Am I failing miserably as a Birder?

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by DaleForbes on October 30, 2011 · 5 comments

in Birding Western Palearctic

Birdchaser Rob Fergus has just updated his thought-provoking Bird RDA and come up with the idea of a 20 Bird Minimum Daily Requirement. As Rob describes it, the new concept “more clearly states the purpose of the distinction–that birders need to see a minimum number of species each day in order to stay sharp.”

When I first read about the idea of a bird minimum daily requirement, I was struck by its simplicity and logic. As with many great theories and explanations, they kinda seem obvious when someone expresses them well: the information and ideas seem to be floating around in the ethers of my mind and then someone else, way brighter than I, crystallizes that out into something profound.

Now, since moving to the Alps, I have known that I do not see enough birds. In fact, my first year here in Tirol was an ornithological nightmare: Having grown up in South Africa, moving to the Alps from Central America felt like I had run into a bird drought zone. It was not just that the sheer abundance of birds was sooo far below anything else I had every experienced, it was also that the alpha diversity was just not that wowing. Now, over the years, I have gotten more and more excited about my humble little birding victories (like a Purple Heron on my local patch this May; and a Pallid Harrier in 2009; 4 Wallcreeper nests last year…). But I also know that a typical visit to my patch is unlikely to produce many more than 20 species of bird at this time of year. I still got excited through October as the Short-toed Treecreepers started to get vocal again (even though I hear them every day), and the sound of the robins and chaffinches calling outside my office window is always cool.

So after reading Rob and Gunnar’s posts on the 20 Bird Minimum Daily Requirement, I decided to test it out to see just how many I could manage in my regular day. I am not talking about days off where I have more time to dash off to my patch or to the local cliffs or fields; but how many birds could I pick up at this time of year following something of my daily routine.

Unfortunately, 20 birds a day is completely unrealistic for me.

So where does this put me now? In Rob’s original bird RDA post, he asks the question: “If you can’t get 20 species within a couple miles of your house, you might want to reconsider where you live!”

Well, that puts me in an even greater dilemma: I am here for a reason and it wasn’t because of the birds. Even though I am mildly obsessed with birds. But then again, if you have read this far then I can probably assume that you are also crazy/mad/bored/should be working/really like birds, so I am not alone in the world.

But it is exactly this dearth of regular contact with a variety of species that is making it hard to not get rusty. So, my new resolution is to aim for:

>10 Bird species per week day

>20 Bird species per weekend day or day off

Let’s see how that goes.

A big thanks to Rob for the inspiration!

Happy birding,

Dale Forbes




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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

AlexVargas October 30, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Imagine my numbers… I LIVE IN DOWNTOWN BANGKOK!  =(
… oh well… I can get nearly 50 on a weekend, though…


DaleForbes October 30, 2011 at 7:52 pm

You are just going to have to spend more time looking out the window for birds flying (swimming?) by through the streets!


Birdernaturalist October 30, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I might be able to get 20 a day here in Tucson, but I’ve been out birding only once, probably doing only 15 each day otherwise. Can I store up RDA’s? Like, if you live at Cristalino Jungle Lodge for 60 days and see at least 100 species every day, does that cover 300 days of the year? (I averaged 104.5 species a day for 68 days…)


DaleForbes October 30, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Mmm, interesting question. We know that the RDA for vitamin B12, for example, is about 2micrograms per day, but that the body is so good at recyclung it, that our stored B12 is sufficent to last for years. On the oter hand, our bodies evidently cannot store Vitamin C, which means that we canot survive very long without getting scurvy. Depending on the author or refeence, we can only survive between 4 & 12 weeks without vitamin C before scurvy starts to set in.

From my own personal experience, my health starts to dteriorate when I have to survive at less than 5spp per day for more than about 3 weeks, which suggests to me that birds are then closer to vitamin c than vitamin b12.

I suppose only your own experimental tests will be zble to show you how many birds you need per day to remain healthy and sharp 😉


Birdchaser October 31, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Good on ya!  Some areas are going to be more bird challenged than others.  And remember as Kenn Kaufman says, if you are enjoying yourself you are a good birder.  So just enjoy and get as much as you can.

As far as saving up, my solution was to say that no you couldn’t save up, but you could make up for a deficit the next day by getting twice as many birds as you missed.  (

But tailor to your own needs as appropriate 🙂


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