The Challenge

We're competing to see who can find the most species of birds within walking/biking/canoeing distance of their home in 2011. The competitive part is fun, but is secondary to the goal of getting to know our local birds and their habitats better without burning fossil fuels. This is a self-propelled Big Green Birding Year! The following article from the Urban Ecology Center newsletter by our founding member Tim Vargo led to the craziness we like to call the Green Birding Challenge:

What Color is your Bird-watching?

Tim Vargo, Manager of Research and Citizen Science, Urban Ecology Center, Milwaukee

Many of us like to look at birds, in part, because of their striking colors. A cardinal in February brings a brilliant flash of red to a white landscape, while a male Wood Duck in breeding plumage looks as if he came straight from a color-by-number book. But my focus for this article isn’t on the color of birds, but of their watchers. Literally speaking, birders shouldn’t wear white or other brilliant colors that may scare away birds, but that’s for another day. Today, I’m going to focus on the figurative colors of birdwatchers and the impact of their actions.

The color green has come to symbolize nature and ecologically-sensitive issues (green products, green buildings, etc.). Birding would seem to be a “green” hobby - and often it is - but consider the following examples:

Many birders are “listers,” engaging in personal or competitive goals of maximizing the number of bird species on their life list (or state or county list). Joe Birder decides that he needs the Fluff-breasted Sneezlehort on his life list, so he gets on an airplane and flies many thousands of miles to East Sneezle Island, not considering the huge carbon footprint his actions entail. Or consider Sally Birder who just saw an Endangered Lesser-rumped Syrup-sipper at Riverside Park. She posts her sighting on the Internet and hundreds of people get in their cars to see this bird (again the carbon footprint), which then gets harassed day and night until it leaves.

Both Joe and Sally mean well, but they may want to look at a couple of resources that could help them understand the broader impacts of their actions. First, the American Birding Association put together a Birder’s Code of Ethics, which sets guideline to ensure bird safety and well-being. Second, there is a growing green-birding movement started by Sparroworks in Canada. Green or carbon-neutral birding focuses on lists generated by human power with the associated benefits of reducing greenhouse emissions, increasing exercise and coming to know and appreciate the birds in your own neighborhood.

So for 2010, I am going to create a BIGBY (Big Green Birding Year) list to see how long of a bird list I can generate from my home without using extra fossil fuels. Luckily, I just moved to the Washington Park area, which is an excellent spot for birds. I can also add to my list by biking to local green spaces including Riverside Park, and if it’s a work day, I will also get a dollar from our Eco-buck program. If you don’t know what Eco-bucks are, inquire at the Urban Ecology Center.

If you would like to join me in creating your own BIGBY list, please visit for guidelines. There are 3 categories: the walking BIGBY, the self-propelled BIGBY (add bikes, canoes, etc.) and the public transit BIGBY. If you’re up for a bit of healthy competition shoot me an e-mail, and I’ll accept a friendly wager involving baked goods or a canoe trip.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, birding is a 100 billion dollar industry with 50 million birders in the U.S. alone. If even a small percentage of them considered using more people power to get to the birds (or carpooling or public transit or fuel-efficient vehicles), the color of birding would turn a much deeper shade of green.

For more information on green birding contact Tim at x116.