CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – Naturalists estimate more than a thousand people are participating in “Our Big Year” at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Cape Girardeau Nature Center. Participants pick up booklets at the center that help identify and keep track of the various bird species they’ve seen. They watch birds throughout their normal daily activities and attend special events at the center to learn more about birds. A big year is an informal competition among birders to see who can identify by sight or sound the largest number of species of birds within a single calendar year.
According to Jordanya Brostoski, MDC naturalist, not everyone participating in the big year is reporting their numbers back to the nature center, but the highest number of bird species seen by one person and reported to the center so far is 248.
“I’ve found it incredible when a family picks up one of our bird books despite not being that into birds and then they come back with thirty birds on their list and they’re happily obsessed,” Brostoski said. “It’s neat to see the family working together and trying to find these birds they’ve never thought about before.”
Brostoski said before the big year she wasn’t a very good birder, despite being a naturalist. Every naturalist has specific skill sets and birding wasn’t on her list, until now.
“Now I thoroughly enjoy watching them and have seen my skill improve by leaps and bounds,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot just by paying more attention to birds. I’ve seen interesting behavior and heard sounds I would have never expected. It’s been a real treat.”
Local celebrity Kirby Ray, host of Mississippi Radio’s Real Rock 99.3, is participating in the big year and recently emailed photos to nature center staff of his most recent sightings. He said he’s especially enjoyed watching woodpeckers.
“I’ve always been someone who enjoyed nature and animals,” Ray said. “Taking notice of the many species of birds has been educational and fun. Any chance to go in the woods and I’m all over it.”
He also noted that spending time in nature helps him relax.
“It helps me clear my mind and reconnect with our planet and my real self,” he said. “I’m appreciative of Cape Nature Center and the staff who have helped me learn more about our birds.”
Jamie Koehler, MDC nature center assistant manager, said many people have asked for the coordinating stickers for their booklets, showing the staff photos and asking for help in identifying various birds they’ve seen.
“I’ve been amazed how many various bird species there are and how consuming birding can be,” she said. “I am a plant person. I will brake to look at a flower. But now I can’t drive by a bird on a wire without looking to see what it is.”
Koehler said she’s learned many new bird calls and songs.
“In the past, one of the best parts of nature for me was the silence, now I realize there is no silence,” she said. “There always seems to be a bird calling that I need to figure out.”
Brostoski and Koehler both said it’s not too late for people to participate in Our Big Year. Upcoming events include:
“We hope people will join us at the nature center and simply look around and observe birds throughout the normal daily routine,” Koehler said. “Birding, just like many other outdoor activities, helps reduce stress and helps people care more about nature.”
For information on these and other programs at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center, go online to www.mdc.mo.gov/CapeNatureCenter.