January 04, 2022
While compiling my bird list for 2021 I came across another way for birders to track the birds they have identified called a life list. A life list is a cumulative record of the bird species an individual birder successfully identifies, and keeping a list is the easiest way to track which birds you have seen. Birders often keep life lists for other reasons as well. Some are motivated to see a greater number of species than just the same species annually. Others keep the life list as a source of prestige that comes from having higher count numbers than another birder. A life list can even be submitted to some birding organizations for recognition or for contest purposes. For most birders, it is just fun way to list the number of bird species you have seen throughout your life.
Like the big year, a life list has guidelines, but since it is your list, you can record species any way you want. Casual birders may record every species they see no matter what the circumstances of the sighting. This could include an aviary or birds in a zoo as well as wild birds. For an “official” life list to be accepted by most dedicated birders and birding organizations, birders need to follow certain guidelines. First, the species should be positively identified through field markings or sounds. Second, it should be ethically Observed. That means no laws were broken and the bird was not harmed or harassed. Third, the bird must be alive (and no eggs). Fourth, the bird must be observed in the wild and behaving as a wild bird would act, and not as zoo or domesticated fowl would act. Finally, the bird must be free rather than captive or restrained. While I understand identification by bird call, it seems odd to “officially” count a bird you never see.
There are also guidelines for what birds cannot be added to your life list. These include birds that are just different color morphs of the same species or different genders of the same bird. Hybrids of different species or subspecies of a bird are not acceptable. Lastly, birds identified by a band or other mark rather than through field sightings or sounds are not eligible. For most birders, neither the big year nor the life list is a competition. Instead, it is an enjoyable way to keep track of sightings and share and compare your lists with other birders and others. All that said, my life list stands at 62 recorded species. Obviously, the peacock is not included.
Thoughts: It seems every time I hear the phrase, “It is not a competition”, it is uttered by someone who would be losing if it were. While it is true that most of life is not a competition, it can be fun to make a competition out of many tasks. When Melissa and I fish we always track the number of fish caught by each of us. While I rarely win the “numbers” category, I often do “win” the biggest fish. That is due to the different fishing techniques we use (Melissa tends to use live bait while I tend to use flies or stink bait). When I checked the Worldometer list for the current number of covid cases in the world, I found that as of this morning we are at 293,264,764 cases with 5,468,191 deaths. The US leads the world with 57,131,187 cases and 848,885 deaths. It is a good thing it is not a competition. We would not know whether we were winning or losing. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.