Georgia Wildlife Resources Division
2067 U.S. Hwy. 278, SE, Social Circle, GA 30025
Another Georgia Youth Birding Competition, another birding record.
The 11th annual competition held last weekend set a new high for bird species seen or heard by a team, while also adding to the event’s legacy of spurring an appreciation of birds among youth ages 4 to 18.
About 100 searched the state for birds during the 24-hour contest held Friday through Saturday by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, part of the Department of Natural Resources. Two 16-year-olds from Gwinnet County, the Eagle Maniacs, were the overall winners with 170 species, three more than the top count last year, the previous record.
“The bar just keeps rising,” said competition coordinator Tim Keyes, a wildlife biologist with DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.
John Deitsch of Duluth and Jon Robbins of Alpharetta raised the bar this year by weathering a Friday evening storm on Jekyll Island and a late-night drive that allowed them to bird north Georgia hotspots such as Kennesaw Mountain early the next morning.
Both are longtime participants in the competition. Robbins said he enjoys birding for the variety of species, colors and calls. Deitsch agreed. “Every time you go out, you see something different.”
The event included participants of different skill levels and as many as 10 first-time teams. There was also a T-shirt art contest that drew 163 entries. Birders turning in their species checklists Saturday were given shirts featuring an Anna’s hummingbird drawn and painted by Anna Zhu, 14, of Alpharetta, an eighth-grader at SKA Academy of Art and Design in Duluth. Zhu’s artwork was the grand-prize winner.
In another part of the competition, teams raised $1,679 for conservation, a voluntary part of the event that pushed the 11-year total past $20,000. The Chaotic Kestrels, a high school team, led with $1,162. With the money raised, teams chose to sponsor the Race4Birds Foundation, Nongame Conservation Section, The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, and the Jekyll Island bird banding station.
The Youth Birding Competition is aimed at cultivating an interest in birds and conservation. Sponsors include TERN, friends group of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section; Georgia Ornithological Society; and, the Atlanta and Albany Audubon societies. The event's reach is being multiplied by Race4Birds (www.race4birds.org), a foundation that is helping spread the Youth Birding Competition concept.
Running from 5 p.m. Friday to 5 p.m. Saturday, this year’s event ended with a wildlife program and awards banquet at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center near Mansfield. Teams, divided by age group, used as much of the 24-hour period as members wanted to count bird species in the state.
Four division winners in the T-shirt art contest were chosen beforehand and the art of native Georgia birds displayed at the banquet. Zhu’s entry led the middle school category. Winning entries are posted in the “2016 YBC T-shirt Art Contest Winners” album at www.flickr.com/photos/wildliferesourcesdivision.
The Youth Birding Competition and T-shirt Art Contest are free. The 2017 event is set for April 29-30.
DNR’s 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 depends largely on grants, direct contributions and fundraisers such as sales and renewals of the bald eagle and hummingbird license plates.
Visit www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation for more information, or call Nongame Conservation offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-264-7218).
The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, is a nonprofit advocacy group that supports nongame conservation in Georgia. Details at http://tern.homestead.com. 
1. Eagle Maniacs (170 species), and overall competition winner
2. (tie) Chaotic Kestrels and Florida Scrub Jays (168 species)
1. Wood Thrushes (155 species)
2. Beautiful Bluebirds (69 species)
3. BBQ Chickens (68 species)
1. Amazing Anhingas (65 species)
2. Kingsley Cardinals (60 species)
3. Audubon Adventures (54 species)
1. Bufford Bluebirds (33 species)
2. Wild Redbirds (23 species)
3. Rock Star Red-tailed Hawks (16 species)
1. Chaotic Kestrels, high school division and overall top fundraiser, raising $1,162.
2. Wood Thrushes, $367 – middle school division
3. Bufford Bluebirds, $130 – primary division
Fundraising for conservation is voluntary.
Primary – Bufford Bluebirds (33 species)
Elementary – Audubon Adventures (54 species)
Middle school – Ugly Ducklings (56)
Art contest division winners received $50 gift cards to Michael's. The grand-prize winner received a $100 gift card to Michael’s, and the artwork was featured on the 2016 Youth Birding Competition T-shirt.