Many birders, myself included, like to keep lists of the birds we’ve seen. We refer to them as life lists, where you record each new bird species you observe in the field. There are a number of reasons why somebody would want to keep a list of bird species seen. I use eBird from the Cornell Lab to track my birding data. Personally, I like eBird because scientists use the data collected from around the world to track bird populations. The program also makes it easy for me to keep track of my observations. (I am notoriously bad at making lists of things I have to remember to do, but I’m great at keeping my life list. Go figure.)
The level of detail in which birders keep lists varies by individual. Variations of lists include state, country, location/park, county, yard, year…the list goes on. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist! I’m corny as heck lol). Some birders keep no lists at all. But then, there’s the extreme of all birding lists: the big list.
Big listers don’t want to just keep track of birds…they want all the birds. There are around to 10,000 bird species world wide, and big listers want as many of those birds on their list as humanly possible. These individuals will go at great lengths to add a bird to their checklist. Here a few of the most well known big listers.
- Jon Hornbuckle, a retired metallurgist originally from England, currently holds the record the most birds ever observed at 9,600 bird species. If you would like to learn about him you can check out his website, where he documents his bird trips, species lists, and photos. Jon Hornbuckle website
- Tom Gullick of England was the first person in the world to see over 9,000 birds species back in 2012 at the age of 81. His 9,000th bird was the Wallace’s fruit dove in Indonesia. He started birding in 1971 after he retired from being a navy officer and moved to Spain. One of his accomplishments was helping to discover the São Tomé grosbeak with a group of birds. It was thought that the grosbeak was extinct. He has since retired from big listing, and doesn’t want to try for 10,000. His current record is 9,096 bird species.
- Phoebe Snetsinger, an American birder, was the first person to observe over 8,000 bird species. Phoebe started birding when she observed her first Blackburian Warbler in 1961. She found out in 1981 at the age of 50 that she had a melanoma, which inspired her to start birding aggressively. By the time Phoebe died in Madagascar in 1999 (from a car accident, not cancer) she saw 8,398 species. Her memoir, Birding on Borrowed Time, was published posthumously in 2003.
- Arjan Dwarshuis is a Dutch birder who broke the world record for most birds seen in a calendar year in 2016 (referred to as a Big Year) with a total of 6,852 species. This total breaks the previous record that was set just the year before in 2015 of 6,042 species by Noah Strycker. While doing his Big Year, Arjan started raising money for BirdLife International’s “Birdlife Preventing Extinctions Programme”. His goal is to raise 100 thousand Euros for the program. You can find out more at his website: arjandwarshuis.com
Seeing a majority of the world’s bird species in a lifetime is an amazing and fascinating feat. It’s interesting to read about the people who dedicate their lives to finding and documenting birds. I don’t plan on becoming a Big Lister, but it’s exciting to know that there are so many possibilities out there in the world of birds. My current goal is to reach 200, but who knows where my birding adventures will take me! The sky’s the limit! 🙂
Do you keep a life list? What’s your current total? Tell me in the comments below!