Ian Davies/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

A Northern Parula sits on a tree branch at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology.

April 29, 2019

Global Big Day: 24-Hour Extreme Birding Event to Take Place May 4

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Global Big Day is birding’s biggest day of the year. Every year on a Saturday in May, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology organizes the 24-hour birding event, in which anyone in the world can log bird sightings into global database eBird. This year’s event will take place on May 4.

“Last year, more than 30,000 people actually contributed sightings on the day itself, from over 170 countriess,” Ian Davies, eBird project coordinator, said.

Davies explained that Global Big Day was created to have “an event that would allow bird lovers around the world to come together and note down what they see in a way that’s fun for them, and also benefits research and conservation.”

“Global Big Day began in 2015 … and for the past four years has progressively set the new world record for the most number of species of birds seen in a single day in the world,” Davies continued.

This year for Big Day, the Lab of Ornithology is sending their competitive birding team “Team Sapsucker” to the Gulf of Mexico “specifically to highlight the critical importance of that region to migratory birds,” Davies said.

“Using eBird and weather data, we’ve been able to understand that a very large percentage of the birds that migrate through North America are using the gulf, and are really reliant on a lot of the coastal habitats that are at risk from development as well as storms that are happening with increasing frequency due to climate change,” Davies said.

Davies described bird migration as “one of the most amazing spectacles of the natural world.”

“It’s just amazing to watch these birds … hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of individuals that have just crossed the Gulf of Mexico that might weigh as much as a nickel … unbelievably small and seemingly delicate birds that are doing these journeys that we can’t even conceive of,” he said.

According to Davies, bird conservation is of utmost importance. Davies stressed that “birds are an incredible way to understand the world around us — pretty much everyone’s heard the phrase ‘canary in the coal mine’ and it’s really just a testament to the fact that not just in mines but around the world birds … can be an early warning system for things that might affect us as humans.”

Davies believes that Big Day, and eBird are key tools in bird conservation and research.

“Global Big Day is kind of a one day event that is what eBird is the entire year,” Davies said.

“What we see that as is democratization of conservation … anybody in the world can log their sightings on big day or any other day and then that information can be used by researchers around the world to better spend conservation dollars, more effectively preserve land, understand where species might be declining in specific parts of their range,” Davies said.

Part of the day includes raising money, which goes to fund the Lab of Ornithology as well as other projects, Davies said. These include “everything from eBird, and projects like Merlin Bird ID, that provide resources to folks who are learning about birds for the first time, to on the ground conservation efforts in Central and South America or in our backyard; land trusts and parks around the US,” Davies said.

Other prominent research being done in the field of bird conservation by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology includes research on bird deaths caused by skyscrapers.

“By understanding the volume of birds that are migrating through the U.S. every spring and fall, and where that happens, and when it happens … we’re then able to better mitigate real conservation threats like lighted building in cities which can actually contribute to killing … potentially billions of birds every year,” Davies said.

The day also helps to encourage interest in birding itself, which Davies described as “magical.”

“I love the exploration of the unknown … there’s always this element of chance … where you could see something truly special, something that has never been seen at that place or that region before,” Davies said.

He encourages others too, to start birding and appreciating the natural world. “You can really make discoveries in your own backyard, your own local park, in a way that is both fun personally, and can also have an impact beyond just yourself,” Davies said.

Global Big Day will take place May 4.