Whenever I try to explain “bird racing” to non-birders they seem to think its either pigeon racing or someone in a pair of trainers chasing an ostrich. Bird racing in this instance is neither of those things.
The Big Bird Race
My own personal bird race journey began back in the 1980s when as a wide-eyed teenager I read, and re-read the seminal bird racing book “The Big Bird Race” by David Tomlinson and Bill Oddie. If you were alive and interested in birds in the 1980s you would have had to be living under a rock thrush to have not heard of this book. The book documents two teams one led by David Tomlinson representing Country Life magazine, the other led by Bill Oddie representing the Flora and Fauna Preservation Society.
The Norfolk Bird Race
It is well documented that I am a bit of a Big Bird Race geek, so its probably no surprise that in 2015 I decided it was time to try and recreate the original event. With the help of co-founder and opposing team captain Ian Dearing and the support of Rob and Jill Wilson (Norfolk Bird and Wildlife Fair) the Norfolk Bird Race was born. The British Trust for Ornithology became the first recipient of the money raised with donations going to their House Martin Appeal. The race got off to a modest start, with two teams of two people taking part on 9th May 2015, raising about £200 for the appeal. In 2016, we chose Wader Quest as our nominated charity, and five teams took part on 30th April 2016. With the endless energy and support of Rick and Elis Simpson the event raised £1664.10 for wader conservation projects throughout the world.
After the 2016 race we were contacted by the one and only David Tomlinson who had read about our efforts in an article in Birdwatching magazine. He met us at the Norfolk Bird and Wildlife Fair and very kindly donated the original Big Bird Race Trophy to the cause.
The Bird Race Challenge
As custodians of a piece of bird racing history we have thought long and hard about how we can make the race bigger and better in order to raise even more money for conservation projects. We decided this was the time to “re-brand” the race to the Bird Race Challenge and to launch the Virtual Bird Race so that more people can also enjoy the fun and excitement (not to mention the pain and exhaustion) of taking part in a bird race for themselves.