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It's 11.58 pm, and the seconds are counting down as you bounce down a country road with a few friends, jammed into the back of a cramped car, racing to be at some marsh, field, or forest before the stroke of midnight. Piling out of the car as you reach your destination, the clock tolls the fateful hour. The game is afoot.

Walking a fine line between madness and brilliance, 'Big Days' or bird races are the essence of birding's competitive spirit distilled into 24 intense, frantic and thrilling hours. Months of planning, poring over spreadsheets and pen-marked maps, days or weeks spent scouting out the perfect route, driving practice runs while imbibing inhuman amounts of caffeine, and years of birding experience combine to find the right habitat for each target species. The aim is to see or hear as many bird species as possible in a single, super-efficient Big Day.

But why even do this? These friendly competitions are an incredibly powerful way to engage people around the world, both within the birding community and beyond. Across fields of study and walks of life, there is a strong human interest in setting records or being a part of something big. In addition to the inherent fun, such record-setting events provide an outlet to talk to non-birders about conservation issues, ecological concerns and all the things that make birds so interesting.

In Britain, the current one-day record for a single party of birders is 178. Last year's Global Big Day total in the country was 199, contributed by 98 different groups. The highest county totals were from Lincolnshire (122), Norfolk (116) and Essex (85). Can your sightings help beat any of those numbers this year? Will you be a part of the biggest day of birding in history?

A global effort

Cornell first tested the power of the Global Big Day in 2015 and last year's edition featured 17,200 eBirders who collectively recorded 6,330 species across 153 countries, providing 47,000 checklists of birds. This year, thousands of people from around the world will work together to make 13 May 2017 the biggest day of birding the world has ever seen. Can we reach 6,500 species this year? Or even 7,000? With your help, we can.

On 13 May, where will you be for the Global Big Day? For us as organisers, one of the most exciting aspects of the Global Big Day is seeing the varied ways that people join in the fun. There's something for everyone, whether it's meticulously planned 24-hour 'birdathons' logging hundreds of species, or a more sedate 10 minutes in the garden. No matter how you take part, every sighting makes a difference — even if you're only able to spend a few minutes on your journey to or from work, your contribution truly counts. Of course, if you have a chance to plan a more dedicated day of birding, what are you waiting for?

The Cornell Lab's own Team Sapsucker will be in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, bringing attention to the critical importance of the Yucatán region for bird conservation, an area that hosts an abundance of endemic species such as Yucatan Jay, as well as crucial habitat for migratory birds in their winter haunts.


Yucatan Jay (Luke Seitz)

Put your patch on the map

If you and a friend live in one county with a couple of other friends just across the border, how do you know whose county is better for birds? Obviously the answer is yours! And what better way to prove it than on the Global Big Day? How many species can you find? How many checklists of bird species can you contribute? Was your county represented at all last year? Find out at bit.ly/2nwqjyJ.

How about a local patch competition? Challenging a local bird club's members to see if they can collectively find and report more species than neighbouring clubs? Check out last year's results at www.ebird.org/globalbigday, and see if you are able to raise the bar in 2017.

Be part of it

So, how do you join in the fun? The first step is to go to www.ebird.org/globalbigday. Here you'll find information on how to take part, how to follow along with the rest of the world and how to have the most enjoyable Global Big Day efforts. Don't forget, all you have to do to be a part of birding's biggest day is to spend a few minutes outside in the garden or at a local patch. Every sighting counts.

Global Big Day is powered by eBird, a free worldwide online database of bird observations that is used for science, conservation and to keep track of bird sightings around the globe. So far more than 345,000 people have entered sightings in eBird from every country on earth, totalling 390 million bird observations and 98 per cent of all bird species. To be a part of the Global Big Day, you can enter your sightings using the free eBird Mobile app or online at www.ebird.org. We recommend using the app (see box below for links to download), since it allows you to track sightings in the field without even the need for mobile service.

Throughout the Global Big Day, sightings will be updated almost in real time on eBird, allowing you to follow what your friends are seeing as well as sightings from fellow eBirders around the world.

On 13 May, we have the opportunity as a global team to set a new standard for a single day of birding, both throughout Britain and across the entire world. We're excited to see what we can build together as a part of the Global Big Day 2017!

Get involved

Find out more: www.ebird.org/globalbigday

Twitter: follow @Team_eBird and don't forget to tweet your own sightings using the hashtag #GBD2017

Download the app:

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The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

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