“The Big Year” & “Birding the Net”

Bird-watching or “birding” as it’s properly known gets the big screen treatment in “The Big Year” which opened in theaters this past weekend.

The movie stars Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson as a trio of bird-watchers who compete to outdo each other. (Credit: empiremovies.com)

With more than 40 million bird enthusiasts in the United States, The Big Year would seem to have a ready-made audience. It’s not often that birders get to see their species portrayed by Hollywood. This is not a documentary or a PBS special, however.

It’s a buddy comedy about three crazy guys each facing unique personal and professional challenges trying to outdo each other in the ultimate North American birding competition. If you keep that in mind, everything else should be fine.

It stars Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black as birding rivals who each chase the world record for identifying the most birds in North America in a single year in 1998. Each decides to take an entire year to witness as many varieties of birds across America as humanly possible, known in the birding world as The Big Year. It’s based on Mark Obmascik’s 2004 best-selling nonfiction book, “The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession,” about a similar contest among three real-life birders.

In 1998, unusual weather patterns generated by El Nino forced some species of migrating Asian birds to take refuge in such places as Attu, a remote island in Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain. Birders with the time, the money, and the obsession could hop a plane—usually more than one—to add these stranded travelers to their “life lists.”

The film gives a glimpse into the seriously-competitive world of birding. (Credit: empiremovies.com)

Usually, though, birding is a low-key sport that’s within the means of anyone with a reliable field guide and a good set of binoculars. Some might sketch the bird and enjoy its beauty, while “twitchers” simply check the species off their list and move on.

Audubon Releases Virtual Birds

Meanwhile, the folks at Audubon have launched an Internet campaign to take advantage of the attention the movie is expected to bring to birding.

Bird watchers hit the Internet in a big way last week as Audubon launched its groundbreaking social media campaign, “Birding the Net.” Visitors to over 100 websites—including AOL, Slate, and Discovery Channel—are encountering unexpected avian visitors. Timed to build on the release of The Big Year movie, the campaign, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, brings the excitement of birds and birding to a broad new audience in a new and unexpected way.

“This is about fun—but it’s also about getting more people involved in taking action to protect birds and the planet we share with them,” said David Yarnold, President & CEO of Audubon. And with this unprecedented use of social media and the web, we’re also making it clear that this is not your grandmother’s Audubon.”

Animated birds are flapping across nearly 100 websites, including AOL, Discovery, and Slate. (Credit: adweek.com)

In The Big Year, characters compete to see the most North American birds in one year. Birding the Net brings to the Internet the thrill of the chase found in real-world birding, challenging players to spot dozens of species released October 10 through November 7. Web surfers can observe virtual birds doing the same things that birds do outdoors: animations of birds fly across homepages, perch on mastheads, and flock to birdhouses that anyone can install on personal websites and blogs. Clicking on the animated birds takes players to an Audubon Facebook page to collect and trade “bird cards” which feature recordings of birdsongs, bird facts, and video. The first players to collect all the birds will win prizes, including a Lindblad Expeditions cruise among the Galapagos Islands.

All that is required to play is to visit Audubon on Facebook.

The game will go viral, since trading bird cards helps a player’s chances of winning; the more Facebook friends that compete in Birding the Net, the more opportunities for trading birds. And for exclusive hints on where to find birds on the Internet, Audubon followers on Twitter (@AudubonSociety) can interact and follow campaign “spokesbirds” @FloridaScrubJay and @RufHummingbird.

In addition to the grand prize voyage for two to the Galapagos, prizes include Canon cameras, Nikon binoculars, gift cards to Woolrich, and downloads of the Audubon Birds–A Field Guide to North American Birds mobile app from Green Mountain Digital. All 200 winners also receive one-year membership to Audubon.

Worth Pondering…

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

—Chinese Proverb

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