Birders don’t call these games, but consider the following activities.
The most basic birding game is simply keeping a list of all the birds that you have ever seen anywhere. Not much beats the thrill of seeing a bird for the very first time, so this game is played by nearly all birders everywhere. I clearly remember foolishly wondering, shortly after starting my life list, what I would do after I had seen all the birds possible in nearby locations. And, then I learned about all the other birding games.
Many birders keep a list of all the birds that they have seen in a particular state, usually the state in which they live. This activity usually involves actively “chasing” rare birds that appear anywhere in the state in order to increase one’s state list.
This activity is similar to State List, but for just one county, usually the location of one’s residence. Even more so than with State List, birders will cancel other plans, call in sick to work, or do whatever is necessary to see any new bird that shows up in their county.
Some birders put the most importance on their ABA list, birds observed in the ABA (American Birding Association) Area, most simply defined as North American north of Mexico. For some, their ABA list has a higher priority than their life list. Birders who are
obsessed interested in their ABA List may fly across the country to see birds already seen elsewhere just to get them on this list.
Other geographic areas
Any geographic area that you can name can be the target for a birding list – Ecuador, China, Asia, the Western Hemisphere, the Lower 48 (US states) – the possibilities are nearly endless.
Big Year (ABA Area)
Until recently “Big Year” meant ABA Big Year. This is the game that was made into a book and a movie, “The Big Year.” It told the story of three men obsessed with “winning” the most birds in 1998. People have mortgaged their homes to pursue this activity. It also requires tremendous effort and the stamina to endure heat, cold, loss of sleep, and other discomforts. In spite of these challenges, the majority of us who do not have the time, money, and endurance to play this game have fantasized about it.
Big World Year
This is now the ultimate game – how many birds can you see in one calendar year with the entire planet as the playing field. In 2008, British couple Alan Davies and Ruth Miller traveled around the world attempting to see 4,000 species. They completed the year with 4,341 species and wrote a book about their adventure, The Biggest Twitch. In 2015, Noah Strycker set out to see half the world’s species, approximately 5,000 birds. He also met his goal and set the new world record with 6,042 bird species. Noah’s record was immediately challenged by Dutch birder Arjan Dwarshuis in 2016. He finished the year with 6,833 bird species.
Big State Year and various location/year combinations
Where I live, Forsyth County (NC) Year List is a popular game, although I don’t know anyone who will admit to playing it. However, about a dozen birders go birding nearly every day. They make it a point to see species that require special effort like American Woodcock, a bird that is usually seen only in particular places at dusk. If anyone else finds a “good” bird (i.e. uncommon for our area), they will go look for it. I keep trying to break my addiction to this game, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. And, I’m not sure that I really want to quit. We have the friendliest birding community that I know of anywhere. We don’t compete with each other and everyone is quick to share the news when they find a good bird.
Want to read more about Big Year birding? There is even a Wikipedia article called Big Year. The American Birding Association (ABA) outlines the official listing rules at Listing Central and displays the numbers that ABA members have reported. All of these birding games are made easier by using eBird, which automatically maintains many of these lists for you as well as providing alerts for “needs” and rare birds.
This is a little different than the basic County List because it focuses on finding birds in ALL the counties in a state. One common version is 100 birds in every county. In Maryland, which has only 23 counties, they play 200 birds in every county.
50 Birds in 50 States
I have friends who are working on these lists – to see 50 species in each of the 50 US states. What a great way to see the country!
Bird-A-Day is a twist in which one records a different species observed every day for as many days as possible throughout the year. In 2016, I made it through half the year recording my last new bird on July 1. I swore that I would not do it again, but here I am deep into it in late February 2017 and plotting how I can beat last year’s attempt.
Any of the above games, but only birds that you photograph count.
Birders are creative and I’m astounded by the new things that I am learning every day. Day List? Yes, some people even keep lists for each calendar day of birds seen in any location, in any year, but on that specific day. This list of lists could go on and on, but I’ll quit now and leave it up to you to find more or even invent your own birding game. I’ve got to go look for a Woodcock now.