For years I have ruminated over a certain stark reality of birding: not only it is extremely improbable that any one person will ever be able record all 10,700 plus species, but if anyone ever does do it, it certainly won’t be me! When a quest is essentially too difficult to actually do, it has to be in the running for the World’s Toughest Sport, which is how I think of birding. Consider the time, expense, physical aptitude, tolerance for risk, tenacity and luck it would require over an entire lifetime in order to tick every last bird species. It seems more realistic to scale the world’s 50 tallest mountain peaks.
So in lieu of the unrealistic goal of finding every species, one may look for reachable, but still challenging birding missions. Introducing a time or space constraint can help, as we see with the plethora of Big Years, Big Days, Big Sits, and so on. These can be entertaining and useful, but I prefer global quests that one can one pursue over the course of a lifetime. I’ve had a number of ideas along these lines, some of which are strange, others of which seem like they should already be somewhat popular.
One example, which is not too extreme, would be to identify at least one species in each taxonomic order. I once wrote up an itinerary that could allow one to do that with stops at just nine different sites throughout the world: and it could be done without ever having to set foot in Europe or Asia (or Antarctica, for that matter).
Far more satisfying, and taxing, would be to get at least one species for every family of birds in the world – there are 248 in the Clements taxonomy. I’ve not (yet) tried to map out how one could do this with the fewest stops, and I’m still about 40 families shy of getting them all. But I figured that there must be birders that have already reached this goal (maybe some do not even realize they’ve done it), and many more that are in the process of doing so. But who and where are they?
I just found some of them, courtesy of a well-designed, relatively new website for people that are interested in this pursuit: Bird Families of the World. This informative resource, developed and mainted by Oz Horine of Israel, features much beautiful bird photography, lots of taxonomic reference material, and even a ranking of the most sought-after families. Moreover, everyone is invited to submit their own running tally of bird families and to join the “WF248 Club” – regardless of where their family count currently stands. The process for doing so is quite streamlined and easy, and you’ll be able to see how you rank relative to the distribution. As of this writing (February 2021), I see that there are three individuals on the list (out of over 140 people) that have crossed the finish line, getting all 248 families. Many more are within a few species of joining them.
I suppose that once this goal is met, one could try to get every genus… perhaps that would be the most realistic / crazy-ambitious taxonomic birding goal that might be feasible in a lifetime?
The photo up top is a Buff-banded Rail, seen in Sydney, Australia.