It is a Big Year tradition to rank bird species by how difficult they will be to find during the Big Year. The American Birding Association has published bird finding codes for each species found in North America. To help me in my 2015 Backyard Big Year, I’ve created my own Backyard Listing Codes.
Code 1–Common Species Easy to find
Code 2–Should be findable with consistent effort
Code 3–Regular in area, but hard for yard, and possibly detectable by night flight call
Code 4–Scarce or rare in the county and very difficult to detect
Code 5–Vagrant, not regularly expected in county.
Examples of Code 1 birds are American Crow, Downy Woodpecker, and White-throated Sparrow. These are in my yard all the time and it would take something like a nuclear disaster to keep me from finding them in my yard.
Code 2 birds are tougher to find, but they are expected to pass through the yard regularly. These include birds like Osprey and Great Horned Owl. They will take work to find, but should be findable. Brown Creeper is the only Code 2 bird that I haven’t seen in the yard before 2015. Perhaps it is really a Code 3 bird!
Code 3 birds are where things start to get really dicey–they are found in the county each year, but might be very tough to find in the yard. Most waterfowl are going to be in this category for me, as well as birds like Cape May Warbler and Rusty Blackbird. Shorebirds and rails may be in this category as well, and will most likely only be detected as calling nocturnal migrants.
Code 4 birds are scarce or rare in the county in general. Some of these might actually be easier to detect as nocturnal migrants than by traditional birding strategies, so this will be fun to see how many can be found with solid year round effort. Grebes, additional owls, shorebirds, and other good local birds are in this category.
Code 5 birds are those that have only occurred a few times in the county, so they wouldn’t be expected at all in my yard. But one can dream! These include local rarities like Eared Grebe, Northern Gannet, Neotropic Cormorant. It’s a big list of birds that would make any local county birder salivate.
So how many of these birds are findable? Here’s the breakdown of the 311 Hunterdon County bird species recorded in eBird:
Code # Pre-2015 yard birds
1 49 49
2 40 39
3 73 54
4 92 11
5 57 2
Total 311 155
Here you can start to see the real challenge! There are fewer than 90 birds that can be fully expected to occur in the yard on a regular basis. If birders love to find rare birds, than this game is the ultimate challenge because it makes even common birds rare. In my case, even Rock Pigeon (Code 3) is a bird I will have to work hard for!
While I easily find over 200 bird species in the county in a year (240 in 2014), finding over 200 species in my yard would require me to see 111 Code 3 and 4 birds!
Let the Games Begin!