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The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  4,472 ratings  ·  606 reviews
Every January 1, a quirky crowd storms out across North America for a spectacularly competitive event called a Big Year -- a grand, expensive, and occasionally vicious 365-day marathon of birdwatching. For three men in particular, 1998 would become a grueling battle for a new North American birding record. Bouncing from coast to coast on frenetic pilgrimages for once-in-a- ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 9th 2005 by Atria Books (first published October 15th 2003)
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David Cassel Plenty of fowl language, but I don't remember anything offensive. …morePlenty of fowl language, but I don't remember anything offensive. (less)

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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  4,472 ratings  ·  606 reviews

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Jim Fonseca
Nov 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Here’s a strange but fascinating world I knew nothing about: competitive birding. It can be fun but it can also be almost vicious.

Every year there are state competitions and a national one to see who can spot the greatest number of different birds over a calendar year. There’s also a non-competitive annual Christmas day bird count.


The author interviewed the top three winners of the 1998 competitive birding year to come up with his story. Part of the year for one man is written in a day-by-day
Welcome to the world of Competitive Birdwatching!


Nope, I didn't know there was such a thing either.

And not to sound sexist, but leave it to MEN to turn the gentle pastime of enjoying our feathered friends - into a pissing contest!

This book chronicles the adventures of three men competing to get the highest bird count in one year. From the Dry Tortugas to Attu, these guys spare no expense - braving horrific weather and gut-churning boat trips, all in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a rare bir
Dec 05, 2018 is currently reading it
So, on Thanksgiving, while we were waiting for the Turkey to finish, Robin wanted to watch a movie and we picked "The Big Year." Robin, Sarah, and I had seen it years ago, but it was a "new pick" for James and Rebecca. After dinner, we went up to "Red Gate" (a fire road near our house that's in the Shenandoah Forest) and went "birding." There wasn't much out, but we had a lot of fun. Ruth (our Grandpuppy) got a scent and James and Sarah had to chase after her, but she had a great time. I think w ...more
Aug 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
An awesome book. It took recommendations from several friends before I finally decided to give this book a try. The subject matter seemed so uninteresting to me.

When you're wrong, you're wrong, and I was totally off base on this one. It was fascinating from start to finish. What I realise now is that books like this one, which document someone's obsession (doesn't have to be the author's) often turn out to be completely engrossing, if the author (as Obmascik does) succeeds in conveying the inher
Jeanette (Now on StoryGraph)
Mark Obmascik's style here is playful and almost conversational. He really plays up the competition among the three contenders. I discovered, however, that I'd much rather read about birds than about bird chasers.

I'm generally content to observe the more common species of birds sharing the habitat close to my home. I can be thrilled by a robin feasting on fall berries, barn swallows building a nest in spring, hundreds of crows gathering in a huge pine for an evening confab, or a winter wren sin
Aug 04, 2009 rated it did not like it
The topic of the "big year" is really quite compelling, and I thought this book would take its place on my shelf right next to The Orchid Thief, in the section reserved for obsessives who focus solely on one aspect of the natural world and seek that single thing with complete devotion. Unfortunately, the writing in this book is nowhere near the quality of The Orchid Thief, and doesn't deserve a spot on my shelf at all! First, the good things: The three birders featured are exactly right for the ...more
Kressel Housman
For those of you who haven’t seen the charming movie adaptation of this equally charming book, the Big Year is a competition in which birders try to spot as many species of bird as they possibly can in the U.S. and Canada in one calendar year. Note that I use the term “birder,” as opposed to “bird-watcher.” In the movie, Steve Martin’s character bristles when his co-workers use the term “bird-watching,” but the book explains the difference. I am a birdwatcher. I own a field guide and I use it to ...more
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am sure no one will be surprised, that I LOVED this book. It tracks 3 birders, as they attempt to do a "Big Year", seeing as many bird species in North America that they can, in a calendar year. It is like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but with birds and lots and lots of disposable income. It sure helps, that the author is a very fine writer and a seasoned birder himself. Now, I want to see the film version. ...more
Juliann Wetz
Aug 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I doubt anyone would ever guess that I'd read this book. I found it on the clearance table at Barnes & Noble, and since I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket, I thought - why not?

I am 100 pages into the book. It is part memoir, part travel expedition, part field guide, and part history. I found it interesting that James Audubon started out on his birding journey from right here in Cincinnati, Ohio. I'm surprised that's not played up more around here.

I chuckled just a few pages in when
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a thoroughly entertaining book. It was a strange subject, bird watching, but the dedication, single mindedness and obsession of the individuals is both scary and admirable. I have always enjoyed watching birds but will not be trying for a big year myself but I will notice and maybe even make a note of the birds I know see. The book also prove we can make a contest out of just about anything. I think everyone would find something to like about this book.
Jolina Adams
May 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Really, really enjoyed reading this book! Well written - it was a short easy read. Parts are very funny - we've seen a few of those "birders" when we got to Spring Wings Migratory Bird Festival in Fallon. I understand the appeal of seeing a life list or rare bird. And I like nothing better than a good book in my back yard looking at what flies in, but I just can't wrap my head around why someone would go to such lengths to compete in a Big Year. Interesting stuff - made me curious to search out ...more
Ruth P
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I LOVED this book and wanted to give it 10 stars!.One of the most wonderful books I have ever read and now want to go right back to the beginning and start again.I am a bird looker....I like searching for them then love looking at them...these guys are the storm chasers of the avian world....utterly obsessed to the point of madness...and Mark O has taken the tale of three of them and their search to be the record holder of most birds seen in North America in one year and made the funniest,most e ...more
Feb 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining look into the world of ‘competitive’ birding. Oddly, the book has made me more keen to see the movie, starring Steve Martin. The author does a good job of making repetitive tasks (travel, find a bird, repeat) interesting and profiles the three main competitors very well.

Through it all, I had a continuous sense of disbelief at how these middle aged, overly-competitive men manage to utterly transform a beautiful, peaceful pastime into an anxiety-driven, miserable competition.
Nov 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a light and fun read for those of us who love bird watching. It made me want to get back out into the woods with my camera. It also taught me that I love to look for birds for the beauty of the bird and that I would never enjoy the competition of The Bird Year. To see over 700 species of birds in North America in one year is amazing. Interesting read!
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Liked this book a lot. Very close to 5*. One of those rare books where really want to see the film. Feel maybe better
Don Osterhaus
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I was browsing a nonfiction table at a used book sale a couple of years ago and the cover of The Big Year caught my eye: a cerulean sky, a beach, and a weird, spiky-headed sea bird perched on a pair of binoculars. It was fifty cents. I bought it.

It was an unlikely purchase. It’s about bird watching, for crying out loud. How interesting can a book about bird watching be? Apparently it can be downright compelling. I couldn’t put it down.

First things first. The term “bird watching” is taboo. Prac
Dec 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, animals
What a great book. It's hard to say what I loved more, the book or the movie. This gives me a renewed sense of hope about nonfiction. ...more
This book and the subsequent movie starring Steve Martin was written in order to document what is known to the birding community as a "big year". This effort is simply to observe as many bird species in the continental United States and Canada as possible in a single calender year. I am well acquainted with this effort since I had been the "annual list editor" for "Birding Magazine" for ten years and was responsible for documenting these efforts. This particular adventure took place in 1998 and ...more
Jun 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
When the world is too much, sometimes you just need a book about competitive birding.
Dec 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
I have to admit that I'm interested in bird watching--I know, I know, it doesn't fit into my Devil May Care attitude--and always felt that I had a decent life list. That is until I picked this book up. Who knew that there is Competitive Birdwatching? Certainly not me. And A Big Year? That was a completely new concept to me. Apparently you start on January 1st and count the number of bird species that you see during a calendar year. Prior to 1998, the record Big Year was 721 species. In 1998, thr ...more
This was a quick read, and much better than the movie. It is really more like a 3.5 stars, but when forced, 4 stars it is. I love watching birds, and cherish my binoculars, so reading of peoples Big Year experiences are fun for me. Although I don't have the desire, or money (who really does?), to do one myself, I can live vicariously through others. ...more
Jan 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Witty and engaging. Who knew that competitive birding could be so riveting? Journalistic in style, Obmascik does a great job of making 3 men's quest to be top birder an effort you want to see to the end. ...more
Tim Martin
Aug 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature, travel, birds, reviewed
_The Big Year_ by Mark Obmascik was a fun and engaging look at the world of bird watching (or birding). More specifically, it was a look at a particular event in the world of birding, a spectacular competitive event called a Big Year, an event in which participants try to see the most species they can in North America north of Mexico during one calendar year. In 1998, three men battled for a new North American birding record and _The Big Year_ chronicles their struggle.

A Big Year is a very inter
Paul Kinzer
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this, but I'm a birder. While Kingbird Highway would appeal to a much wider audience (and is really a better story), I'm not sure this would. The movie, while it veered from the book quite a bit, was more entertaining, and certainly targeted to everyone, not just birders. The book gets more into the reality of the ridiculous things these guys do, some of which is very non-flattering. In particular, one of the guys seems like a real jerk, and someone I certainly wouldn't want ...more
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have a new respect for the sport of birding and the people who devote themselves to it. Now I get to see the movie!
Douglass Gaking
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, birds
This is a crazy story with really fun writing. The audiobook quality is excellent as well.
Dawn Betts-Green (Dinosaur in the Library)
Super fun read. I’m interested in seeing the movie now, but I’m not sure how that’s going to play out...
Jul 01, 2020 rated it liked it
I had a hard time getting through this book. Not the story, but the narration. I could only listen in small doses. I actually liked the movie better.
Big Year, in birding terms, refers to a die-hard birding competition in North America. Seasoned birders spend a year, starting on January 1st, birding as much as possible and racking up as many species as possible of birds seen in North America. This is the story of the 1998 Big Years of the top three competitors, Greg Miller, Al Levantin, and Sandy Komito. Komito held the previous record, with 721 birds in one year. Since North America only boasts ~645 naturally occuring species, the rest of th ...more
Oct 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'll admit it -- I found this book through the movie (Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson) that is based loosely on the competition it describes. in 1998, three men set out to complete a Big Year -- a year where they saw the most birds possible in North America. All three broke previous records, and all three were as different as they could possibly be: a semi-retired, loud-mouthed contractor from New Jersey who held the previous Big Year record; an athletic corporate executive and former chem ...more
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Mark Obmascik is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and bestselling author of The Big Year, which was made into a movie with the same name. He won the 2009 National Outdoor Book Award for outdoor literature, the 2003 National Press Club Award for environmental journalism, and was the lead writer for the Denver Post team that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize. His freelance stories have been published i ...more

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