It’s almost time to celebrate an important anniversary: Georgia’s pathfinding Youth Birding Competition turns 10 this spring, marking a decade of connecting young people with wildlife and furthering conservation.
The Youth Birding Competition is a free 24-hour competitive bird count in which student teams throughout Georgia try to find as many birds as possible in a 24-hour period. This year’s competition begins at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 25, and ends at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 26.
The event is designed for youth of all skill levels, from kindergarten through high school, and aims to cultivate an interest in birds and wildlife conservation.
Teams choose from four age divisions when registering and then compete against birders their own age. Kids who are new to birding are offered mentoring opportunities, and teams can choose to raise money for the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund or other conservation organizations.
Last year, 24 teams competed. They spotted some 200 bird species in all, and eight teams counted more than 100 species, while two high-school teams topped the previous contest high: Flutter Brothers, the overall winner, recorded 162 species. The Chaotic Kestrels had 156. Team fundraising totaled nearly $2,600.
The event coordinator is Tim Keyes, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section. He says the competition has developed “amazing competitors” who have gone on to study biology in college. Former novices are now veterans who are bringing younger birders under their wing, he says. “We’ve really moved a whole group of kids from the ground level up through expert birders. And I’d love to keep that going.”
Keyes is just as enthusiastic about how the competition serves as a model for the national Race 4 Birds Foundation. A 501-c-3 tax-exempt organization, Race 4 Birds helps individuals or organizations create bird races in which young people learn, work in cooperation with friends and mentors, and enjoy being outdoors.
The Race 4 Birds Foundation is one of 15 resources for young birders highlighted in the June issue of BirdWatching, which contains a special section on birding with children.The issue appears on newsstands on May 5.
Registration for the 2015 Youth Birding Competition is closed (the deadline was March 31), but you can follow along via social media: Look for photos on Instagram with the hashtag #YBC2015, and follow @GeorgiaWild on Twitter and @GeorgiaWildlife on Instagram.
The competition is funded primarily by the Environmental Resources Network Inc. (TERN), the friends group of the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section. Donations are also provided by Eagle Optics, Atlanta Audubon Society, and Georgia Ornithological Society.
The Nongame Conservation Section works to conserve Georgia’s rare and endangered wildlife, as well as other animals not legally hunted or fished for, plus native plants and natural habitats. The agency receives no state appropriations. It depends on grants, direct contributions, and fundraisers such as sales and renewals of the Bald Eagle and hummingbird license plates.