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The Rise of Greenbirding

By Scott Smithson

Scott's post is a companion piece to his article in the July 2012 issue of Birding, The Green Big Days. 


BGY 1Thirty teams from 3 countries participated in the first international Green Big Day in 2011, and detailed reports of each effort can be found at

After the event, I asked these intrepid birders about their experiences through a short survey.  I was interested to learn about what motivates birders to compete, as well as investigate any impacts the event may have on their future birding habits.

Left:  Nick Moran & Chris Mills set the new UK record (144 spp) during the Green Big Day 2011.

Survey respondents were allowed to select as many choices as applicable. The most popular reason given for participation was to reduce one’s personal carbon footprint while birding.

GBY chart 1

The first Green Big Day event succeeded in encouraging local patch birding and carpooling for trips. I was especially delighted that 10% of birders who took the survey actually discovered a new birding spot near their homes! Nearly a third set new greenbirding records for their areas.

  GBY chart 2In 2012, the 2nd annual Green Big Day event was held from April 14 – May 31, with teams submitting records from the US, Australia, UK, Canada and Sri Lanka. There were 12 teams hiking or biking this year, and 90% of returning teams beat their own scores from 2011.

Based on some of last year’s feedback, I downplayed the competitive element this time around, but that didn’t stop some fierce competition from playing out in the counties of coastal California!

GBY 2Robert Furrow birded by bike in Santa Clara County, tallying 159 species on his best of two days in the field. This would have been enough for the highest score in 2011, but Josiah Clark and Steve Phillips answered back by logging an amazing 161 species by bike in Marin County, a new California record!

Right: Josiah Clark & Andy Kleinhesselink, 2008

For inland US states, the highest biking total was tallied by Andy Kleinhesselink, with 129 species in Cache County, Utah. By the way, Andy and Josiah did a Big Green Big Year, aka “BIGBY” in 2008, and their biking birding exploits are recorded at

Alex Rinkert and I surpassed the Santa Cruz County, CA biking record by recording 150 species, and a shaky video of our efforts can be seen here:


See below for all of the Green Big Day results from 2012, including a comparison of 2011/12 scores.


  • Canberra - Peter Christian: 62/68 spp walking
  • Palerang – Martin Butterfield: 43/44 spp biking


  • Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec – Baillie Birdathon Green Team: –/89 spp walking

 Sri Lanka

  • Colombo – Martin Butterfield: –/51 spp walking

 United Kingdom

  • East Lothian – Jim Nichols: 93/87 spp walking

United States


  • Marin – Josiah Clark & Steve Phillips: 145/161 spp biking
  • San Mateo – Mark Kudrav: 113/126 spp biking
  • Santa Barbara – Wim Van Dam & Jared Dawson: 112/123 spp biking
  • Santa Clara – Rob Furrow: 143/159 spp biking
  • Santa Cruz – Alex Rinkert & Scott Smithson: 130/150 spp biking


  • Washington – Paul Smithson: 44/57 spp walking


  • Florence – Kay & Bob Kavanaugh: 97/102 spp biking


  • Cache – Andrew Kleinhesselink: –/127 spp biking
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  • What a great idea! In addition to birding in a more sustainable, healthier manner than birding by car, those results show that you can see a heck of a lot of birds from a bicycle. The mountainous terrain and shoulder-less roads in Costa Rica present some serious challenges to birding by bike in that birdy place (my country of residence) but there are some places in the country where it can be easily and safely done and I look forward to doing it.

  • Ted Floyd

    “Learn more about local birds”–only 4 percent??


    On the one hand, that’s a pity.

    On the other hand, I sense great potential for greenbirding. Let me explain: Once folks figure out that greenbirding is a fantastic way to “learn more about local birds,” greenbirding will surely catch on, big time.

    Don Kroodsma has an interesting spin on this. He talks about his cross-country bird trip–and about all the fantastic stuff he learned by being outside for an entire summer.

    Also, some of the teen birders had a birding-while-running blog a while back. That was fun, although I’m not sure if that blog’s still being maintained.

    Bottom line: Reducing carbon footprints is great, and I’m fine with the competition, but the greatest thing of all about greenbirding, if you ask me, is the fun of learning so much more than if you’re in a car with the windows rolled up and the A/C on.

  • It’s important to note that the Green Big Day survey went out to birders who competed in the 2011 event, as opposed to a general birding audience who may have responded much differently. Richard Gregson, founder of the BIGBY concept (big green big years), is developing an online greenbirding community at that is more focused on the general idea of “patch working” and getting to know our local birds.

    I love Josiah Clark’s take on celebrating the diversity of our local patches in the spring: “What better way to usher out the wintering species and usher in the northbound migrants than to undertake a self-propelled migration of your own? For me, [the Green Big Day] ties together timely environmental and conservation issues, not just for birders but for everyone.”

  • I hesitate to lay claim to being the “founder of the BIGBY concept” as it was reading an email on BirdChat back around 2006 that sparked the idea (I long ago forgot who posted it) and got the original web-page up and running; but it is gratifying to see the slowly increasing interest that being a self-powered birder is gathering to itself. The fact that the idea is moving on from simply green listing (the Bigby and its friends) to include in-depth patch birding, local conservation measures, citizen science and so on plus the growing realisation that there are actually a lot of really nice birds within a very short distance of our homes that we too often pass by in our rush for something brighter and flashier and a long drive away.

    My thanks to Scott for picking up the idea and running with it.

    Any birders willing to give this a go might like to visit and leaving their names. No commitment, no fees, just adding your name to a growing list of people who think this is worthwhile and interesting and, human nature being what it is, the longer that list grows the more birders will turn their minds to this alternative way to go birding. Even if only part time – it all helps.

  • Awesome! I’ll be joining Andy on his next Cache County ride.

  • Andy Kleinhesselink

    Awesome post. Thanks to Scott for getting this organized. One correction to make. It says I had 129 in the text. Should be 127 spp.



  • Josiah Clark

    Its a great day when Green Birding gets covered by ABA!
    This is the first “new” thing that has happened to birding in decades in my view. Makes me hopeful that there will be some more young teams in the mix in years to come.

    Its tough to beat the habitat compression here in California- but beat it they did!
    For the record it appears the Anti-Petrels from Cornell have the all time US/Canada Carbon Free record with a 164 species big day in NJ. A tip of the visor to our formidable competitors across the country. And get ready, as Marin county will attempt to take the title back next year.

    As for the Carbon Free Big Year- Jim Royer of Morro Bay with 318 I believe holds that title from 2009. No small feat even in Cali.

    Following are some photos from the Marin 2012 effort with Steve Phillips and me.[email protected]/sets/72157629515260440/
    Finally since it came up, a high level of awareness for the local natural history and habitat is not just helpful to score heavily in a competition like this, it is a prerequisite!

  • What a cool initiative! We need to frame birding in order to help our enviroment and protect biodiversity. Birding for conservation (large scale proyects) i believe are the way to go.

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