Birds, Birders, and Birding in The Big Year: What We Noticed

By Hugh Powell
October 18, 2011
great gray owl by ron kube Great Gray Owl by Ron Kube via Birdshare.

After watching The Big Year on Friday, our group convened to hash out what we thought. We liked the movie a lot, but as we talked about nitpicky details and larger themes, the reactions were wide-ranging. Among our group was one person with a life list over 3,000 species, several more experts, some casual birders, an ornithologist who doesn’t watch birds as a hobby, and a few people who work at the Lab but don’t really do any birding at all. These are some of the points we pulled out of the movie; we’d love to hear your own thoughts in the comments.

1. Despite the cutthroat competition on display, the bedrock of this movie is the inherent decency of birding. When was the last time you saw a movie about world supremacy where the dirtiest tricks involve fish chum and a little misdirection at a ferry terminal? The closest thing The Big Year has to a villain is Kenny Bostick, and even he refuses to count a Flammulated Owl after hearing a single unsatisfying hoot. Whenever people first hear of competitive birding, the hardest thing for them to believe is the honor system. But it works.

2. The movie takes care to provide details from the real birding world. Brad has a picture of a King Eider in his cubicle, and his Orioles sweatshirt matches a Baltimore Oriole poster on his wall at home. A photo of Crested Auklets adorns one wall in Bostick’s home. Stu’s corporate office has a fancy angle-eyepiece spotting scope pointed out the window. On Attu, one birder is doing the dishes with a National Geographic field guide stuffed in the back of his pants—the time-tested way to carry a field guide that’s too big for a pocket. The rich guys—Stu and Bostick—are sporting $2,000 binoculars while Brad, who’s on a budget, has a more affordable pair. The list goes on and on—please add your own favorite sightings in the comments.

3. Look for a few well-placed nods to birding legends. Anjelica Huston’s character, Annie Auklet, is modeled on veteran pelagic-trip leader Debi Shearwater. Bostick starts his Big Year in Phoebe’s Diner—an homage to the true greatest lister of all time, Phoebe Snetsinger, who died in 1999 with more than 8,000 birds on her life list. Brad finally starts to get somewhere with Ellie when he identifies her imitation of an Audubon’s Oriole. This is either a tip of the hat to John James Audubon or a bit of product placement for the National Audubon Society, or both.

4. We give most of a thumbs-up to the film’s portrayal of the enjoyment of birding. This is a tough one: Big Years are grueling (as real-life Big Year champ Sandy Komito describes in this interview) and the movie, like the book, has little choice but to race along. It does slow down for some choice scenery—birding by bicycle across Attu Island; standing in a golden sunset in South Florida; watching Bald Eagles tangle in the sky; coming upon a surprise rarity in the wet woods of the Northwest. Even an instrumental piano version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” crops up in just the right place. On the other hand, although the CGI closeups of a few birds were delightfully detailed—Xantus’ Hummingbird’s eyestripe and gorget; Great Gray Owl’s “bow tie”—their movements were just unreal enough to jar me out of the scene. It seemed a pity that at the very moments when birds struck wonder in the characters, the audience was looking at something digital.

5. The movie gets major points for having so few outright errors, but there are occasional inaccuracies that our crowd gleefully pounced on. Eyebrows all over the theater raised at the thought of a Pink-footed Goose bathing in an alpine hot spring. Few of us believed that a Snowy Owl could really elude Bostick for so long, although this species really was Greg Miller’s nemesis bird in the book. Nevertheless, Snowy Owls are one of the few diurnal owls, and we thought Owen Wilson would’ve had better luck looking for them in the daytime. A molting American Goldfinch makes for a great moment with Stu and his grandson, but if you ask our own David Bonter, who leads Project FeederWatch, it was far too late in the season for that bird to be wearing anything but full summer yellow. We all loved the device of handwritten bird sightings appearing as the camera panned across Attu, although we doubted whether the birders had really come all that way to tick a Semipalmated Plover or Northern Shoveler. On High Island, Stu and Brad see an Indigo Bunting moments before Bostick calls out a Blue Grosbeak. As with a real birding trip, it’s possible he was looking at a grosbeak while the rest of us were watching the bunting, but it still made us wonder. And in the flipbook of bird photos during the credits, did anyone notice a nighthawk in with the hawks? A couple of waterthrushes in with the thrushes? And there were more—send us your own favorites in the comments.

6. We would’ve loved to see the stars actually move like birders. Actors prepare for other parts by taking ballet lessons, honing accents, practicing kung fu—even learning to write convincing calculus on a chalkboard. So I wish these actors could have captured some of the movements that all birders learn: we stop walking before we start looking through our binoculars; we hold our arms beneath our binoculars, supporting them, instead of elbows outspread; our upper bodies make tiny, smooth adjustments as we try to keep our focus on a sparrow moving through the undergrowth.

7. Birders are a more diverse lot than the movie let on. The main characters show almost no interest in conservation or environmentalism. That’s actually true for some “twitchers,” for whom the main interest is putting tick marks next to the names of birds on their list. But many birders watch because of the joy it brings and learn about environmental issues along the way. And although top birders do tend to be male, overall the birding world has more women than men in it (read more on birding’s gender roles in this article by one of our scientists). Inspirational people like John C. Robinson and programs like Celebrate Urban Birds are encouraging people of all backgrounds and cultures to take up birding. The characters were quick to throw around phrases like “greatest birder in the world”—and though this is in keeping with their own viewpoints as obsessed listers, there are many superlative birders who never get drawn into competition.

8. Even though it’s set in the present day, the movie doesn’t seem to realize how much birders use the Internet. The movie’s plot gets pushed forward in a few places by a birder-blogger, but otherwise it’s as if the Internet didn’t exist. The main characters are still calling in to a rare bird alert for tips. They should have checked our free eBird program, which has a map-based interface and will even send alerts when someone reports a bird you want to see. Even better, an app called Birdseye makes that information accessible from an iPhone—and gives driving directions. Elsewhere, compiles the hundreds of email listservs for local birding groups.

9. Birding by ear is even more important than the movie shows. Brad’s special talent is his “golden ear”—he can identify any species of bird by sound alone. While people’s skills vary, all top-notch birders depend greatly on their ears to find and identify birds. In the movie, Brad mainly identifies other birders’ impressions of birds. While this offers up the amusing sight of birders stretching their necks, waggling their heads, and puffing out their cheeks, most of us quiz each other by playing actual bird recordings. In my opinion, having the ability to mimic a Whimbrel or Greater Roadrunner might be more impressive than the ability to identify it. I would have liked a CSI-like slo-mo shot where a single chip note issues from the canopy and we see it transformed into a spectrogram, then cross-checked against a range of possibilities before Brad calls out the ID.

10. Finally, in the category of things in the movie that we wish were true: What would it be like to live in a world where you can turn on the weather and hear the announcers talking about Pin-tailed Snipe and Eurasian Greenfinches? Where TV news crews scramble to the scene of a fallout so they can explain migration biology to the general public? Just another Hollywood dream world, I guess.

If you liked the movie, check out these posts for more:


  • Nice review. Regarding the Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak at High Island (paragraph 5). I have seen both of these birds within a few minutes and a few yards apart at High Island during spring migration. So it is not too unbelievable for me.

  • Maggie May

    Re: indigo bunting/blue grosbeak – an odd moment for us. My non-bird-nerd husband whispered indigo bunting (notable in itself!), and I silently agreed. Bostwick declared blue grosbeak and, much like in the field, when I tried for a second look to see how I had misidentified, the bird was gone. And assumed he was right…Need to work on my birding confidence!!!

  • Very enjoyable reviews, the both. I liked the movie, and I think it’s kinder to us bird people than many of us were anticipating. It’s also easy (and enjoyable) to focus on the little details that were wrong, like various anachronisms, and the unconvincing fact that Bostick left at the critical moment for…a snowy owl. But all things considered, a lot of what this movie brought to the table was pretty accurate, and the most important thing in my mind, is that while maybe some of the jokes tried to be funnier than they were (especially, I would imagine, to non-birders coming for the star-studded cast), the movie emphasized the joys of birding really well. It also made it clear that while an obsession with birds is often hard to explain, it’s certainly quite justifiable when you get a better glimpse at its core.

  • Snooze

    I thought it was a Lanzuli bunting.

  • Nancy Kirschbaum

    The most unbelievable scene for me was when Bostick crashes his car into a tree, hears a woodpecker, disregards his companion’s claim of a broken arm,–that all seems like stuff a real birder would do–but then, he climbs out of the car window WITHOUT his binocs! Shocking!

  • Haans

    Re: Item 10. Here in the Cleveland area Plain Dealer reporter Jim McCarty does a weekly column on birds and birding. Also the local TV stations do send crews to cover birding hotspots like Magee Marsh or if something rare shows up along the lake. (2 of the Stations have their studios within sight of E72 St which is a famous spot for Gulls)

  • Stephanie

    One thing I noticed in the credits sequence at the end with the flipbook of birds…they went “Avocets” and showed like 5 pictures of an American Avocet. I thought that was a bit odd.

    I absolutely loved the movie, though. I was smiling from ear to ear the entire time.

  • Jane Henderson

    My husband Bob and I went to see “The Big Year” last night. We were the only two people in the theater (!) I found the birding goofs mildly distracting. Your review enumerates them well. But I found the “back stories” really lacking in interest and depth. This movie is intended for a general audience, right? For me, the only characters of interest were Jack Black and his family. I didn’t find myself caring a hoot about any of the others. So this movie would rate about a C+ in my book.

  • Wanda

    Enjoyed the film and was pleased it didn’t poke fun of birding. I did think it a little odd that when the Snowy Owl was ticked off Owen Wilson was emerging from the deep woods, in Michigan they are found in wide open farm fields.

  • Robyn Bailey

    Did anyone notice the “Two-fisted Birder” coffee mug on Brad’s night stand? The subtlety of that prop made me smile. I will see the movie again just to focus more on these details. Heck, I may even buy it on DVD!

  • Most glaring error I caught was a Hermit Thrush in full song, heard from inside Stu’s lavish home in Vail, Colorado. Totally correct geographically, but this is the scene right after he returns inside with mail from his mailbox (Big Year results, which actually come out later in spring, but that’s another story), and the mailbox scene shows several feet of fresh powder covering the landscape–i.e., it is mid-winter. HETHs are down in my neck of the woods (S. Georgia), and even there they’re not singing.

    Hermit Thrush is far and away the most overused bird song by Hollywood, and has been for the past 20 years (I’ve compiled a list of hundreds of movies and TV shows where it is used geographically incorrectly). There is not even a close second.

    Don’t get me wrong. My reaction at the end of the film was: BEST. MOVIE. EVER! Other nit to pick–these birders were seen way too often without binoculars.

  • Hugh

    Thanks for the comments so far. About the bunting/grosbeak point—I think everyone’s been out birding when one person yells out one name just as another yells the name of a similar species. There’s always an awkward moment as you try to figure out who’s wrong, and the most diplomatic answer is that both birds were there at the same time. I would’ve loved to see that in the scene.
    @Robyn, I did see the Two-Fisted Birder mug and was immediately envious. I really think there should have been some Cornell Lab merch on display, but of course I’m biased.
    @Brad, great catch on the Hermit Thrush song—I missed that. I’d love to see your thrush-song list sometime.
    Several people have commented about the main characters lack of spotting scopes and intermittent use of binoculars—but @Nancy, you put it best.

  • Loved the movie. My husband and I said Indigo at the same time then Bostick said Grosbeak. I knew the beak was not right. We live close to High Island and my husband has gotten a lot of great pictures there. Fall out is great when it happens, you can see almost anything. I kept my iPhone handy and when they would talk about birds I would look them up quickly on my IBird app to see what they were when they would come across to quickly or were blurry. I only have 302 birds on my life list but to me that is a lot. Traveling to other parts of the country sure help. don’t think I will make it out of North America but I hope to make 400 – 500 some day. would probably have more if I could work on my sparrows and shorebirds. They are so hard.

  • In the rapid photos of birds during the credits I spotted a meadowlark with the lark label.

  • Ralph

    Most amazing to me was the Jack Black character’s ability to identify the horribly lame bird song imitations by the young woman he was wooing so ardently — her “whimbrel” sounded more like the call of a bald eagle to me!

    Regarding other aspects of ‘birder behavior’, I found it hard to believe that Jack Black would be lounging in his motel room in the evenings with the TV on instead of studying his field guides and planning his route for the next day!

    I drove my wife crazy the day after we saw the film with my endless comments about small changes that would have made it more realistic and accurate without sacrificing the plot line. It always amazes me how some directors will go to great lengths to make, for example, period costumes accurate in historical dramas, and then use common loon calls in the background of rain forest scenes. Then again, maybe those period costumes aren’t so accurate after all…?

  • Barbara Harris

    Usually product placement in a movie really annoys me but in this case seeing all the birding things – field guides, binocs, etc – were part of the fun.
    I saw it with a non-birding neighbor who was a little bit doubtful about it. But she ended up having almost as much fun as I did seeing it!

  • Karen

    @Ralph: Don’t get me started on “period” costumes. Frequently the colors are all wrong, and nobody ever ate a meal with their gloves on! Sounds like a fun movie, can’t wait for it to get here.

  • Claire Lea

    The selection of these particular actors was golden. They are excellent actors plus good fits for the real people. My once a year birding husband (Magee Marsh)and I both enjoyed the movie.

  • Kelsey

    I found it hard to believe that failed to visit the Platte River in spring for the Sandhill Crane migration and instead got excited about a Sandhill late in the year… it seems it would be better to go when you’re guaranteed to see thousands at once.

  • I’m a novice birdwatcher, and I’ve got to say I’ve learned more about how to do it by reading your deconstruction of the movie than I have since I started! Thanks :)

  • Steve Hawk

    I thought the movie made fun of bird watchers. I thought that was very funny. Then I read this blog and this is even funnier. I don’t understand anything about birders. I watch the film and feel some odd inspiration to start birding. Obviously, temporary insanity. I’m better now. You birders are hilarious.

  • miller

    Liked the movie but really couldn’t believe people actually do this. Really?!?!?!?!?! Ever heard of getting a life?? I’m all for the environment and a love of animals, but c’Mon, talk about OCD.

  • Mike

    I’m not a birder or Bird person.I loved the movie and had no idea there was even a thing called a “Big Year” I loved your review of the movie and my hat is off to all of the Bird lovers watchers..

  • Hannah Teague

    We noticed a resturant called Phoebe’s Resturant. Our daughter’s name is Phoebe like the bitd so it stood out to us.

  • Thanks for a great review! As a novice birder, I learned a lot just from the review.

    Regarding the bird calls, and the trouble birders have with them, I read about a new iPhone app that lets you record the bird call and then send it to the server, which identifies the bird from the sound file! I believe that the app name is WeBird.

    Thanks again for a great article.

  • Cat

    fyi: re: timing of the year at Stu’s house…it can, and often does snow any month of the year up in Vail Vail Pass. If (like last year)it was a big snow winter, they didn’t close all the ski resorts till 4th of July- in shady spots “feet” of snow will remain regardless of temp for a long time. I’m not being argumentative just passing along info since I live up at 8700 feet. I’ve rescued pelicans downed in ice storms during May up here, in CO you just never know.

  • Donald Underwood

    Was it really necessary to travel into the Everglades by canoe to see a pink flamingo? They appear to be relatively abundant on people’s front lawns! And not even a quip or honorably mention of the bird Ben Franklin wanted as our national symbol: the American Wild Turkey which has 5 sub-species and may be found in every state. A whole segment on people imitating the male’s springtime (most frequently) courtship gobble would have been hilarious!


    Looking for the hermit thrush whisper song in a recording! Many years ago(30) I was fortunate to be about 15 feet from a Hermit Thrush as it sang his whisper song in the evening.It was profound and never to be forgotten or repeated sadly, I have never heard a recording and am wondering if there is one out there somewhere. Thanks TSM

  • Emmanuel

    I absolutely loved the movie! It prompted me to do some research on birding and birds. So far, and thanks to your article on The Big Year, I learned a lot. I am disappointed of the ratings it received on Rotten Tomatoes and think they are completely wrong.
    I enjoyed Bostick’s arrival on Attu and his own hidden private room particularly.

  • Peggy

    My hubby and I just watched this movie. I’m a newbie to birding and love it. My husband just tolerates it. We both enjoyed the movie very much.

  • Steve

    I also said “Indigo Bunting” Great review and GREAT movie!

  • yankee2

    I enjoyed it despite a few flaws, and that may be the point. In fact, some people would ascribe much beauty to flaws, so long as they don’t spoil the whole. It did well portray the the competitiveness, compulsion and eccentricity of birders.

    Contrary, to what some think, I believe it did try to show people from all walks of life, from a wealthy corporate CEO (tho it’s a little incredible that he’d shirk his corporate responsibilities like that, but that may be why it’s so inspiring), to a Working Class Brad, and a small businessman in between. True, Brad’s life was the best developed, but Stu, despite his power and his very real wealth, was as sweet as his loving wife who encouraged his passion.

    This film was NOT made specifically for birders, which explains its occasional lapses in accuracy. But I think it does capture the spirit of birding, probably better than any other.

    I liked this film’s humanity most of all.

    It was easy to like every one of them, including Kenny Bostick, who would never DREAM of cheating. He was driven by some demon, actually outside of his control, who truly regretted the cost of his obsession.

  • Cindy Greeff

    Absolutely loved the movie. I have it on DVD. It just made me want to explore more. I would also like to visite Attu Island someday , so beautiful. For the love of Birds! Kudo :)

  • Aidan

    I love the movie it was great! But In one seen they were in a mountain scape and a random birder called out what was to be a bird called a Flamer? I did not know what that was? I know what a Fulmar is but not a Flamer? And they were in the mountains so if a fulmar was in the mountains that would be kinda weird?


  • ybmagpye

    About the rare bird alert, if the movie was based on 1998, back then everyone was pretty much used the rare bird alert. If the time for the movie was current times, then good point.

  • Deb

    I am a non-birder and I don’t know much about birds, but The Big Year got my interest up enough that I am posting on this site. It seems to me that birding is a difficult thing to express what makes it so fulfilling, but here is what the movie showed me.

    As birders, you see beauty and the best part, it’s outside. There is a challenge in the search and a sense of excitement in the find, but the best part to me is the different place you get to see and the different types of people you get to meet. Birding seems an all-a-round fulfilling hobby.

    I thought the movie was a feel good kind of movie more than a comedy and now a days, who minds feeling good for a couple of hours. I know it didn’t do well at the box office, but I enjoyed it and though there where birding errors, I think birders should be proud of the light it shined on birding.

  • Deb

    I have a couple of questions. As I said in my prior post I don’t know much about birds, I was wondering if the pink footed goose scene was impossible or if it was something that could happen. Also, the snowy owl eluding Bostick, no one has ever had a bird elude them, even one that should be easy to find? Attu, how many species could a birder expect to see there and how easily? Just wondering.

  • Richard Borrowitz

    I remembered seeing the commercials for this movie many months ago and thought to myself “Now that’s a movie I ABSOLUTELY can’t wait to see!” Needless to say, I never caught it on the big screen, but just saw it tonight on HBO.

    This was such an amazing movie! I have never really looked at one bird being much different from the next (likely to much dismay of many who are reading this) and quite frankly can’t see myself getting involved in Birding at all, but it did bring me to a profound epiphany, which is that we all should have something in our lives for which we care so much about.

    I will most likely never become a Birder, but the movie reminded me how important it is to have a goal and to aspire to achieve that goal.

    As rudimentary as it may seem, most people sloth through life without having any real passions, or even one single passion at all for that matter.

    I was one of those people, until I saw this movie. Now I am excited and motivated to either truly expand on one of a number of passions I have or find a passion worthy of the passion the Birders in this movie feel for birds.

  • Ron Naida

    Just saw this movie on HBO- BZ! Makes me want to really take up birding. Great promo for environmental conservation and what God’s creations are waiting for our appreciation and acknowledgment. Only the past year, I started regularly setting out feed for wintering birds in my area and found it exciting to see how many different species have been attracted to my yard. Now, after watching this movie, I am going to “take it up a notch” and plan on carrying binos when my wife and I travel. I better dust off that old Audubon field guide and learn my bird calls ;-)

  • Ross Allen

    I know it was done for comedic effect to have Brad Harris/Jack Black see only 1 bird on day 1, but really, are you gonna tell me he could not have seen any other birds from his workplace on day one? Even the fact that he looks out at the seagulls, you would think that he would see at the very least 2 different kinds of seagulls. Like I said, it was done for the comedy effect, but it still seemed a little strange. IMHO

  • Nathan Gardner

    What about the Great Grey Owl Brad and his father found in Virginia? (it was Virginia wasn’t it?) I thought they were only found much farther west.

  • Marianne

    Overall good movie. Saw 2 versions; the extended one had John Cleese narrating plot highlights as well as the migration of a CGI rubythroat. Both were mostly enjoyable, though I wondered why the producers couldn’t hire a birding expert to detect the errors e.g. bunting/grosbeak mixup. While it was funny to have “Brad” see only 1 species on the 1st day, they shouldn’t have shown him looking at a group of more than 1 species of gull (another annoying error). My favorite moment was when “Annie Auklet” sarcastically zinged “Bostic’s” colorful attire, as I also frequently enjoy birding in atypical colors (avoid camo like the plague). Viva la difference! Nice that they didn’t make birders stereotypical geek-freaks & showed the confusion/lack of comprehension of non-birders toward our pursuit (though I doubt I’ll ever be rich enough in time or money to do a North American big year).

  • Kitty

    Great Gray Owl in the George Washington National Forest (in VA)??

  • Tricia Perkey

    I loved the movie! I’m not a birder, but am fascinated by my resident birds and they give me such joy when they grace me with their presence in my yard.

    In a world where you are hardly, if ever, pleased by a movie made for the whole family, this one gets 5 stars from me.

  • Dayla Sims

    The scene that could have been so funny, is when the large group, including two British birders, were gathering to find one species. The director played it like the atmosphere would have loud and noisy people gathering together. In fact, just the opposite. The tip toeing and “shhhh” signs all are part of the birding culture when gatherers come into the area where the bird is located–clearly the movie misses the point that loud noises will scare the bird(s) away. Also, Bostick, should have shared stories like the following, to establish street cred. I actually had a male birding friend who flew to Nepal to get more “ticks.” He and his girlfriend both got dysentery after a few days and quite possibly, the girlfriend was on her deathbed. In spite of her pleas to return home, he ignored her and continued birding. The year before, a friend of ours disappeared when birding with a group in India. No trace was ever found, but it was most likely that the friend was eaten alive.

  • Rick

    MY wife and I watched the movie together on HBO. I’ve watched it twice since without her. I really enjoyed it, and it only gets better with repeat viewings. Exciting News! We are now talking about doing a big year of our own!

    Thanks for the great article and thanks to all for the comments.


    I just watched the movie on HBO, I had never heard of it before, I found it very interesting and heartwarming. I am not a birder, but I think I would like to learn more about it. I will never look at birding the same way.

    It is nice to see these kind of movies, loved the theme, love the characters and I love this article, I have learned a lot!

  • Brian

    Great review. I’m not a “birder” but I was curious. When I saw the movie, I thought what a strange concept. They are so creative to make up such a strange idea for a “sport”. But there were so many details in the movie that I was left wondering if “birding” was a real thing. So I finally decided to Google it, and I came to this site. Wow. It’s real. And as equally impressive as the review are the people’s comments. You guys are hardcore. That’s awesome.

    Since I saw the movie, I’ve been paying attention to more birds every day. Just driving to work, or on a long drive down the parkway, I’ve noticed some birds that I’ve never even seen before. I guess maybe I pass them all the time, I just never bothered to look up or pay close attention to detail. The movie really got me interested. It’s amazing the strange and exotic birds that are all around, I just never realized until I looked. So I guess the movie had an impact on me.

  • Julie

    I loved this movie so much, but -aside from the indigo bunting- the thing that stuck out to me the most was when Jack Black started his big year by looking out his window at work. He watched the gulls below, and after turning away he counted it as only 1 sighting. I spotted two -if not three- different types of gulls down there… I would expect that if you can count each variation of sparrow as a different bird, then gulls would be counted the same way, wouldn’t they?

  • Dave “Rhino” Hansen

    As an avid upland game bird hunter, all my focus had been on whether my dog had flushed up a quail or medowlark. Bought the DVD and enjoy it often (for the entertainment value). The Dove hunting season starts on 1 Sept across the midwest and I was out there as usual in Illinois. This year had been extremely hot and dry. So as I set in the sunflower field waiting for a dove to show up, I started to wonder what all those other little birds I was seeing, really were. I must have seen a dozen sparrow size birds in a color range from yellow to bright violet. The half dozen differt swallows drove me crazy until I determined they were not dove. During that one day, I also saw a few hawks, turkey vulture, a Bold Eagle (one of only a few birds I was sure of), flock of teal ducks, 5 total dove that I never got a shot at, several verieties of black brds, and lots more that were about the size of robins. I saw lots of hummiing birds and dragon flies (hard to tell them apart at the speed they travel).
    The moving really opened my eyes to what I have been missing and made me wish I knew more about what I was seeing in my hunting trips to the field for dove, ducks, geese, quail, and pheasant.

  • Barb

    I am the advisor for Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges. Our study topic for this biennium is “The Culture of Competition”. I LOVED the movie and it struck me how differently people can compete. Only one person can get “The Big Year” but in the pursuit, you can’t tell me that not everyone “won” something. We may use the movie for the basis of our projects next year.

  • Peggy

    I just saw the movie on TV. I can not believe I never heard about it when it came out. Sure their we’re a few flaws, speaking of the flamingo, I don’t know if one in the Everglades would count since so many may be escapees. I just thought it was great to have a movie with so many stars take a look at birding, where the birders do not look like complete idiots. I am still smiling and may buy the DVD. Loved all the comments too. Thinking of doing the big year!

  • Emmanuel

    I absolutely concur with the comments made by Bard about the film ” The Big Year”. Although, it has several continuity mistakes, as pointed out by previous bloggers, it remains a good movie.

  • terry

    I am not a birder, until i watched the movie, i hadn’t any clue that there was a big year competion. I am listening to so many people bash the movie that are birders. If it wasnt for the movie I wouldnt have respected a birder. all im seeing is what you could find wrong in the movie, where as maybe you should find what good was in it. coming from a non birder that until seeing the movie wouldnt have given 2 cents about birding. now i think it might be fun to do. so why would you bash a movie that might make most people have more respect for what you birders do when in fact you should be praising the film since most wouldnt take a chace on such a small competion in the united states. I maybe wrong but i think water polo maybe bigger than birding. If all birders are just a bunch of whiners about details then maybe thats why there isnt many movies made.

  • Chris T

    I am not a birder, but have always had a speacial love for our many species of flying friends. Heck, who as a kid did not want to be able to fly. Anyway, I did recall seeing this movie come out in the theaters, but only saw it on HBO. I have since watched it a dozen or times. It’s just a heartfelt, warm movie that makes me smile and feel good. I certainly cannot point out the flaws (real vs hollywood), but no movie is spot on 100% to the real thing, and think the movie does a great job in catering to all types of viewers a like…

  • Hugh

    Hi Terry, glad to hear the movie inspired you to take up birding. As you’ll see from our main review (linked in the first paragraph of this post), we liked the movie a lot—and at least 6 of the 10 details we mention in this post are pointing out positive aspects. Overall, we really appreciated the lengths this movie went to in order to portray birds and birders accurately.

  • Alan

    In 1973 at the U. of Missouri I took an ornithology course because,as a senior, it completed my perfect schedule of having all of my classes on Tues/Thurs.It became my favorite course in school by far. If I made this movie I would include intentional errors as well as homages and jokes for serious birders, knowing full well that it would be dissected on sites like this.The indigo bunting/blue grosbeak thing was a lay-up for us casual birders (I’ll bet).We will never see a better bird movie – beats the heck out of that old Jimmy Stewart movie,Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation,for birding image.

  • Michelle

    I have just watched the movie I have no interest in birds.. I only watched it cause of the actors… But I loved it what a great movie. I also know now when I look at birds it will be in a different way …. X

  • Nptexas

    I’m not a birder but have wanted to be for years. I loved the movie. Recorded it and watch often. Now I’ll watch w new eyes after reading review & comments. No violence or f-words is pretty unusual these days. Do wish this was on disqus so I could “like” comments & reply easily. Somewhere I have binoculars !

  • Janet

    I am a casual birder, and my kids and I LOVED this movie! Use to be that I would see an interesting bird in the yard or on vacation, and my excitement would fall flat on the rest of the family. Now, my 10-year-old daughter has really become interested in birds after watching the movie several times. She did her school science project on bird food preferences.
    I find hope and inspiration from the fact that there are people out there who find birds so interesting.

  • Heather Smith

    I love The Big Year! Its one of my faverit movies I watch all the time. Ever since the first time I saw it I been crasy about birds. I watch birds that come in my back yard every evening.Just the other day I saw 7 deforant kinds of birds just in my back yeard. It was amazing! I just love birds and maybe some day ill walk around my block and see how many diforant birds I cane fined.

  • Rebecca

    One of my favourite movies of all times!! I am inspired to be a “birder” …. of course my love of photography would dictate that I not only see or hear the bird, but also to capture a photo. What an incredible hobby ….

  • Wow am I late to this party, but I just saw the movie this year when HBO put it in rotation a couple months ago and LOVED it. As someone else commented it’s family-friendly (apart from a couple of expletives). I thought it was charming and funny, a rarity these days. I’ve been a casual birder all my life, but this may have inspired me to do more. I’ll check out some of the resources you listed, great review.

  • I was surprised by the camera lenses seen in the movie. I don’t see many birders with anything less than 400mm.

  • lina supron

    hi! a few years too late to join the party here.

    I’ve been a Birdwatcher for about 6 years. had watched the movie 2 years ago (my bestfriend, whose not a birdwatcher insisted that I should definately watch the movie! she literally bought the dvd and gave it to me! :D) and I loved it. just watched it again last night and felt yet another overwhelming feeling so I go online and found this article! Good one b(^_^)d

    I smiled at the screen when Stu corrected the man who mockingly asked him about “Birdwatching”, said “It is called Birding!” :D Here in Indonesia the term “Birdwatching” is more used than “Birder”. we don’t have such a thing as “The Big Year” but we do have a Birdwatching Competition every now and then. which is only a 3 days length competition.

    And as for the clasic “Honor System”, yes, even my fellow birdwatchers too are so cynical about it :D saying “we can never trust those birdwathers mouths” but I think those who sincerely do this activity would understand the honor which is one of the beauty of this activity.

    and as much as I understand his passion, that moment when Bostick about to grab the hospital door I actually scream “No!!! just ignore the bird!” :D

    that day One where Jack got 1 species made me cringed too.

  • Rn Naida

    Never too late to join an ongoing party! After watching Big Year on HBO in 2012, I found this website. I am not a birder but I am a bird watcher (guess that will “fly” in Indonesia LOL) where I enjoy observing different species in action in my backyard or traveling. Found it interesting to learn the facts, terms, and idiosyncrasies about birding, which by the way, this site helped me to understand. Keep the posts coming and do society a favor- encourage sharing your passion and deep appreciation for nature.

  • Hey Cat do you live near the Vail area? I’m working on a story about birding in the Vail Valley,

  • I hatted the movie autumn island doesn’t exist … just joking loved the movie my big year count is 993

  • Kacy

    I just wanted to say I havent even seen the movie yet lol! I want to see it now though. I’ve always loved nature and not so long ago I was self medicating with opiates and it escalated to using heroin. I have now been in recovery for about 2 1/2 years and im pouring myself back into mother earth. Im constantly researching birds on the internet and I report bird sightings on ebird and also started a yard map. My father, my brother and my husband all poke fun at me because I am always building bird feeders or houses. I made a bat nursery box and im currently working on a bird bath made out of terra cotta pots. Gosh, im rambling here, I really just wanted to say that I wish everyone appreciated mother earth more like birders do (and anyone involved in nature) She helps me heal everyday. I look around outside and I just want to cry, I think how long will it be before the only way children can view birds, orcas, bears, tigers, whales or anything, is on a tv because we killed them making more room for us, the only species that really “matters”. It’s going to happen, its just a matter of when? I could go on and on about that. I would love to have/do (?) a Big Year myself! Great comments everyone

  • Cismyname

    guess i waited 4 yrs to see this movie… cheesy but funny. The notable thing missing to me were some heated arguments about IDs/taxonomy/molts… most birding groups have some frenzied pedantic debaters and there was none of that shown.

  • max

    I love The Big Year! Its one of my faverit movies I watch
    all the time. Ever since the first time I saw it I been crasy about birds. I
    watch birds that come in my back yard every evening.Just the other day I saw 7
    deforant kinds of birds just in my back yeard. It was amazing! I just love
    birds and maybe some day ill walk around my block and see how many diforant
    birds I cane fined.I am a casual birder, and my kids and I LOVED this movie!
    Use to be that I would see an interesting bird in the yard or on vacation, and
    my excitement would fall flat on the rest of the family. Now, my 10-year-old
    daughter has really become interested in birds after watching the movie several
    times. She did her school science project on bird food preferences.
    I find hope and inspiration from the fact that there are people out there who
    find birds so interesting

Birds, Birders, and Birding in The Big Year: What We Noticed