Big Day 101

This is a work in progress…

Big Days are what you make of them. They are the ultimate birding challenge testing ones birding skills, knowledge and intuition, physical and mental stamina, and most importantly discipline mixed with a little bit of ridiculousness.

By definition they are an attempt by an individual, or team to see as many bird species as possible in the single day.  It doesn’t have to be a record, or the highest total, but both are an undeniable competitive draw for some.


The Big 12 Tips to Big Day Success (give or take):

12) Know your competition. You’re only ever really competing against is yourself, but beware of the clock (see Tip#2). There is nothing you can do to impact the outcome of another teams day without impacting yourself. So if given the choice, prop everyone up, don’t set anyone back. Share knowledge, share experience, share glory.

11) Know your surroundings, the culture, and the communities you’ll be birding in. You never know when knowledge about daily patterns, behaviors, traffic, or parade and irrigation schedules will come in handy.

10a) Respect. Respect the community you’re birding in, rules and boundaries put in place by landowners, timing restrictions. Respect your fellow birders, and everything they bring to the table, and respect others you encounter throughout your day.  You’re spokespersons for everyone that enjoys our pastime, wildlife and nature. Earn it.

10b) Respect. Respect the birds. Don’t use excessive playback. Some would argue not at all, and some rules insist on this. You can however whistle yourself mute. Don’t disturb roosts, or nests, feeding or watering sites, or get too close.


9) Weather. If you have the luxury of choosing which day to attempt a Big Day on, then the weather is everything. While planning the timing of your day you need to assess the role of warm fronts, cold fronts, temperatures, pressure, precipitation events, previous patterns of all of the above, night wind, morning wind, noon wind, afternoon wind, evening wind, wind-wind, (you get the picture), can all make or break a Big Day. Even on the day it’s important to keep constant tabs of weather patterns up ahead that may present you with opportunities to modify your route for best results.


8) Math matters. Just because a certain spot or scenario will guarantee one or more species, doesn’t mean it makes sense on your route. Each species has a time cost associated with it. Pay close attention to the expensive ones and don’t let them distract you from racking up all the cheap ones.


7) Rest and sustenance. A Big Day is technically 24 hr, but the average Big Day probably consists of 36-48 hours without sleep preceded by 2-7 days of inadequate rest and anticipation. Prepare your body and mind. Take it easy ahead of time.  You’ll gain more by being alert on a Big Day than you will by scouting yourself to death. Chances are you won’t have time to check out that one last spot you scouted anyway. Proviso – you never know though, little gems and pockets of Big Day Love/Magic are potentially around every corner.

Also remember to eat and drink. A lot!


6) Rules matter. Whether your competing against yourself or others, we all need to be on the same playing field. If you’re competing against yourself, or previous records, you also want everything to be relatively equal between attempts. Whether it’s the ABA Big Day Rules, or COTF Race Rules. Pick a format and stick with it.


5) Purpose matters. For all the guts and glory of a Big Day, and if you’re lucky, a record, it’s nice to have a cause to raise awareness and funds for. It gives purpose to the cost, the carbon, all your effort and sacrifice. So find a cause, and bird yourself to shreds for it.


4) Acknowledge your carbon footprint. There is sugar-coating it, Big Days are carbon intensive. Purchase offsets, and/or work Big Days into vacation, conferences, or other travel plans to minimize travel. Also green big days by foot or bicycle are an excellent alternative and even more challenging.


3) Know your enemy. – When you strip away all the noise, Time is your number one enemy. It will slip away from you every chance it gets, and rear it’s ugly head at numerous times throughout the day and eat away at every last morsel of your already beleaguered soul. Set a schedule and stick to it. Any modifications to the schedule need to be at the expense of something else. Leave yourself a 5-10% buffer on any time estimates you make.  Efficiencies matter. Think about BM’s ahead of time, coffee stops, gas stops, packing lunches ahead of time. You’re only enemy is the clock – defeat it.

At every point throughout the day, someone in your team needs to be on point looking our for everyone else! Not paying 110% attention to the birds (maybe just 100%), but keeping tabs on the rest of the team, making sure they eat, drink, are looking OK, and most importantly watching the time!  Believe it or not, a Big Day can be very dangerous, take care of each other out there.  This individual is your police, your EMS, your savior – “Every breathe you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.” The Police


2) Experience. No one ‘wins’, or sets a record on their first go. It’s obvious that one attempting to do a Big Day should know your birds, but try and know them better: Songs, chips, calls, tendencies, behaviours, flight patterns, and even favourite foods and personalities. This will all come into play when you least expect it. Know your birds, and look for birds, but don’t bird! If you catch yourself birding, you’re not on a Big Day. Scouting is for birding, Get it out of your system!


1) Have Fun. This is the point after all.


Lastly, contribute your data to an open database. We need knowledge in order to conserve the worlds birds. There is valuable information stored away in all of your scouting and Big Day efforts. You’re essentially completing an intense census of a region – make it count.


Other tricks of the trade:

i) Rent. Always Rent! Always get complete, no questions asked, unlimited, full recovery, car blew up, was stolen by aliens, flew off a bridge, caught in a mudslide, fell in sinkhole, insurance!

ii) Start researching midnight coffee options early.

iii) You may not sleep the night before, but try.