Chicago birders aim for national record on 'Global Big Day'

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Bob Dolgan was one of several hundred people in the Chicago area counting birds Saturday.

Global Big Day is a yearly bird watching event spearheaded by Cornell Lab Ornithology, to see who can spot and document the most bird species.

Birders submit their sightings through virtual checklists on eBird, the world's largest citizen-science project.

"It can be any bird, a sparrow, a robin in your backyard," said Dolgan of Nature Loves Chicago. "All that data gets added up and helps us better understand the bird populations worldwide and really gives an insight into how well birds are doing."

The Chicago region is vying for a new national record, all while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

"For recreational reasons, it's something for people to do that's positive that they can do from home and it's also meaningful in terms of science," said Dolgan.

New data shows there's been a 30% decline in bird populations since the 1970s.

However, there are about 350 documented species in Chicago alone, according to Dolgan.

"The birds have no sense that there's a pandemic going on and it's spring migration," said Dolgan.

Tens of millions of birds are coming through the area from as far as South America, heading north to the Arctic.

"They're going about their typical migration, and their typical nesting patterns are pretty much unchanged," Dolgan said.

There's been a surge of interest in birding since the pandemic, according to Dolgan.

"People are really noticing birds more, just as we are noticing so much about our local surroundings, not being able to go out and travel right now," said Dolgan.

Birders, however, are working around the fact that the lakefront is closed, especially since Montrose Point is a top five birding location in North America.

So people are getting creative, using their backyards and neighborhood, said Dolgan.

"You don't really need a whole lot of equipment to do it, your eyes and ears is all that you need and no sighting is too small to count," said Dolgan.
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