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2017 Global Big Day Wrap-Up: More Than 6,000 Species Worldwide As Team Sapsucker Finds 327 Species in Yucatan

tawny-winged woodcreeper
Tawny-winged Woodcreepers are one of the classic specialties of the Yucatán and the Maya Forest. All three teams found this species on their Big Days. Photo by Ian Davies.

The third annual Global Big Day drew a record 17,000 participants from all seven continents. From Adelie Penguin to Resplendent Quetzal, Ruby-throated Hummingbird to Common Ostrich, together birders tallied more than 6,400 species.

“Global Big Day presents us with a vignette of what is possible when people and organizations work together focusing on their respective areas of expertise and together accomplishing what could never be done alone,” says Team Sapsucker captain Chris Wood.

Team Sapsucker followed this advice to the letter, teaming up with expert birders from local monitoring groups and birding clubs for their Big Day run in the Yucatán Peninsula. For the first time in their 30-year history, the team split into three groups to cover the region’s Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala sections, which are blanketed by the second largest remaining forest in the Neotropics after the Amazon basin.

After pooling their lists, the teams ended the day with a whopping 327 species combined—reflecting not just great birding but the region’s importance to an immense diversity of birds. Team Belize topped the friendly group competition with 242 species (including 40 species the other teams didn’t find); Team Mexico found 224 species (with 43 unique to their list); and Team Guatemala tallied 213 (with 23 unique).

In this map, brighter colors indicate greater species diversity—that big patch of orange in the southern Yucatán is the Maya Forest, where Team Sapsucker ran their Big Day. Explore sightings with the eBird Hotspots tool.

The day encompassed Yucatán specialties like Black Catbird and Yucatán Jay; tropical rainforest birds such as Rufous Piha and Wedge-billed Woodcreeper; migrants such as Magnolia Warbler and Eastern Wood-Pewee still pushing north toward their summer homes; and a thrilling half-hour of raptor watching from the summit of a Mayan pyramid. But among the biggest surprises were unexpected shorebirds that took refuge from heavy rain on salt flats, rice fields, and lake shores—including the Yucatán’s second-ever eBird record for Hudsonian Godwit and hundreds of the normally scarce Franklin’s Gull.

Rain or No Rain, We’ve Got to Try

In Guatemala, midnight greeted the team with pouring rain. They took the opportunity to catch a few more winks, but “at 3 a.m. we said rain or no rain we’ve got to try,” team captain Marshall Iliff recalls. They ventured down a trail hearing nothing but the drumming of rain on leaves, until finally their first bird piped up, a Mottled Owl.

Dawn came late because of the heavy clouds. The team, which consisted of Iliff, Ian Davies, and Tim Lenz of the Cornell Lab, Marcial Córdova of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Marlo García and Pablo Najarro of the Petén Birders Club, climbed into a canopy observation tower in the half-light. Just then “the rain stopped, and then the motmots and Bright-rumped Attilas started calling,” Iliff says, “We got three really special birds: Tody Motmot, Green Shrike-Vireo, and Barred Forest-Falcon, and then we figured the day was going to be all right.”

magnolia warbler animated map
This animated map of week by week occurrence illustrates how important the Yucatán is for migratory songbirds including the Magnolia Warbler (above) and more than 20 others.

Meanwhile in Belize, Andrew Farnsworth, Steve Kelling, and Brian Sullivan of the Lab, and Roni Martinez of the Belize Bird Conservancy, were finishing up a tremendous nocturnal migration. In the darkness, their ears picked up the faint call notes of migrants passing overhead, including Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, Gray-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrushes, Veery, and others.

As dawn approached they heard the rich, liquid whistles of Great and Thicket Tinamous, and then found Ocellated Turkey, Great Curassow, and Crested Guan—species that are often hunted and whose presence typically indicates places where conservation is working.

For their part, Team Mexico spent dawn at an observation tower overlooking dry Yucatán forest. The team consisted of Chris Wood, Jessie Barry, and Viviana Ruiz-Gutierrez of the Cornell Lab, Rafael Calderon, a community birding coordinator from the Mexican government agency CONABIO, and two representatives of community bird-monitoring groups, Jesus Bombadilla of the Mayan Jays and Angel Fernando Castillo of the Yucatán Jays. The team members were thrilled to find a Royal Flycatcher, an endangered species in Mexico, nesting near the base of the tower. Later in the day they visited mangroves and salt flats—they were the only team that reached saltwater—getting key species such as American Flamingo, Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egret, Magnificent Frigatebird, and many others.

All three teams came away doubly impressed with the region’s importance for migrants. Even though migration is already peaking in the U.S., the Sapsuckers were amazed at how many thousands of birds were still making their way north. Magnolia Warblers were the most common migrant in every habitat, Iliff says, while Blackburnian Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, and Eastern Wood-Pewees—which began their migrations in South America—had stopped off here in large numbers to fuel up before crossing the Gulf of Mexico.

As the morning heated up, the Guatemala team climbed the Temple IV pyramid at Tikal National Park and enjoyed 36 minutes of unparalleled raptor watching, finding 11 species including both Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles. “We got up there just as the raptors started to circle up,” Iliff says, “and then we pretty much just traded raptors for the whole watch,” calling names out one after another as a rather baffled group of German tourists looked on.

Not to be outdone, Team Belize had their own successful skywatch from a ridgeline in the Maya Mountains. Among 11 raptor species, they were stunned to count 41 Hook-billed Kites, evidence of a spring migration for this species that was previously unknown.

The Black-throated Bobwhite, a Yucatán specialty, was worth the heat and chiggers for Team Guatemala. Photo by Ian Davies.

Inevitably, the day grew hot and quiet. “One of the fun things about big days is you have to bird some spot in the heat of the day, and you know it’s going to be quiet and you just have to do it anyway,” Iliff says. South of Tikal, “we stomped through the dry grass, which must have been full of chiggers,” and were rewarded with Yucatán specialties Black-throated Bobwhite and a distinct race of Botteri’s Sparrow. Then, in a strategic masterstroke, they piled out of their cramped vehicle and into a boat for a cool and breezy sunset cruise for marsh birds on Lago Petén Itzá.

A Bright Side to the Downpour

Near sunset, Team Belize was shut down by the heavy rain that had drenched Team Guatemala in the morning—but not before they found Jabirus, Limpkins, a collection of shorebirds, and 850 rare Franklin’s Gulls around the rice fields of Blue Creek.

The spectacular migrant show was perhaps helped by the downpours. The heavy weather likely forced some birds to fly lower to the ground where they were easier to identify, including a lone Hudsonian Godwit spotted by Mexican team members Calderon and Ruiz-Gutierrez; and unexpected Cliff Swallows seen by all three teams. The shorebird spot that Team Mexico was depending on for 7 or 8 species eventually yielded 22 species. Far more than just ticks on a checklist, these sightings underscore how much there is still to learn about migration in this region.

The participation of the local birding community was crucial for the success of the three teams. From finding reliable spots for hard-to-find birds like Northern Potoo and Black Catbird, to organizing trucks, boats, home-cooked meals, and fresh lemonade, and onward to the immense day-to-day impact these men and women have on conservation of the Maya Forest, these team members can’t be thanked enough.

The feeling of the day was perhaps summed up best by Castillo. He was totting up the day’s list as Team Mexico weighed their chances for taking first place in the friendly inter-team competition. Speaking in Spanish, he said, “No matter what happens, today was a win. I got three lifers! We won!”

Official Results List

Here’s the full breakdown of the 327 species and the teams that saw them:

Common Name Seen by:
1 Great Tinamou Belize, Guatemala
2 Slaty-breasted Tinamou Belize, Guatemala
3 Thicket Tinamou All three teams
4 Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Guatemala only
5 Blue-winged Teal Belize only
6 Plain Chachalaca All three teams
7 Crested Guan Belize only
8 Great Curassow All three teams
9 Black-throated Bobwhite All three teams
10 Ocellated Turkey All three teams
11 Least Grebe Belize, Mexico
12 Pied-billed Grebe Guatemala, Mexico
13 American Flamingo Mexico only
14 Jabiru Belize only
15 Wood Stork Belize only
16 Magnificent Frigatebird Mexico only
17 Neotropic Cormorant All three teams
18 Double-crested Cormorant Mexico only
19 Anhinga All three teams
20 Brown Pelican Mexico only
21 Pinnated Bittern Belize, Guatemala
22 Least Bittern Guatemala, Mexico
23 Bare-throated Tiger-Heron Belize, Guatemala
24 Great Blue Heron All three teams
25 Great Egret All three teams
26 Snowy Egret All three teams
27 Little Blue Heron All three teams
28 Tricolored Heron Mexico only
29 Reddish Egret Mexico only
30 Cattle Egret All three teams
31 Green Heron All three teams
32 Black-crowned Night-Heron Guatemala only
33 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Belize only
34 Boat-billed Heron Belize only
35 White Ibis Belize, Mexico
36 Roseate Spoonbill Mexico only
37 Black Vulture All three teams
38 Turkey Vulture All three teams
39 Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture Belize, Mexico
40 King Vulture Belize, Guatemala
41 Osprey Mexico only
42 White-tailed Kite Belize, Guatemala
43 Hook-billed Kite All three teams
44 Gray-headed Kite Mexico only
45 Swallow-tailed Kite Belize, Guatemala
46 Black Hawk-Eagle Belize, Guatemala
47 Ornate Hawk-Eagle Guatemala only
48 Black-collared Hawk Belize only
49 Snail Kite Belize, Mexico
50 Double-toothed Kite Belize, Guatemala
51 Plumbeous Kite Belize, Guatemala
52 Common Black Hawk Mexico only
53 Great Black Hawk Belize, Mexico
54 Roadside Hawk All three teams
55 White-tailed Hawk Belize only
56 White Hawk Belize only
57 Gray Hawk Guatemala, Mexico
58 Short-tailed Hawk Guatemala, Mexico
59 Zone-tailed Hawk Mexico only
60 Ruddy Crake All three teams
61 Russet-naped Wood-Rail Belize, Guatemala
62 Sora Guatemala only
63 Purple Gallinule All three teams
64 American Coot Guatemala only
65 Limpkin Belize, Guatemala
66 Black-necked Stilt Belize, Mexico
67 American Oystercatcher Mexico only
68 Black-bellied Plover Mexico only
69 Snowy Plover Mexico only
70 Wilson’s Plover Mexico only
71 Semipalmated Plover Mexico only
72 Northern Jacana All three teams
73 Whimbrel Mexico only
74 Hudsonian Godwit Mexico only
75 Ruddy Turnstone Mexico only
76 Stilt Sandpiper Mexico only
77 Sanderling Mexico only
78 Baird’s Sandpiper Guatemala only
79 Least Sandpiper All three teams
80 White-rumped Sandpiper All three teams
81 Buff-breasted Sandpiper Mexico only
82 Pectoral Sandpiper Belize, Guatemala
83 Semipalmated Sandpiper Mexico only
84 Western Sandpiper Mexico only
85 Short-billed Dowitcher Mexico only
86 Wilson’s Phalarope Mexico only
87 Spotted Sandpiper All three teams
88 Solitary Sandpiper Belize only
89 Greater Yellowlegs Belize, Mexico
90 Lesser Yellowlegs Belize, Mexico
91 Laughing Gull Guatemala, Mexico
92 Franklin’s Gull Belize only
93 Herring Gull Mexico only
94 Least Tern Mexico only
95 Gull-billed Tern Mexico only
96 Royal Tern Mexico only
97 Rock Pigeon Guatemala, Mexico
98 Pale-vented Pigeon All three teams
99 Scaled Pigeon All three teams
100 Red-billed Pigeon All three teams
101 Short-billed Pigeon Belize, Guatemala
102 Eurasian Collared-Dove All three teams
103 Common Ground-Dove Belize, Mexico
104 Plain-breasted Ground-Dove Belize only
105 Ruddy Ground-Dove All three teams
106 Blue Ground-Dove All three teams
107 Ruddy Quail-Dove Belize, Guatemala
108 White-tipped Dove All three teams
109 Caribbean Dove Guatemala, Mexico
110 Gray-headed Dove Belize, Mexico
111 White-winged Dove All three teams
112 Zenaida Dove Mexico only
113 Groove-billed Ani All three teams
114 Striped Cuckoo Guatemala only
115 Pheasant Cuckoo All three teams
116 Squirrel Cuckoo All three teams
117 Yellow-billed Cuckoo All three teams
118 Black-billed Cuckoo Belize only
119 Barn Owl Belize only
120 Vermiculated Screech-Owl Belize, Mexico
121 Spectacled Owl Belize only
122 Central American Pygmy-Owl Belize only
123 Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl Guatemala, Mexico
124 Mottled Owl All three teams
125 Black-and-white Owl Belize only
126 Lesser Nighthawk Guatemala, Mexico
127 Common Pauraque All three teams
128 Yucatan Poorwill Belize, Mexico
129 Yucatan Nightjar Mexico only
130 Northern Potoo All three teams
131 Chimney Swift Belize only
132 Vaux’s Swift All three teams
133 Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift Belize, Guatemala
134 White-necked Jacobin Belize only
135 Long-billed Hermit Belize only
136 Stripe-throated Hermit Guatemala only
137 Purple-crowned Fairy Guatemala only
138 Green-breasted Mango Belize only
139 Mexican Sheartail Mexico only
140 Canivet’s Emerald All three teams
141 Wedge-tailed Sabrewing Guatemala, Mexico
142 White-bellied Emerald All three teams
143 Rufous-tailed Hummingbird All three teams
144 Buff-bellied Hummingbird Guatemala, Mexico
145 Cinnamon Hummingbird Mexico only
146 Slaty-tailed Trogon Belize, Guatemala
147 Black-headed Trogon All three teams
148 Gartered Trogon All three teams
149 Collared Trogon All three teams
150 Tody Motmot Belize, Guatemala
151 Lesson’s Motmot All three teams
152 Turquoise-browed Motmot Mexico only
153 Ringed Kingfisher All three teams
154 Amazon Kingfisher Belize only
155 Green Kingfisher Belize, Mexico
156 White-necked Puffbird Guatemala, Mexico
157 Rufous-tailed Jacamar Belize, Guatemala
158 Emerald Toucanet Guatemala only
159 Collared Aracari All three teams
160 Keel-billed Toucan All three teams
161 Black-cheeked Woodpecker Belize only
162 Yucatan Woodpecker Belize, Mexico
163 Golden-fronted Woodpecker All three teams
164 Ladder-backed Woodpecker Belize, Mexico
165 Smoky-brown Woodpecker Belize, Mexico
166 Golden-olive Woodpecker All three teams
167 Chestnut-colored Woodpecker Belize, Guatemala
168 Lineated Woodpecker Belize, Guatemala
169 Pale-billed Woodpecker All three teams
170 Barred Forest-Falcon Guatemala only
171 Collared Forest-Falcon All three teams
172 Crested Caracara Belize, Mexico
173 Laughing Falcon All three teams
174 Aplomado Falcon Belize only
175 Bat Falcon Belize, Mexico
176 Orange-breasted Falcon Belize, Guatemala
177 Brown-hooded Parrot Belize, Guatemala
178 White-crowned Parrot All three teams
179 Red-lored Parrot Belize, Guatemala
180 White-fronted Parrot All three teams
181 Yellow-lored Parrot All three teams
182 Mealy Parrot Belize, Guatemala
183 Olive-throated Parakeet All three teams
184 Barred Antshrike All three teams
185 Plain Antvireo Belize, Guatemala
186 Dot-winged Antwren Belize, Guatemala
187 Black-faced Antthrush All three teams
188 Olivaceous Woodcreeper All three teams
189 Ruddy Woodcreeper Guatemala, Mexico
190 Tawny-winged Woodcreeper All three teams
191 Wedge-billed Woodcreeper Belize only
192 Ivory-billed Woodcreeper All three teams
193 Plain Xenops Guatemala only
194 Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner Belize only
195 Rufous-breasted Spinetail Belize, Guatemala
196 Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet Guatemala only
197 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet All three teams
198 Greenish Elaenia All three teams
199 Yellow-bellied Elaenia All three teams
200 Ochre-bellied Flycatcher Belize only
201 Sepia-capped Flycatcher Mexico only
202 Northern Bentbill All three teams
203 Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher Guatemala only
204 Common Tody-Flycatcher All three teams
205 Eye-ringed Flatbill Belize, Guatemala
206 Yellow-olive Flycatcher All three teams
207 Stub-tailed Spadebill All three teams
208 Royal Flycatcher All three teams
209 Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher Belize, Guatemala
210 Olive-sided Flycatcher Belize only
211 Eastern Wood-Pewee Belize, Guatemala
212 Tropical Pewee Belize, Mexico
213 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Guatemala, Mexico
214 Least Flycatcher All three teams
215 Vermilion Flycatcher All three teams
216 Bright-rumped Attila All three teams
217 Rufous Mourner Belize only
218 Yucatan Flycatcher All three teams
219 Dusky-capped Flycatcher All three teams
220 Brown-crested Flycatcher All three teams
221 Great Kiskadee All three teams
222 Boat-billed Flycatcher All three teams
223 Social Flycatcher All three teams
224 Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher All three teams
225 Piratic Flycatcher All three teams
226 Tropical Kingbird All three teams
227 Couch’s Kingbird All three teams
228 Eastern Kingbird Guatemala only
229 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Guatemala only
230 Fork-tailed Flycatcher Belize, Guatemala
231 Rufous Piha Belize only
232 White-collared Manakin Guatemala only
233 Red-capped Manakin All three teams
234 Black-crowned Tityra Guatemala only
235 Masked Tityra All three teams
236 Northern Schiffornis All three teams
237 Rose-throated Becard Belize, Mexico
238 Rufous-browed Peppershrike Belize, Mexico
239 Green Shrike-Vireo Belize, Guatemala
240 Tawny-crowned Greenlet Belize, Mexico
241 Lesser Greenlet All three teams
242 Mangrove Vireo All three teams
243 Philadelphia Vireo Guatemala only
244 Red-eyed Vireo All three teams
245 Yellow-green Vireo All three teams
246 Brown Jay All three teams
247 Green Jay Guatemala, Mexico
248 Yucatan Jay Mexico only
249 Northern Rough-winged Swallow All three teams
250 Gray-breasted Martin All three teams
251 Mangrove Swallow All three teams
252 Bank Swallow All three teams
253 Barn Swallow All three teams
254 Cliff Swallow All three teams
255 Cave Swallow Mexico only
256 House Wren Guatemala, Mexico
257 Carolina Wren All three teams
258 Yucatan Wren Mexico only
259 Spot-breasted Wren All three teams
260 White-bellied Wren All three teams
261 White-breasted Wood-Wren All three teams
262 Long-billed Gnatwren All three teams
263 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher All three teams
264 Tropical Gnatcatcher All three teams
265 Veery Belize only
266 Gray-cheeked Thrush Belize, Mexico
267 Swainson’s Thrush Belize, Guatemala
268 Clay-colored Thrush All three teams
269 White-throated Thrush Belize, Guatemala
270 Black Catbird Guatemala, Mexico
271 Tropical Mockingbird Belize, Mexico
272 Northern Waterthrush All three teams
273 Prothonotary Warbler Belize only
274 Gray-crowned Yellowthroat Belize, Guatemala
275 Common Yellowthroat All three teams
276 American Redstart All three teams
277 Magnolia Warbler All three teams
278 Bay-breasted Warbler Belize, Guatemala
279 Blackburnian Warbler Guatemala, Mexico
280 Yellow Warbler All three teams
281 Chestnut-sided Warbler Guatemala only
282 Black-throated Green Warbler Belize only
283 Golden-crowned Warbler Belize only
284 Gray-headed Tanager Belize, Mexico
285 Black-throated Shrike-Tanager Belize, Guatemala
286 Blue-gray Tanager All three teams
287 Yellow-winged Tanager All three teams
288 Red-legged Honeycreeper All three teams
289 Green Honeycreeper Belize only
290 Blue-black Grassquit All three teams
291 Variable Seedeater Belize only
292 White-collared Seedeater All three teams
293 Yellow-faced Grassquit All three teams
294 Buff-throated Saltator Belize, Guatemala
295 Black-headed Saltator All three teams
296 Grayish Saltator All three teams
297 Botteri’s Sparrow Guatemala only
298 Olive Sparrow All three teams
299 Green-backed Sparrow All three teams
300 Rose-throated Tanager All three teams
301 Red-crowned Ant-Tanager Belize only
302 Red-throated Ant-Tanager All three teams
303 Black-faced Grosbeak Belize, Mexico
304 Northern Cardinal All three teams
305 Gray-throated Chat All three teams
306 Blue-black Grosbeak Belize only
307 Blue Bunting All three teams
308 Indigo Bunting Guatemala, Mexico
309 Dickcissel Belize only
310 Red-winged Blackbird All three teams
311 Eastern Meadowlark Belize, Mexico
312 Melodious Blackbird All three teams
313 Great-tailed Grackle All three teams
314 Bronzed Cowbird All three teams
315 Black-cowled Oriole Belize, Mexico
316 Hooded Oriole Belize, Mexico
317 Yellow-backed Oriole Mexico only
318 Yellow-tailed Oriole Belize only
319 Orange Oriole Mexico only
320 Altamira Oriole Mexico only
321 Yellow-billed Cacique Belize, Mexico
322 Montezuma Oropendola Guatemala only
323 Scrub Euphonia Mexico only
324 Yellow-throated Euphonia All three teams
325 Olive-backed Euphonia Belize, Guatemala
326 Lesser Goldfinch Belize, Mexico
327 House Sparrow Guatemala only
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