September 26, 2017

Birds unite people across the globe

No two places have the same birds and that, partly, is the magic of birdwatching. Travel short distances and the birds change, as do the people who watch and study them. Birds are not merely inspiring creatures, filling us with wonder and awe as we observe them in our gardens or contemplate their remarkable trans-continental journeys. Their global presence gives birds the power to unite people across the globe in appreciation of their beauty. They bring birders together across cultures, languages, and international borders. 

The worldwide interest in birds is now celebrated by an event called the Global Big Bird Day in which teams of birders across six continents compete over 24 hours to see who can see the most species

On May 13 this year, almost 20,000 birders from 150 countries around the world joined together as a global team, contributing more than 50,000 checklists containing 6564 species—more than 60 per cent of the world’s birds. This is a new record for the number of bird species reported in a single day from the time the competition was started three years ago.

Four countries topped 1000 species for the tally: Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. In past years Brazil and Peru had always vied for the Number 1 slot but in 2017 there was a new champion: Colombia.

With 1486 species on a single day, the organisation of the Colombia team was impressive, reporting almost 2500 complete checklists—and close to 15 per cent of the world’s birds. Peru (1338 species), Ecuador (1259), and Brazil (1079) were not far behind.

The contest is skewed, of course, because some countries have more species than others, but it is also possible to give countries ratings on the percentage of birds they found out of their national total.

On this score, Australia fared well. This year’s 487 species – out of a national total of about 900 – came from about 350 people, covering all states from Tasmania to the Top End. Tasmania – with just 350 species – was never in the running for the top score within Australia. This was achieved in Queensland where 144 species were tallied on the day but Tasmania stood out in the tally – more endemic species recorded than anywhere else.

What it lacks in number Tasmania makes up with its 12 species found nowhere else on earth – plus the critically endangered, migratory orange-bellied and swift parrots – and these are attracting increasing numbers of both mainland and international birders to these shores.

The hobby of birdwatching is booming worldwide and with it an associated spending on equipment and travel. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 46 million American birdwatchers, putting US$46m into the economy, including on travel. A Caribbean Tourism Organisation survey estimates at least three million tourists travelling the globe have birds in their sights, and West Indian nations are mounting campaigns to attract them to their islands.

The Global Big Bird Day plugs into this growing interest in birdwatching and countries and states with unique birds, like Tasmania, are in a perfect position to obtain a slice of the birding pie.

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