Fantasy Birding

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Ok, now I have heard it all. Fantasy birdwatching or Fantasy Birding. It’s a thing. I’m certainly behind that curve as I know nothing about fantasy football. Oh, I have a vague notion that one picks various football players from different teams and puts them together in some sort of all-star team. But that’s as far as my understanding goes. Can I comprehend fantasy birding? Maybe.

My understanding is that fantasy birders compete against each other to record the most species in North America. Like fantasy football, where the players don’t actually form a real team, you don’t have to see the bird yourself. You use eBird, a real-time, online checklist program. Started in in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides data for basic information on bird abundance and distribution. People from all over North America, and the world, send in their sightings electronically.

Instead of drafting and trading players, the main moves you make are in choosing a location to visit each day. So fantasy birding players select a location on a map and get credit for a bird if an actual birder spots a species within a 10 kilometer radius that day. The more you know about birds the more likely you will get credit for them. Weather forecasts and recent sightings will help you planning, and you get points for all birds observed and reported near your current location. You can get more information at the American Birding Association website.

I have mixed feelings about this. One way to look at fantasy birding is that it will get more people interested in birds. Or, will it take people away from the field and put them in front of a computer or iphone for even more hours per day? Will someone get hit by a bus because she’s checking to see if anyone spotted a Marbled Godwit at the place she chose that day? Or will more people get involved in eBird and get out into the field and collect real data? I dunno.

I always thought that whatever we could do to get people into nature, the better off we’d all be. But too often I am taken aback. Take the recent federal government shutdown. All kinds of cretins decided that, with no rangers to enforce the rules, it was fine to chop down trees, pick flowers, and ride their dirt bikes into protected areas. And I saw in the news yesterday that with a profusion of poppies in some areas of southern California, hordes of people traveled to see them. Among the hordes were a number of morons who thought it was appropriate to walk through the poppies, lie down in them, and take a selfie.

So maybe fantasy birding is a good thing for those people. Let them enjoy nature without trampling it. The best thing would be, I think, to structure the game so that participants actually learn something about birds and nature and how important it is to protect our ecosystems.

There’s a short article about why kinds need to spend time in nature that’s an interesting read. Fantasy birding can be fun, I suppose, but let’s save it for a rainy day.

3 thoughts on “Fantasy Birding”

  1. Susan L Sheppard

    I am a birder, and I regularly report my real bird sightings on eBird. I also recently began playing Fantasy Birding and participating in the Fantasy Birding group on Facebook. In response to your idea that maybe this game is keeping some morons from trampling nature, I would guess not. From my (admittedly limited) exposure to them, the people who are playing aren’t morons at all, but active, educated, engaged real-world birders who care about the environment, are out birding regularly themselves, and are also having some good clean fun playing a game that takes them, in virtual terms, all over the continent or the world. Fantasy Birding is a kick in the pants, and extremely educational – each bird is linked to a information about it’s appearance, habitat, behavior, breeding and migration info, and other facts of interest. It would be an excellent game for students, first for learning a great deal about birds, but also about geography and mapping, about the importance of habitat and biodiversity, and so on. Fantasy Birding is well worth a try, and more educational (and fun) than you might expect.

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