderful through any lens. See you out there.