Big Years: Beyond Birds and Butterflies

Among birders, the terms Big Day and Big Year are well known. A Big Day, to a birder, is a day spent visiting many different habitats to try to see as many species of birds as possible. The Big Year is the same idea on a longer timeline – travelling over the course of a year to see as many bird species as possible.

Robert Pyle took the Big Year concept and applied it to butterflies, as documented in Mariposa Road.

It occurs to me that this concept could be easily applied to other groups of organisms. Trees, for instance. There are enough tree species in (say) North America to make seeing them all a challenge, yet few enough to make it within the realm of possibility. A tree Big Year is conceivable: traveling to many different regions and habitats in an attempt to check off as many tree species as possible. Some tree taxa are famous enough that even casual nature travelers go to visit them – Coast Redwoods and Giant Sequioas. But it takes a more dedicated tree lover to travel far looking for, say, a Knowlton Hophornbeam or a Fraser Fir.

So how 'bout it? Who here has done (or would like to do) a Big Day, or a Big Year, for something other than birds or butterflies?


I immediately thought about moths. Big year of moths. Just travel the world just for moths. Moths galore. I guess the hard part would be ID’ing them, especially the micros.


Someone I know mainly as a birder did an ‘orthopterological big year’ in 2022 within his city’s borders. Located in the north of Germany, his approach would rather be a ‘big season’ - as some winter and spring months could readily be skipped.

While the number of available target species has been quite limited, Grasshoppers and allies are probably the closest group to birds (not taxonomically of course, but they sing, they fly, their diversity is not exorbitant).

And on the German birder platform, mammals are now also listed, so maybe someone made that approach as well

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The thing about this is, it’s often hard to seek out a particular butterfly or snake or arthropod species. I speak as a birder in Hong Kong.

With birds, somebody doing a diligent big year in Hong Kong can expect to spot every regularly occurring species with at most a handful of exceptions. Add to that extra rarities to boot.

In the case of butterflies that are scarce residents (i.e. not common but not rare either) I simply don’t know how anybody would reliably find most of them in the span of a year.

A species of lizard called the Chinese Ateuchosaurus has been a curiosity to me for some time. I don’t think it’s possible to twitch one, however, or even for the hardest-working birder to chance upon one with any regularity (once per decade would be a very optimistic estimate).

The best I can do, I think, is to tick such wildlife unexpectedly as I go along.


Why not just count any form of life? Pure number of species you saw in a year is the easiest Big Year imo.


It’s easy enough on iNat to figure out who has observed the most species overall, but is there a way to figure out who has seen the most in a year? It could be done manually, I suppose, and iNat hasn’t been around so long that the task wouldn’t be incredibly tedious, but is there a fast and easy way, I wonder? Sure, just heck the people page, though doing it through the explore page is easy enough too.

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So, here’s the breakdown for 2022: Looks like @silversea_starsong observed the most species with almost 6,600. There’s a record to beat! But I think @jasonhernandez74 was asking about targeting specific taxa, say, all the mosses in New England or all the lizards in Africa.

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Big Years are likely less frequent, but I think Big Days for other taxa happen all the time. They are just advertised as a bioblitz instead of a big day. I’ve done “big days” for herpetofauna before.


Funnily enough, I didn’t even plan on 2022 being a “big year”. I neglected a lot of common species I have posted many times and so that total certainly could have been a lot higher, and even more-so if I did more trips to other states or internationally.

It would be a huge ordeal and expensive but I am certain it would be humanly possible to get 10,000 or higher in one year.


Even without the missed species you’re one of the pillars of our community.


This is what I do! I’m only really interested in animals, so I just list those (no plants, fungi, etc).

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