Getting Started with Birding Lists and Competitive Events

By: John Moriarty

June 08, 2022

Category: Big Year of Birds

Bird-watching incorporates a full spectrum of activities. Some individuals enjoy casually watching chickadees at their bird feeders. Others travel around the world to find more species of birds than anyone else. As you bird, you may become more interested in the more competitive birding options or simply start logging the different species you’re seeing. 

Birding lists 

Most people, including me, watch birds in their own yards, or in parks and natural areas close to their homes. Of the many bird lists that exist, the only list I keep is a yard list.  

On an individual, non-competitive basis, many birders keep personal lists, especially life lists (hardcore listers keep track of others’ totals). Life lists are simply your own list of the species of birds you’ve seen throughout your life. You can keep track of your list on a printed checklist, in a birding log or on a phone app such as eBird. The Minnesota record is 420, out of a possible 447 species. The United States record is 961 species and the world record life list is 9,761 species.  

The Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union (MOU) is the keeper of the over 25 different lists (see list below) for Minnesota. The main list that most birders keep is their Minnesota Life list. MOU breaks the life list reporting into three categories. The Roberts Club where observers must see or hear at least 85% of the birds (380 species) recorded from the state. The 300 Club and the 200 Club — where birders have seen at least 300 or 200 species, respectively — are also good levels for birders. Information about getting on these lists can be found on the MOU website.

Though I could put together Minnesota and U.S. life lists, the life yard list is the only list I personally keep track of. My yard list is 157 species that includes birds seen over the last 20 years in or from my yard, including whip-poor-wills, ruddy ducks and many species of warblers. 

There are plenty of lists for you to choose from. Many parks have their own checklists. If you’re traveling to a National Park, you can find a list here. If you’re headed to one of our parks, we have a list, too.

A pen lies across a bird checklist that lists bird species, with two bird species checked.
An example of a bird checklist.

Competitive birding events

Once you’ve gotten familiar with identifying birds and listing them, you might want to participate in a competitive birding event. The truly competitive birding events are Big Years and Big Days. In these events, participants try to find as many species of birds as possible within a time frame (24 hours or 365 days), either individually or in teams. The events can cover different size areas from one park to the entire world.  

The Big Day record for Minnesota is 204 species, United States is 264 species and the world is 354 species. We currently do not have records for Three Rivers, but will at the end of the year and they will be lower than the Minnesota Records as we have a smaller geographical area. 

The Big Year record for Minnesota is 333 species, the United States is 836 species and world big year record of 6,852 species! People competing for Big Year records spend a lot of time, traveling and money to reach those totals.  

There are also Big Sits, events where the observer(s) stay in one location for a specified time. These get lower counts: Records for the U.S. and Global are just over 100 species. (Minnesota does not report Big Sit totals.)

For those interested in trying out one of these events, join us this Saturday, June 11, 2022, from 6 AM until 6 PM, for the Three Rivers’ Big Sit. Find your sit site and add your count to the numbers as we get our first Big Sit record.  

Previous birding experience is not required and equipment will be available. Naturalists will be on-site to help with identification and add to the tally.

Join us again on September 10 for our Big Day to count the species you see in 12 hours within the park district. Keep tallying your Three Rivers’ birds all year so you can participate in our Big Year check in on December 10, 2022.

Various Birding Lists Kept by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union

  • Annual List — 2022
  • Annual List — Best Year
  • Big Day (all)
  • Big Day (county)
  • Big Day (month)
  • Big Day (reported by county)
  • Big Day (reported by month)
  • Big Day (statewide reported by me)
  • Big Day (top)
  • Composite 87 Counties
  • County 100 Club
  • County 200 Club
  • County Lowest Count
  • County Lowest N Count
  • County Top Three Club
  • First Day for 100, 200, 300
  • Four Corners Composite
  • Life Yard List
  • Listers Lists
  • Month List
  • Nests
  • Other Lists
  • Personally Found
  • Photographed
  • Season List
  • Species Seen in all 12 months
  • Species Seen in all 87 counties
  • Species Seen on all 366 days

About the Author

 a man in a hat and tan collared shirt holding a turtle upside down and pointing to it's underbelly.

John Moriarty is the Senior Manager of Wildlife at Three Rivers Park District and has been with the Park District for 15 years. He has been involved in many of the wildlife restoration efforts and initiated the snake and butterfly efforts. John has led several projects to increase prairie habitat in the Park District. John likes exploring natural areas and looking for all types of plants and animals, but especially turtles.


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