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More than 38,000 birdwatchers around the world took part in the first Global Bird Weekend in October. It has been dubbed ‘The Biggest Birdwatching Event in History’. And it is considered to be one of the greatest citizen science projects ever undertaken.

The many birdwatchers taking part over the weekend came from 169 countries and from every continent. Together, on the Saturday of the event, they recorded over 7,000 bird species on ebird.org, the bird recording website managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US.  Numbers that are still coming in.

This far exceeded the previous world record of 7,060 species seen in a single day in May 2018. Then, when Sunday’s sightings were added, the birdwatchers smashed their own so recently set record by clocking up 7,276 species! And the results are still being updated now as the last few sightings come in from the far reaches of the world and are recorded on eBird.

How the World Records were set

On the Saturday 32,282 birdwatchers took part and on the Sunday the number was 30,954. From every continent – North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia and Antarctica – birds seen were filed on ebird.org. Participants could see the stats racking up in real time on the Global Bird Weekend‘s social media channels.

Global Bird Weekend Results - 29th October 2020

Results: as at 29th October 2020

The first checklist was submitted by Dominik Maximillian Ramik from Vanuatu in the South Pacific, who recorded a Pacific Golden Plover and a Barn Owl. As birdwatchers in each time zone woke up and got out in the field the sightings quickly multiplied. The final birds to make it to Saturday’s list were White Terns and Tristam’s Storm-Petrels spotted on Midway Atoll in the Hawaiian Archipelago.

Visuals were also uploaded to ebird.org and the Macauley Library, part of Cornell University in the US. Altogether, 50,383 photographs of birds were submitted and 1,101 audio recordings.

Global Bird Weekend was the brainchild of Tim Appleton MBE, the co-founder of the UK’s hugely successful annual Birdfair, the world’s largest wildlife event. In early 2016 he helped launch the Blue Sky Wildlife business as part of the team.

His motives before the Global Bird Weekend had taken place were simple: “While we have all suffered in some way as a result of the horrendous coronavirus pandemic, at least one good story should come out of it,” he said.

Global Bird Weekend’s contribution to science

The contribution the weekend has brought to science was a welcome bonus. “Being able to unite a worldwide community for Global Bird Weekend by asking them to ‘Go Birding Together for Conservation’ went beyond my wildest dreams and has already produced significant scientific data and inspired new networks of communication,” Tim said.

As part of their commitment to taking part participants also bought into to the Global Bird Weekend‘s particular conservation focus of contributing to BirdLife International’s campaign to Stop the Illegal Bird Trade. They donated much-needed funds to help the charity’s work on the ground to bring to an end the capture and sale of wild birds, particularly in Asia.

Luis Uruena, Manakin Nature Tours 

Apart from the money raised and the contribution to science, what makes this record-breaking achievement all the greater is that it was conducted under the restricting circumstances of a global pandemic. In the uncertain times of 2020, local wildlife guides have struggled to earn a living. Their skills were undoubtedly valued by participants in this year’s Global Bird Weekend and future holidays may well be planned to meet them in person.

Two of Blue Sky Wildlife’s clients had teams out in the field over the weekend. All India Birding Tours recorded 408 species in their days out, and Manakin Nature Tours clocked up 392.  For anyone planning for the post-pandemic world, many locally guided wildlife holidays in global birding hotspots can be seen on blueskywildlife.com.

As Tim hoped, this mass birdwatching event did, indeed, have far-reaching positive benefits and will continue to do so.  “People have become more aware and engaged with their local surroundings and nature and the first Global Bird Weekend proved that,” he said.

Partners in Conservation

In 2020 the Global Bird Weekend conservation cause was BirdLife International’s Stop the Illegal Bird Trade. It was felt to be a particularly relevant project in the pandemic year as there are many indications that Covid-19 is linked to the unlawful trade in wild animals. Those registering to take part were encouraged to make a donation – be it large or small – to help stop this horrendous trade and contributions are still welcome.

This year Tim Appleton also worked in association with binocular and telescope manufacturer, Swarovski Optik, and eBird. His aim was to continue the work he started with Birdfair and support globally important conservation projects alongside BirdLife International.

Commenting on the importance of the donations people made, Tim said: “My hope is to reverse alarming statistics such as the one I learnt the other day: that there are more birds in cages in Java than there are in their natural environment.”

stop illegal bird trade conservation project

What will happen at the next Global Bird Weekend in 2021?

Before the 2020 event Tim said: “Over Global Bird Weekend, I hope Global Birding will set a number of world records – the greatest number of species recorded and the largest number of people bird watching at a single event. It is quite possible that as many as 6000 species will be recorded by as many as 20,000 birdwatchers, but the numbers might be even better!”

As we can see from the results, Tim’s dreams more than came true! And the amounts donated to BirdLife International’s Stop the Illegal Bird Trade also far exceeded the expectation of the £20,000 target, with donations still rolling in.

As this year, the primary focus of the 2021 event will be for birders to record the species they see and submit their lists to ebird.org, raising awareness and donations for conservation along the way. Just like this year, everyone will be encouraged to photograph, video, record or sketch birds in the field which can then be posted on social media.

global birding event

The official website of the Global Bird Weekend is there year-round to encourage people all over the world to spend time watching, recording and photographing their local birdlife, which can then be posted on social media, uniting everyone in the pleasure of watching birds.

Commercial companies such as Swarovski, Zeiss and Rockjumper Birding Tours as well as NGOs such as the BTO and smaller, independent companies lent their support this year by registering global birding teams to record their sightings and raise money for Birdlife International. Even more teams and sponsors will be welcome to enter in 2021.

After the success of this year there’s no doubt it will continue to inspire birdwatchers everywhere well into the future.

How you can join in 2021

Keep an eye out on globalbirding.org for updates and dates for next year. Follow-ups from this year’s event will be posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and you can email the organisers at info@globalbirding.org

Like this year, it’s hoped that every person who registers on globalbirding.org for 2021 will be entered into a prize draw. Details of the fabulous prizes will follow the launch of next year’s event.

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