A Very Birdie Movie

Birders - the term might conjure up an image of someone not young, wearing a funny hat, popping up from behind a bush with binoculars raised to eye level. In all honesty that image might not be far off. The real question is - would you go to a movie about birders?

On October 14, just such a movie was released. With top billing going to comedy elites, Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, The Big Year told the story of a contest to see more birds in North America in a single year than anyone else has ever seen. Based on the book of similar title, this movie release has long been awaited by birders. They were not disappointed.

Each of the three characters, while not true to the personalities of the real life men their character is based on, had personality traits that were easy to relate to. Who wouldn’t love the credit card maxing Brad Harris played by Jack Black? Or the polite businessman, Stu Preissler, played by Steve Martin, who just wants to retire and bird? Or the uppity, seemingly deceitful Kenny Bostick, played by Owen Wilson, who will seem to stop at nothing to win?

The movie does a great job of giving the context of doing ‘A Big Year’ and of the money and passion it takes to attempt it. The current record is held by Sandy Komito. Achieved in 1998, while in his late 60’s Sandy spent about $10,000 a month and traveled over 270,000 miles to beat his old record of 721 and two other birders, Al Levantin and Greg Miller, seeing a total of 744 birds in one year. This remains the current record.

While recent Big Year pursuits are not so crowded in competition, John Vanderpoel is currently looking to beat Komito’s record. On November 6, he was at 729 birds and had reached 700 birds faster in a year than anyone previously. While we didn’t know it at the time, the McBirders had the pleasure of standing shoulder to should with John on the pelagic we took in San Diego. He keeps a blog if you would like to follow along at www.bigyear2011.com. In the meantime, treat yourself to an enjoyable movie by seeing ‘The Big Year.’

By Mary Nemecek

FALL 2011