In round figures I’ve always “known” there are something like 10,000 bird species on this Earth of ours. But what’s the precise number? Not having tracked down a full range of data sources, not being an academic, all I’ve done so far is flail around in some books.
Noah Strycker’s “Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, A Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World,” relates how he kicked off January 1, 2015 in Antarctica and then sought 5,000 bird species in South America, Central America, U.S.A., Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. It’s a beguiling tale and a beguiling read, but today I was most interested in one question: if 5,000 species was the target over 2015, how many species does he reckon exist? I used to be an actuary, so numbers are important, right?
Well, Strycker writes thus:
Although hard to believe in this globalized age, there is no single, agreed-upon checklist of all the bird species on Earth. Instead, we have competing interpretations: the Americans versus the rest of the world. In the United States, most birders use the Clements Checklist, which is periodically updated by experts at Cornell University and which recognized 10,365 living bird species while I traveled in 2015. In Europe and other parts of the world, birders tend to rely instead on the International Ornithological Congress (IOC), a progressive committee that acknowledged 10,612 species in 2015.
So, let’s call it “around 10,500.” What do I want to DO with this number. Do I wish to see and tick off a certain portion of this 10,500 – what, 2,000 or 5,000 in my lifetime – or am I interested in pursuing select species, to get to know them? Who knows? Thinking cap time.