Bird stats

Yard, county, state, year, life.

What do these odd items have in common? They're all examples of lists that birders tend to keep.

Almost all birdwatchers like to keep track of the birds they have seen by maintaining lists. Each list is indicative of their experiences as a birder and reflective of how a particular birder approaches the sport of birding.

Traditionally, these lists kick off on the first of January each year. That would explain why I watched sunrise over the settling ponds of a sewage treatment plant the first Saturday of 2005.

A complete list of all the birds an individual has observed is called a life list. Obviously, the longer the list, the more birds you have had the joy of discovering. But for many birders, the length of this ultimate list is not competitive or complete enough, so they expand the categories of lists kept.

The additional lists may be geographic or timeline-based. For example, some birdwatchers will focus on a one-year list with geographic limitations. How many different species have they seen in one year in Washington state, King County or their own backyard? There is even a Great Yard List race taking place in Western Washington.

Many birders also have other types of seasonal lists that can be focused on their own individual interests. For example, I keep a baseball-stadium list as one of my own "seasonal" lists. A diehard baseball fan, I have been attending Mariners games since 1992. Imagine my joy when the Mariners moved to Safeco Field and I had the opportunity to combine two of my loves - baseball and birding.

The usual suspects tend to show up on my yearly baseball lists, including rock pigeons, glaucous-winged gulls and starlings. But one year during the playoffs, from my lofty perch in the 300 level, a Cooper's hawk made a dramatic appearance, winging her way in hot pursuit of a pigeon.

The hawk and the Mariners lost that evening, much to the pigeon's relief and this fan's dismay.

To expand what I now call my "stadium" list, I've included Aquasox Stadium in Everett, where I attend minor-league games and where the birding opportunities are much greater. During one inning alone I captured eight new species on my stadium list - the best moment being a dramatic aerial display by an adult bald eagle that lasted through a 15-pitch at bat.

I never did figure out what the eagle was diving on, but the Aquasox pitcher won the duel at the plate.

The most challenging list I work on during the spring, summer and fall is my bike list. Birding by bike offers many opportunities to get closer to the natural world, as you are not cut off by the surrounding structure of a car. It does have a few disadvantages; using binoculars while pedaling is not recommended, and if the bird flies behind, do not turn to look. A close friend took a trip to the emergency room after he was injured trying to track the hunting path of a peregrine falcon from his bike.

But why list at all? Listing opens a world of challenge and opportunity, as well as the urge to bird in new and different places.

By searching for life birds, or other list birds, even staid and potentially boring places can be enlivened by a "new" bird showing up.

So get outside - go birding! And create a list!

Penny Rose is a public education program specialist and Adopt an Area coordinator at Discovery Park. She can be reached at

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