Gray Catbird
US Fish and Wildlife

In the 103rd Christmas Bird Count Ornithological researcher Kelly McKay participated in 20 bird counts in 23 days racking up 115 species, 101,066 individual birds, 6322 miles travelled and 331.25 hours of effort all on only 107.25 hours of sleep. Read excerpts from his amazing story originally published in the 103rd American Birds Annual Report.


"I have been participating on CBCs for more than two decades, totaling 180 counts in my lifetime. For many years, I have taken my passion and enthusiasm for CBCs to an extreme by doing 8 to 11 counts per year and serving as the compiler for seven of these since 1997. During the fall of 2002, I decided to take my CBC participation to the next level--to really have fun, collect data, and challenge myself-- to do a CBC marathon. I wanted to do 23 CBCs in a single season--one every day during the count period, which runs from December 14 through January 5. As far as I could determine, 16 counts had been the most ever conducted by one person in a single year. If true, then my efforts would represent a new all-time record!

December 14, 2002: The 103rd CBC count period began today. I had a restless night of sleep in anticipation of the odyssey I was about to undertake. At 4:00 A.M. I started the 90-minute drive to my first scheduled count circle, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Conditions were fairly mild with no wind, but heavy fog. Nevertheless, I was confident that I would easily be able to accomplish the marathon.

During the morning, I counted alone and in heavy fog. By early afternoon, the fog cleared and it was sunny and warm with little wind. Overall, it was a good day. My group recorded 53 species. By far, the best bird of the day was a Gray Catbird, my first ever on a CBC.

December 23, 2002: The Princeton-Camanche, Iowa-Illinois, CBC was today, my 10th consecutive count and the fourth CBC I compile. Even though I managed to sleep for six hours, the most sleep I've had since December 15, I still was feeling fatigued. At 4:30 A.M. I drove a half hour to get into my territory. Conditions were seasonably cold with a stout wind. For the eighth day in a row there was substantial wind, resulting in my lowest species total to date, 44. The count marked the midway point in my CBC marathon attempt.

January 5, 2003: Finally. The last day of the CBC count period arrived, my 20th count of the season, the Van Petten, Illinois, CBC. This is the seventh CBC I compile. At 3:15 A.M. we began the one-and-three quarter-hour drive to our territory. After getting only three hours of sleep last night, I was truly glad to be near the end of my grueling, yet incredible, journey. The weather during this final count was damp and dreary, but with little or no wind. With waterfowl fairly scarce, we were only able to record 45 species. The best bird of the day, and perhaps of the entire CBC season, was a Solitary Sandpiper.

Epilogue: In conclusion, I am certainly not encouraging or even suggesting that people attempt a Christmas Bird Count marathon. However, I hope that those who read this article will be inspired to actively participate as much as possible in a program I am so passionate about. In the years to come, I believe that "citizen scientists" will play an ever increasing and important role in the wildlife research and monitoring that is vital if we are to preserve the earth's biodiversity. As for undertaking a Christmas Bird Count marathon, I agree, a person has to be crazy...but next year, I go for 23!"

Read the whole story of his 20 count season here: