The eBird Global Big Day

the big birding effort on May 9 2020

Published in the East African Nation Magazine  23-29 May 2020

At the stroke of midnight on 9 May, more than 50,000 bird watchers from across the globe took to the outdoors for the next 24 hours to log in birds on their eBbird app, birds that were seen or just heard by them. An extraordinary turnout given that much of the world was under some form of lockdown!

Long-crested eagle at Lake Nakuru. Copyright Rupi Mangat


With millions of birders creating countless bird lists year in year out, some tech-savvy birders at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the United States thought that if all these lists were put on one platform that would not only transform birding but contribute to science thus opening the door to future bird conservation.

And hence the creation of eBird, a free online database of bird observations providing scientists and researchers from all over the world with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance that can be used to inform better conservation strategies.

Today thousands of birders are using eBird to create bird lists, to log in their sightings, photos and recordings of bird songs. The app is available in 30 languages and thanks to contributors around the world, there are more than 810 million observations of birds.

On this year’s Global eBird big day two million records of birds were collected.

eBird 2020

In Africa, Kenya topped the Global eBird Big Day with 83 checklists submitted by 60 teams made up of individuals or groups of less than five in these Coronavirus-pandemic days.

Worldwide, Kenya scored 11th position. Colombia topped worldwide with 1,445 species listed from 7,124 checklists submitted, followed by Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Bolivia and Panama.

“At 608 species our Kenya tally was 144 higher than last year and 117 more than our previous best tally,” states Pete Steward, a veteran birder with Nature Kenya, the country’s pioneering organization in natural history inaugurated in 1909. “We were miles ahead of South Africa (391 species from 197 lists) that have given us a run for our money in the past. We even beat India who submitted 2,647 lists, that’s 31 times as many lists as Kenya’s 83.

“Given that tens of thousands of birders in the Americas, Europe, India and Australia were participating, a lot of potential avi-tourists must have noticed how well Kenya performed whilst only submitting 83 lists. With better planning and no COVID restrictions next year, perhaps we can beat many more countries.”

The star solo performer in Kenya was Henry Ole Sanoe who clocked in 179 species at Lake Elmenteita and Soysambu Conservancy (which included 27 Rüppell’s Vultures feeding on an electrocuted giraffe carcass), with Tyler Davis logging in 175 species from Maasai Mara followed by Francis Cherutich with 150 species from Baringo. 

The most unusual bird sighted was the Sooty Shearwater spotted off Watamu headland by Raphaël Nussbaumer and Colin Jackson of A Rocha, a nature based organization in Watamu.

Sooty Shearwater. Courtesy Mike Baird from Morro Bay, USA

This sighting of the Sooty Shearwater will be submitted to the Rarities Committee of the Bird Committee of Nature Kenya and if accepted will be the second record for East Africa and the first live sighting ever. The first was a carcass the team found on the beach near A Rocha in Watamu in 2004. 

“North and South American birders submitted 87,993 lists compared to 83 from Kenya,” states an elated Steward. “Kenya was almost in the top 10 with 83 lists. People will surely notice that Kenya must be a brilliant place to go birding.”

That’s great for our avi-tourism.

World Bird Migratory Day sponsored by UNEP was celebrated on the same day as well to raise awareness about migratory birds, highlighting the need for international cooperation to save their migratory flyways.

In Kenya, there’s also the Kenya Bird Map <> and < > to track bird distribution and abundance and answer questions about birds.

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