Mass Audubon’s 2011 Bird-a-thon begins today Friday, May 13th at 6pm and for the next twenty-four hours teams across the state will attempt to see as many species of birds as possible. Bird-a-thon began in 1983 and is now a major event for raising both funds and awareness of the diversity of birdlife in the state. The idea of a bird-a-thon is founded on a larger birding endeavor: the big day. Big days are 24 hours spent searching and observing as many species of birds as possible (without the use of a plane or boat). Careful planning of location, time of day, year, and route come into play. Owls at night, song birds at dawn, ducks and shorebirds in the afternoon. Big days are carefully orchestrated to include stops at as many different habitats as possible. Examples of well known big days include the World Series of Birding, the Super Bowl of Birding, and the Texas “Big Day” during which the U.S. record for number of species seen in a single 24-hour period with recently broken with 264.
While these Olympic style bird watching events are a fun way to raise awareness for conservation as well as financial support it does bring up the concern; should an activity grounded in environmental ethics promote the manic use of fossil fuels to simply lay eyes on a single bird? And, unlike the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Atlas there is little citizen science gained from a big day.
In recent years Mass Audubon has addressed this issue by promoting birding locally, splitting up the state into regions that are canvassed by local teams, and even giving out an award to the team leaving the smallest fossil footprint. Other events like the Big Sit take a more humorous approach to the issue while the Big Green Year count birds only seen while walking or biking from home.
Beyond the issue burning fuel in the name of convening with nature (and bird watching is still far better than skiing, backpacking, and rafting) the main goal of a Big Day should be connecting people with the natural world through birds. To do this people need only go to their back yard as birds are found in every corner of the ballfield and local park, in abandoned lots, train yards, even dense city centers. So, as the Bird-a-thon begins I will personally be spending the next twenty-four hours on a single Audubon sanctuary, traveling by foot, and leading numerous public bird walks. It will be a day worth celebrating in the peak of migration, with only “chance rain showers” and hundreds of people out and about looking for birds.
Lastly, it is not too late to join a team, or support the fundraising. If you’d like to get involved please visit the Mass Audubon website or support me through the secure, First Giving account. Happy Bird-a-thoning!