If you’ve ever had the itch to up and travel to Cape May, the Everglades, or any number of other birding hotspots but don’t have the time or budget to make it happen, then a highly immersive alternative that you can take part in from home might be the answer.
Writer, web developer, and fellow birder Matt Smith recently created Fantasy Birding, an online game similar to fantasy football that can simulate the birding experience, all from the comfort of your couch. The game allows you to enter a variety of contests with other players, make moves over the course of a “season,” and earn points based on real-world results, which come from real checklists submitted to eBird.
Rather than drafting and trading players like you would in fantasy football, you choose which location to visit each day, while recent sightings and current weather forecasts help guide you in your planning. You get credit for any birds that real-world eBird users report within a ten kilometer radius of the location you choose to go “birding” in that day. Keep in mind though that only your first sighting of a particular species is counted, so you’ll want to explore many different locations to increase your chances of spotting as many species as you can. As with any other sport, the more you know about birding in general, the better you’ll do, although the game is not marketed towards any particular birding skill level.
Many serious birders participate in Big Years, a personal challenge and informal competition among birders attempting to find and identify as many different species as possible within a single calendar year. Fantasy Birding a great substitute for those who are unable to physically travel around the country to participate in Big Years. The game also brings players with similar interests together to create a new online birding community and share their finds with one another.
While Fantasy Birding is a new game and still a work in progress, it allows you to fulfill your desire to travel and satisfy your competitive streak at the same time. We highly recommend signing up and giving it a go!