About my 2018 Green Big Year

What is a Green Big Year?

A “Big Year” is one in which a birder attempts to see as many birds as possible in one calendar year. The birder usually defines the area in which they will be birding – such as the ABA (American Birding Association) area, a state, a county, or the world.

“Green” birding involves traveling by self-powered means to reduce the birder’s carbon footprint. No cars (not even electric), no motorized boats, no trains, no public transportation. Some “greenish” records have been listed with a footnote indicating some minor departure from this rule, which of course is still lower-carbon than traditional birding. Green birding is a great way to enjoy a wonderful hobby while minimizing the impact to the natural world – and seeing/hearing a lot more en route than you ever would when traveling by car. The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology hosts a Wisconsin Green Birding Challenge each year, which is composed of an awesomely supportive group, but mostly the green birding movement seems to be a collection of self-motivated individuals with no central organization. (Let’s change that!) 

So a “Green Big Year” involves both principles. It’s also sometimes called a “Big Green Birding Year”, which is often abbreviated as BIGBY. Green Big Years are not officially a thing like normal Big Years are, although one website keeps an unofficial list of green records.

What will my Green Big Year involve?

My Green Big Year will occur from 1 Jan to 31 Dec 2018 in the state of Wisconsin. I will travel by bike and on foot from my home in southwest Wisconsin, with perhaps occasional kayaking or canoeing (only if I do not use fossil fuels to get the boat to the water!). This will be a truly green year, with no footnotes involved. 

I’ll also follow the ABA Recording Rules, which means I will only count live, free-ranging, wild birds with established populations in the state of Wisconsin. I must positively identify each species by sight and/or sound, and the species must be on the official ABA checklist (e.g. my neighbor’s escaped macaw would not count). 

Finally, I’ll follow the ABA Code of Birding Ethics, which means no birds will be harmed (including very little, if any, use of playback, especially during breeding periods) and I won’t trespass on private property. (I have no particular affiliation with the ABA, aside from being a member, but they have been tracking birders’ record-breaking lists for decades and provide a useful set of ground rules.)

How many birds will I see (or hear) this year?

That is the question! Last year I found 213 species, mostly in La Crosse County, with some effort but nothing crazy (and no long trips). Previous winners of the Wisconsin Green Birding Challenge have ticked 215-243 species of birds, so that’s the ballpark I’ll be aiming for this year. I’ll be making a serious effort, but I’ll also still have a full-time job (with a flexible schedule, which will be super helpful) and other facets of life. Hopefully I’ll be able to report a respectable total on December 31st with a healthy personal life and a sound body. No guarantees about a sound mind – this might be an intense year!

What's greener than green?

Fossil-fuel-free, ethical birding is a low-impact way to enjoy the natural world. But I can do more than that by giving back. For every bird species I encountered in 2018, I donated $1 to the Wisconsin Bird Protection Fund. For every state threatened or endangered bird species that I encountered in 2018, I donated an additional $5. Rest assured that I did not harass those sensitive species in any way! No playback, no pursuit for a sighting (much less a photo), and no traipsing through prime habitat off-trail. The bird's right to live undisturbed always outweighs my desire to see it.

The Bird Protection Fund benefits a number of high-priority projects in the state. The projects, which are listed at the above link, are selected each year based on their importance to conservation, so I can be sure my donation will go directly to ensuring that these species are preserved for future generations of green birders.

I also joined the Great Wisconsin Birdathon to raise additional donations for the Bird Protection Fund. Birdathon participants endeavor to find as many species as possible in a 24-hr period sometime between 15 April and 15 June, and donations can be a flat amount or by the species. I biked a Green Big Day in late May in La Crosse County in 2018 that resulted in an amazing 123 species, and generous donors raised $526 for the effort! 

Stay tuned!

My Green Big Year is over now, but I'll still be blogging occasionally about green birding and 5MR birding. You can enter your e-mail address at the top left of this page to receive updates, or follow my Green Big Year on Facebook to get notified of new posts and perhaps see a few extra photos between blog updates. I’ll talk about the birds I’ve found, of course, but also about the challenges and joys of birding by bike and what I’ve learned along the way. You can also check out my checklists in eBird and follow the current status of the participants in the Wisconsin Green Birding Challenge and the 5MR Challenge.

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