American Birding Podcast



2017 Big Years: A Roundup

While the 2017 Big Year landscape lacked the wall-to-wall excitement of the year before, with no less than four birders breaking the previous record, many birders in the United States and Canada set notable milestones in both the ABA Area as a whole and their own states and provinces. And while the continental Big Year is still the big enchilada for a lot of birders, there’s something to be said for the sort of sustained preparation, knowledge, and focus that is required for a smaller jurisdiction.

A big year can be a lot of things. It’s a number for sure, but it’s also a year’s worth of memories, of frustrations, of sunrises and sunsets, and of experiences. 365 days in which birds are the primary focus. It’s the knitting together of a whole community of birders who, intentionally and inadvertently, help out along the way. So congrats to all the birders who attempted a big year in 2017, with a particular hat tip to those who broke records.


In the ABA Area, at least five birders tackled full-on ABA Big Years, all of whom broke the 740 mark. In fact, nine of the twelve highest ABA Area totals have been achieved in the last two years (though undoubtedly the addition of Hawaii had something to do with that). Yve Morrell topped them all, with an impressive 813 (+4 provisional species), narrowly topping the Stoll brothers, Ruben and Victor, who each tallied 813 (+3). All three birders saw the Pennsylvania Black-backed Oriole, so the final totals will not be dependent on whether that individual is added to the ABA list.

Yve Morrell flanked by the Stoll brothers (w/ Debbie Shearwater) enjoy a trip offshore during their 2017 Big Years

In addition to Morrell and the Stolls, Gaylee and Richard Dean also posted impressive numbers this year, the former 745 (+2) and the latter 743 (+2).


Jeremy Bensette of Leamington, Ontario, set a new provincial record with 345 species (346 before sacrificing Thayer’s Gull to the taxonomy gods halfway through 2017). As is the custom with the modern big year, Jeremy documented his entire year on his blog and on eBird, and he is currently recounting some highlights from his year on the former.

You can find a roundup of his adventures at his blog Jeremy Birder.


Josh Fecteau of Kennebunkport, Maine, set a new state big year record for that state with an impressive 317. Maine had a nice run of rarities in 2017, including Fork-tailed and Vermilion Flycatchers and Fieldfare. His big year was not meticulously planned, at least not at first. Rather, it was the result of seeing two excellent birds early in the year, Pink-footed Goose and Great Gray Owl, and deciding to keep it up for the entire year. Josh also kept track of his year on his website, and includes a comprehensive list of what he found and how he found it.


Cleveland, Ohio, boasts a couple impressive birding feats in the past year. Dan Gesualdo of Cleveland set a new Ohio Big Year record with 324, and Jen Brumfield‘s Cuyahoga County record of 272 is worthy of note, particularly as that county is made up primarily of Cleveland city and exurbs (though it does have an impressive lakeshore, too).


Tucson, Arizona’s Chris McCreedy set a new record for Arizona with 429 species (435 total but not all ABA countable), particularly impressive when one considers how well-birded the state is. Highlights include White Wagtail, Common Crane, and Royal Tern, in addition to all of the spectacular birding that Arizona offers in any given year.


Congrats to the birders mentioned here! If there are any I missed, please let me know in the comments. You can find lots of lists from the ABA Area at the ABA’s Listing Central.