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Birding at Walmart, or: Why I eBird Every Day

As of August 28, 2016, I had entered at least one complete eBird checklist per day for 3,528 consecutive days. I think that might be a record. Call me the Cal Ripken of eBirders. (And if you’ve bettered me, please tell us about it.)

Why? Part of it, no doubt, is the listing–OCD streak that runs strong in me and in so many other birders. But another part of it—a large and important part of it—for me is a form of self-discipline. eBirding once a day means I go birding at least once a day. Sure, there are the days on which I go all-out: Big Days and Big Nights, tours and field trips, CBCs and BBS routes, etc. But, honestly, there are more days, many more days, when I catch as catch can: at Rockies games, on airport layovers, and at my local patch of course.

The other day I found myself at a nearby Walmart. Honest, my objective there wasn’t to go shopping. Rather, I was passing by, en route to a local eBird hotspot, Prince Lake No. 2, good for shorebirds at this time of year. As I drove past Walmart, I noticed a flock of Rock Pigeons on the building and couldn’t stop myself. Pigeons are really quite beautiful, and endlessly varied. I had to take a closer look.

Rock Pigeons, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:06 am.

Plumage variation in Rock Pigeons, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:06 a.m.


There were European Starlings at the Walmart, too, stunning in their fresh new basic plumage.

European Starling, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:06 am.

European Starling in fresh basic plumage, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:17 a.m.


A flycatching form caught my eye: a pale Western Kingbird, a juvenile. In the same tree was a juvenile Eastern Kingbird, a neat juxtaposition.

Juvenile Western Kingbird, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:30 am.

Juvenile Western Kingbird, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:30 a.m.

Juvenile Eastern Kingbird, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:06 am.

Juvenile Eastern Kingbird, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:31 a.m.











The parking lot had a House Sparrow of course, and several House Finches. And mixed in with them was a Clay-colored Sparrow, my “FOS” (birderspeak for First of Season). The Clay-colored Sparrow is small and subtle, a birder’s bird. I would have overlooked it, for sure, had I not been impelled by eBird to linger for a bit in that Walmart parking lot.

Adult Clay-colored Sparrow, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:35 a.m.

Adult Clay-colored Sparrow, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:35 a.m.


I was in danger of not making it to Prince Lake No. 2 at all.

I heard an American Crow, and then two Blue Jays. Then I saw a stunning Common Raven and a flock of bewitching Black-billed Magpies. Ravens and magpies are Walmart trashbirds in Colorado, but that’s a problematic assessment. I’ll never forget my lifer Common Raven, way up in a misty mountaintop bog in the highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania; and my lifer Black-billed Magpie, out on the prairie of Montana, was a jump-for-joy moment. Ravens and magpies are classy birds, and there they were in the parking lot.

Adult Black-billed Magpie, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:46 a.m.

Adult Black-billed Magpie, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:46 a.m.


I looked at my phone and realized I’d birded the parking lot for a solid 40 minutes, an eBird area count, 2.2 hectares. I’d run out of time, and had to deal with a day of non-birding affairs. I wouldn’t be going to Prince Lake No. 2 today.

That’s okay. I’d gotten in my birding for the day. Yeah, I never made it out of the parking lot. But I’d seen a Clay-colored Sparrow and a Common Raven. I got nice comparative studies of two kingbird species perched practically side-by-side. In my studies of pigeons and starlings, I’d pondered molts and plumages. As I pulled open the car door to head back home, I stared south and could just make out the form of Pikes Peak, 100 miles to the south and one of the most beloved natural landmarks on the continent.

That’s more than okay. That’s marvelous. And that’s birding: the certainty, every day of our birding lives, that we will encounter beauty and wonder, everywhere we go.

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Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd

Editor, Birding magazine at American Birding Association
Ted Floyd is the Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives of the ABA. He is the author of more than 100 magazine and journal articles, and has written four recent books, including an ABA title, the ABA Guide to Birds of Colorado. Floyd is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and state ornithological society meetings, and he has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. Mainly, he listens to birds at night.
Ted Floyd

Latest posts by Ted Floyd (see all)

  • David Such

    Thanks, Ted, for continuing to be a champion of the ordinary and helping us to recognize that it would be a fabulous world even without any rarities.

  • Van Remsen

    This is good stuff, Ted, because, scientifically, eBird is heavily biased towards the “sweet spots” in the landscape, and eBird data thus drastically overestimate abundance and diversity of birds. Of course birders go birding where they know they’ll see the most birds and thus ignore the vast matrix of poorer habitat in which the sweet spots (often officially labeled “hotspots”) are buried. I try to force myself to add at least one short eBird list per trip in that neglected matrix. I even have a Walmart parking lot eBird list myself (from Sierra Vista AZ, also with Rock Pigeons) and several other parking lot lists as well. I even have a few “0 bird” lists, and I’m not talking problems with weather or traffic — just places so bleak that they don’t yield a single bird with honest effort of 5-10 mins.

  • Rick Hollis

    I think the variety at your Walmart parking lot, than mine. I will certainly pick up House Sparrows and E. Starlings, maybe Rock Pigeons. But unless I chose migration I would likely get less.

  • Kat Smith

    I love your attitude.

  • Judy Phoenix

    Ted, I just looked at bird and I rank at 25152 on the number of checklists I’ve submitted. I think I’ll adopt your plan. And btw, are you submitting anonymously because for the ABA area your 3528 checklists do not show up, or your name – maybe I’m doing this wrong because I’m still getting the hang of the basics…

    • Steve Holzman

      Ted is #1 in his county (for # of checklists)

      These lists only list the top 100, so for the ABA area you would have to hit 8054 (currently) to break into the top 100.

      • Judy Phoenix

        Today it’s clear as a bell – thanks!

        • Ted Floyd

          Way more than 3,528 checklists, by the way. That’s the number of consecutive days on which I’ve submitted at least 1 complete eBird checklist. On some days I submit just the one 1. Occasionally I submit 10-20. Usually closer to 1.

          As you say, I’m not in the Top 100 for species in the ABA Area. I’m not even in the Top 1,000… 🙁

          And that circles back to Van Remsen’s point. We tend to submit checklists with rarities and life birds and such, with the result that “eBird data thus drastically overestimate abundance and diversity of birds.”

          In eBird’s defense, I note that eBird does routinely encourage the submission of lists from yards, local patches, and other “not” spots. But resistance is strong. A while back I got my wrists slapped for “polluting” eBird with reports of non-rarities; clearly, someone hadn’t gotten the memo… 🙂

          • Ted Floyd

            To be clear, eBird didn’t slap my wrists. I mean, my birding pals collectively slapped my wrists.

  • Mel Goff

    Hi, Ted. Some of the best looks at parrots and parakeets have been in commercial parking lots in Puerto Rico, Florida, and Costa Rica. We even picked up a Double-striped Thick-knee in a restaurant parking lot in Cartagena, Colombia. I’m an Eagle Scout – Be Prepared!

  • CommonSense

    I bird my backyard more than any other place, easy to do when I eat breakfast on the deck every morning possible. It’s quite a birdy place, even before I put up 14 feeders 😉 It allows me greater in depth study of behaviors and patterns you just don’t see walking through a hotspot. For example, I recently put up a peanut feeder, hoping to see Scrub Jays more frequently (I’m a bit east (7 miles east of Golden) of their usual habitat so it still amazes me that they found my yard!). The Scrub Jays are quite bold and will fly right to the feeder, stopping once or twice to perch first, and yes, I have more of them now. In a quite different pattern, the Blue Jays are much more skittish, preferring the ground feeders (or dropped peanuts) to the hanging feeder. If there’s any disturbance whatsoever, they will fly off empty-handed. They tend to grab a peanut and go, while the Scrub Jays will stay and pick through them until they find the perfect peanut. I also learned that Red-winged Blackbirds like whole peanuts as well, but will stay on the feeder and crack them open instead of flying off with them like the Jays do. I have a female Red-breasted Nuthatch that has made my yard her home, also unusual for suburban Arvada!

    I’m happy to hear of someone else who appreciates the non-rarity. I’m photo happy (Thank God for digital!) and my lists are full of photos of House Finches, House Sparrows, American Robins, Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-capped Chickadees, Black-billed Magpies, both types of Goldfinches and other birds many birders seem to dismiss, other than a check mark in eBird. I love them all in all their beauty and variety!!

    BTW, your Colorado field guide is my go to book. I’ve only been birding formally for about a year and it’s already coming apart.

  • Robin Irizarry

    Great article! I’m a parking lot/urban birder too and love keeping tabs on what’s hanging out away from the hotspots. I had the chance to point out a pair of bald eagles to a friend (lifer bird for him growing up in Philadelphia) as they were soaring over a Walmart parking lot in North Philly in March. That’s how you get new people hooked on this game.

  • Whenever I remember to do so, I eBird my walk to work (and back) through Schenley Park here in Pittsburgh. I’ve set an arbitrary goal of 10 species per trip, so it gets me looking for European Starlings, Rock Pigeons, and House Sparrows. Most times I don’t make it to 10, and so I find myself searching the skies for a flock of pigeons, or listening for House Sparrows as I pass Phipps Conservatory.

    I read that back in 1918 when George Miksch Sutton worked at the Carnegie, he would often walk through Schenley Park, unimpressed with the local bird offerings, until he found a pair of Horned Larks at the Schenley Oval racetrack. The pair gave him the only solace that there was still some “wild” left in the city. I wonder what he’d think of the place today, with 144 species (according to eBird) and the songs of Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak common throughout the summer!

    • Ted Floyd

      eBird lists 165 species for rival Frick Park. But eBird also lists 182 species for Duck Hollow, considered by many–notably Jack Solomon–to be part of “Greater Frick.” So I imagine the Frick Park eBird lists, altogether, exceeds 200.

      • Ted Floyd

        By the way, I’d wager a healthy sum that G. M. Sutton’s Schenley Park Horned Larks don’t make it on the eBird list for that site.


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