The Big Year is a comic movie directed by David Frankel, releasing nationwide Oct 14th, based, roughly, on the book of the same name, The Big Year by Mark Obmascik, about a competition called the Big Year, an informal birding competition to see which birder can see or hear the largest number of species of birds in a given area in one year. It stars 3 guys, (Steve Martin as Stu Preissler, Owen Wilson as Kenny Bostick, and Jack Black as Brad Harris), each undergoing his own personal crises — one a mid-life, one a late-life, and one a no-life crises. Stu and Brad team up to try and beat Kenny's North American record of 732 species. Advance word is that this is a funny movie, reason enough to go. We are eager to see it. The case is out, so far, how it portrays birding. If it gets more people interested in birds and birding, then great.
Here are the trailers, with a few explanations. for the non-avid birder.
The Big Year - Official Trailer
The original trailer pitches the movie to the largest possible audience, (not mentioning the word birding), as big adventure and a friendly competition between 3 guys. The "bird fallout" is a real thing and does occurs when a group (of sometimes very large numbers) of migrating birds are grounded due to weather conditions, such as strong north winds blowing on the Texas Coast so that northward migrating birds in spring, who have just crossed the Gulf of Mexico, are forced to land.
The Big Year- Stu and Brad Scare Kenny
Stu and Brad get Kenny worried that his record will be broken.
Evidently Kenny thinks his record is safe, but then has a wake-up call. In the book The Big Year, in 1998, three different birders, Sandy Komito, Al Levantin and Greg Miller (who is still an active birder see Greg's website here) chased Sandy's record of 721 birds but Sandy then set a new North American record of 745 birds.
Is anyone challenging that record today? Yes, at least one birder, named John Vanderpoel, who has a blog, is attempting a Big Year and as of Oct. 6th he has seen 726 species. There's still time to break the record. By the way, a Big Year area covered here means the American Birding Association area of the 49 Continental U.S. States including Alaska, and Canada and the French islands St. Pierre and Miquelon, plus adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to a neighboring country, whichever is less. Excluded are Bermuda, the Bahamas, Hawaii, and Greenland.
Many people do their own Big Year. It can mean how many birds seen in one year in a single US state, or Canadian Province, or hey, make up your own idea, and see how many birds you can see in one year in your own back yard!
The Big Year - Stu's Advice
The Big Year, Sea Sick Stu
Kenny tries to get Stu seasick on an ocean birding trip. Lots of birders go on pelagic trips out into the ocean to see cool birds. Besides gulls, birders are particularly eager to see pelagic birds, such as Albatrosses, Shearwaters, Petrels, or Storm-Petrels. If you do go, here are some hints to prevent getting seasick, such as don't eat a big greasy breakfast of eggs, home fries, and lots of bacon. On pelagic birding trips they may "chum", or drop fish parts over the side, to lure in fish eating birds.
The Big Year - The Bridge
A Pink-footed Goose, a rare bird, has been spotted at the end of the narrow boardwalk. Kenny runs ahead of people, Stu and Brad wait and let the explorer scouts pass by them and miss the bird. Birders doing a big year must drop everything in an instant to race to a rare bird sighting. There is always the risk they will miss the bird. Birders well know the feeling of elation in seeing a rarity and the letdown of a miss.
In the birding world there is much discussion as to how birders should act, especially around a rare bird event. It is important to not stress or scare the bird, or behave badly towards other people, or break laws. The American Birding Association has a birders code of ethics, which every birder should know.
Birders will pick apart the accuracy of this movie in terms of the birds. Will the movie have the right species of bird in the right habitat? Probably not always. Greg Miller was a birding consultant to this movie, and often on the set, but ultimately, the producers and directors decide what they think makes a good movie, bird inaccuracies aside. Would a Pink-footed Goose (a species from Iceland and Greenland that sometimes appears in the northeast U.S. in winter), be found near a Calliope Hummingbird, a small hummingbird of the West? Unlikely.
The Big Year - Audubon Clip,
Go see the movie and let us know how you like it.