The whimsical WOW-factor in birding.

Note … what follows is mere rambling – if you prefer seeing photographs of birds and the garden then you might simply prefer to pass by to yesterday’s posting further down the page.


In an earlier posting this morning on another list-serve, I referred to a site being within “Bigby-distance” and it has since struck me (undoubtedly as a result of much too much caffeine already today) that many things are  subjective and as we birders experience neither time nor distance in the same manner as normal people and are constantly looking over our shoulders at what others have seen or done, perhaps we would benefit from having a standard by which to compare our achievements and allow in some manner for the relative amount of effort that we each put into the business as well as simply a bare-bones count of species seen.

Thus … let us say that:

One Birdometre (en francais, oisometre ?) is the distance on a walk that the average birder travels before stopping to look at or listen to a bird.  I guess this is usually about 20 standard metres at this time of year, so the conversion factor becomes 1 birdometre (bm) = 20 meters ( and1km = 50 bm). 

One Birders Unit of Time (a BUT) is the number of minutes it takes standing at a given point to identify all the birds within sight or sound and also the time it takes to slowly and carefully and with great attention to the likelihood of a lifer popping out of the foliage, to walk one birdometre … for the sake of argument let us say that would be five regular minutes and therefore 1but = 5 minutes.

From this you could calculate a standardised measure for the amount of Wildlife (because, of course, this doesn’t solely apply to birding) On a Walk … henceforth known by the handy acronym of the WOW factor.  This we can then use to compare our achievements, by taking into account not simply the raw number of species seen but also  the differing effort that individuals put into their observational activities …. I define a  WOW as being the number of species seen divided by the time in buts over the distance in birdometres. 

WOW = Spp/(but/bm)

Thus, for three typical scenarios the relative comparative birding achievement in WOW factors would be:

1) A pre-breakfast walk of one hour in which 2km were traveled and 25 bird species seen would have a quite respectable WOW factor of  208 … calculated as 25 species/(12 buts/100 bm)

2) A pretty good Big Day (a Bigby Big day of course) with 130 species seen in 24 hours during which 60km were covered on foot or by cycle has a spectacular and enviable  WOW factor of 1354 … this being 130/(288/3000)

3) However … an afternoon on the deck with a six-pack in which three Robins, a couple of Chickadees, one Downy Woodpecker and a Starling (4 species) appeared between noon and tea-time at 4pm and in which no travelling was involved at all other than back and forth to the fridge has a WOW of a pathetic 0.08 … clearly confirming the utter lack of dedication being put into the birding business on that day!

Non-Bigbyable scores, by the way, are to be divided by 20 as a penalty for all those greenhouse emissions and so the Big day above, were it to have involved a typical 300km by car, would only merit a WOW factor of 342 despite all the birds seen.  Birders under the age of 16 or over the age of 70 are allowed to double their scores.  Lifers might, I think, count as five species for the calculation as a small achievement award.

No doubt refinements can and will be suggested by others (please) but I think the essential fairness of the concept holds up well.


Corollary (I just had another shot of caffeine) … as you will perhaps be noting butterflies and squirrels as well as birds on your outings it is correct to say that noting Wildlife on a Walk would be a WOW but quite possibly a purist birder would manage to ignore other species and might simply calculate Birds On a Walk or BOWs … groups of friends variously consumed by their disparate passions would undoubtedly be counting BOW-WOWs.