Five Tips for Organizing Your (State) Big Year

A state big year can be a great, and exhausting, way to bond with your state's birds. At first, planning out a big year can feel overwhelming but with these five tips you'll be ready to add to your list in no time!

A state big year can be a great, and exhausting, way to bond with your state’s birds. At first, planning out a big year can feel overwhelming but with these five tips you’ll be ready to add to your list in no time!

One: Organize Your Big Year by Making Lists

In total, you’ll have six lists, or one list broken down in six ways. Read on!

Grab a pen and paper, or use a spreadsheet, and designate space for the following column headings: winter, spring, summer, fall, resident. Under each column, jot down all of the birds that you see without any effort. Once you’re finished with that list, start another list.

This second list will have the same column headings: winter, spring, summer, fall, resident. It will be different though because on this list you’re going to put down birds that are more difficult to see. Birds like rarer migrating warblers, unreliable birds (birds that you see every other year, but not yearly), and birds that are just tough to catch as they migrate through. In my state, good examples are Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Upland Sandpiper.

The third list is for birds that are more difficult to find. Not necessarily rare birds, but birds that you might need to travel long distances for. It’s important that you follow tip number two (utilize eBird) to alleviate the stress associated with scooping up these birds!

The fourth list a goodie list — a list of birds that you’ve never seen in the state.

The fifth list should include birds that only have a few state records, so MEGA rare birds.

The sixth list should be left blank. These are the birds that didn’t make it on your list because you never thought you’d see them. You will see these birds and when you do, add them to this list!

Next, it’s time to do your homework.

Two: Utilize eBird

Utilizing eBird will maximize your time in the field. eBird is an incredibly powerful tool that can give you anything from frequency and distribution charts for specific species, to directions to find those birds. If you’re planning to do a big year, you’re probably already familiar with eBird. If not, it’s time! Click here to learn all about eBird.

If you’re planning a big year, you should already be able to identify most birds on your list with ease, or at the very least be able to capture an image or audio for when you are having trouble IDing a bird. Be sure of your bird ID before you add a bird to your list — don’t guess. Otherwise, you’ll miss the magic of certainty.

Three: Join Facebook Groups for Your State

Find Facebook birding groups for your state. They are typically listed under the state with the added word “birding” or “notable”. You will also want to join the “ABA Rare Bird Alert” group. If you’re not on Facebook, it’s worth getting an account just for birds.

Joining these groups will help you meet other birders in your state and learn some details about a sighting that you might find interesting. These groups are good places to ask well-researched questions.

Four: Visit Your Local Bird Club

Your local bird club is a great place to network, meet other birders, make new friends, and learn the history of birding in your state/county. In addition to joining your local bird club, get involved. Go on field trips, lead bird walks, and give back when you can.

Five: Pay Attention

Even before your big year starts, you should always be on. What does that mean? It means never leave you bins behind and always pay attention to habitat. Birds happen, anywhere. A King Rail in a city parking lot — happened. A Purple Gallinule on a window ledge in D.C. — happened. A Snowy Owl on the roof of the Museum of Natural History — happened. A Northern Saw-whet Owl perched on a vacuum cleaner in someone’s garage — happened!

It’s up to you to organize and plan your big year, but more importantly, it’s up to you to keep your eyes (and ears) peeled! With these five tips you’ll get off to a great, and organized, start.

Bird on!

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