SOCIAL CIRCLE — The Georgia Youth Birding Competition connected scores of children and teens with birds last weekend, with one team setting a record count and all 27 teams gaining a greater appreciation of wildlife.
About 80 youths from kindergarteners to high school seniors took part in the 14th annual Department of Natural Resources birdathon, held from 5 p.m. Friday to 5 p.m. Saturday. Teams used as much of the 24-hour period as members wanted to count native bird species across the state.
For the second straight year, the Wood Thrushes finished as the overall winner. Yet this year, the team – whose members hail from Decatur to Lamar County – totaled 171 species, a new high for the event.
Competition coordinator Tim Keyes also pointed out that the Wood Thrushes raised $1,885 to help restore red-cockaded woodpecker habitat and nest sites lost in south Georgia to Hurricane Michael. Fundraising for conservation is a voluntary part of the event. Almost $4,000 was raised this year.
“The interest we have helped foster through the Youth Birding Competition has grown in these kids into a real concern for the conservation needs of birds and the willingness to do something about it,” Keyes said. “This is exactly what I hope the (event) accomplishes. I could not be more proud of these kids.”
Keyes, a wildlife biologist with DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section, noted that the competition had six new teams – involving youth new to birding is another goal – and during the banquet at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, each team was asked to describe one event highlight — which, in itself, was a highlight.
“It was great hearing kids talk about their favorite birds and the bird behaviors they observed,” Keyes said.
Several teams saw raptors hunting chipmunks or squirrels, sights that, as Keyes explained, help reveal that birds “are so much more than a check on a list, and that the location and identification of birds is just the entry point into this endlessly fascinating world.”
The event also featured a T-shirt art contest that drew a record 272 entries. Birders turning in their checklists Saturday were handed shirts featuring a barn owl painted by Kaichen Guo, an 11th-grader at Lambert High School in Suwanee. As grand-prize winner, Kaichen received a $100 Michaels gift card. A painting of an indigo bunting and sunflower by Keeper Evert, a homeschooled second-grader from LaGrange, was chosen as the top entry submitted by a birding team member.
The competition ended with a wildlife program and awards banquet at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center near Mansfield. T-shirt art contest winners were chosen beforehand and contest artwork was displayed at the banquet. Winning entries are posted in the 2019 album at https://bit.ly/2FTrF1V.
The birding and art contests are sponsored by DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section, The Environmental Resources Network Inc. — a friends group of the agency — and others, including the Georgia Ornithological Society and the Atlanta and Albany Audubon societies.
The Wildlife Conservation Section conserves Georgia wildlife not legally fished for or hunted, as well as rare plants and natural habitats. The agency depends primarily on fundraisers, grants and contributions. Learn more at georgiawildlife.com/licenseplates and georgiawildlife.com/donations.
BIRDING COMPETITION RESULTS
High School Division
— Wood Thrushes (171 species), and overall competition winner
— The Pi-ed-billed Grebes (138 species)
— Froggo and the Crew (101 species)
Middle School Division
— Amazing Anhingas (120 species)
— Mylo (105 species)
— Counting Crows (74 species)
Elementary School Division
— Bufford Bluebirds (71 species)
— Feagles (65 species)
— Thompson (56 species)
Primary School Division
— The Cardinals (64 species)
— (tie) Nutty Nuthatches and Team Raptor (38 species)
— Helida’s Herons (36 species)
Fundraising (division leaders)
— Wood Thrushes (High School Division) and overall top fundraiser, raising $1,885
— Bold Eagles, $355: Middle
— The Cardinals, $304: Primary
— Bufford Bluebirds, $70: Elementary
Fundraising for conservation is voluntary.
Top Rookie teams (first-year teams)
— Primary: Team Raptor (38 species)
— Elementary: Thompson (56 species)
Tom Painting, mentoring Pi-ed-billed Grebes (High School Division)
— Youth Birding Competition: georgiawildlife.com/ybc
— 2019 T-shirt Art Contest results: https://bit.ly/2UKh6T7.