DNR Birdathon: ‘Great Year' for Youth, Birds


The 18th annual Georgia Youth Birding Competition drew over 100 young birders to Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center Saturday, with teams reporting a combined 189 species.

After the awards banquet at the Mansfield center, event founder and coordinator Tim Keyes of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources summed up what he called “another great year.”

“We had new rookie teams in every age division,” said Keyes, a DNR wildlife biologist. “We had a team raise over $1,000 for conservation. … We had a lot of volunteers throughout. And with the winners finding 159 species, we have another hardcore birding team!”

The Wood Thrushes, from DeKalb County, won the high school division and overall competition, seeing or hearing 159 species in a 24-hour search that ranged from coastal Georgia to Kennesaw Mountain. The count topped last year’s high of 144. Saturday, 10 teams listed 70 or more species and six had over 100.

The Youth Birding Competition is aimed at inspiring an awareness and appreciation of Georgia birds and the outdoors. This year’s event ran from April 12 till 5 p.m. Saturday. During that almost nine-day span, kindergarteners through high-schoolers picked a 24-hour period and competed by age group to find the most bird species. Teams sporting names such as Counting Crows and Pileated Sisters hailed from Brunswick to Alto.

Following three years of COVID-forced changes, this marked the second year the popular DNR birdathon held its traditional contest-ending banquet for all teams at Charlie Elliott. Yet a change made during the pandemic – teams choose from a span of days which consecutive 24 hours they look for birds instead of all being limited to the same 24-hour period – has survived and broadened participation.

For the second straight year, the Pi-billed Grebes of Atlanta led in fundraising for conservation. The Atlanta high schoolers will donate the $1,057 to Trees Atlanta. The fundraising total for the competition, in which financially supporting wildlife work is voluntary, exceeded $1,500.

Tom Painting received the Mentor Award. The educator at Paideia School in Atlanta spent over 30 hours prepping and mentoring the Pi-billed Grebes, in addition to encouraging youth through bird walks and a birds photo-sharing account. Before presenting the award, Keyes read a two-page letter from a teen detailing Painting’s efforts.

The banquet also featured the winners and more than 150 entries in a T-shirt art contest, with a slideshow of images playing on large screens. Birding participants received shirts with a barred owl drawn by Aleena Huang, an eighth-grader and student at SKA Academy of Art and Design in Duluth. As the art contest grand-prize winner, Huang took home a $100 Amazon gift card.

While DNR named most T-shirt division winners earlier this year, art contest coordinator Linda May announced the top entry from a youth who took part in the birding competition Saturday. That honor went to Ella Seifert for her drawing of a hermit thrush. The ninth-grader from Kell High School in Kennesaw birded with the Awesome Anhingas team, which tied for third in the high school division.

This year’s winning art entries are posted at https://bit.ly/49Olh7a.

The 2025 Youth Birding Competition banquet will be April 12. Registration opens online this winter.

The competition and art contest – which have inspired similar events in other states, including Birmingham Zoo’s recent Alabama Bird Search Youth Challenge – are sponsored by DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section, The Environmental Resources Network Inc. or TERN (friends group of the Wildlife Conservation Section) and others including Georgia Ornithological Society and Birds Georgia. Visit https://georgiawildlife.com/ybc for details.

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 https://gadnr.org/license-plates and https://georgiawildlife.com/donations.


High School Division
1.    Wood Thrushes (DeKalb County): 159 species, division and overall competition winner
2.    Amazing Anhingas (DeKalb County and Brunswick): 122 species
3.    (tie) Awesome Anhingas (Cobb County) and Blue Jays (Good Hope): 111 species

Middle School Division
1.    Westminster Sky Pirates (Fulton County): 83 species
2.    Westminster Feather Finders (Fulton County): 81 species
3.    Nutellahatches (DeKalb County): 67 species

Elementary School Division
1.    Eagle Eyes (Brunswick): 69 species
2.    Eagles (Lagrange): 64 species
3.    Bird Dawgs (Madison): 48 species

Primary School Division
1.    (tie) Bluebird Watchers (Madison) and Little Blue Jays (Hamilton): 28 species
3.    Feathered Friends (Braselton): 26 species

Fundraising (division leaders)
1.    High: Pi-billed Grebes (Atlanta): division and overall top fundraiser, raising $1,057 (for Trees Atlanta)
2.    Elementary: Jackson Juncos (Alto): $100 (for The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, friends group of DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section)
3.    Primary: Bluebird Watchers (Madison): $50 (for TERN)
Fundraising for conservation is a voluntary part of the event.

Top first-year teams

  • Primary: Little Blue Jays (Hamilton), 28 species
  • Elementary: Ripvia (Atlanta), 15 species)
  • Middle: Westminster Sky Pirates (Fulton County), 83 species
  • High: Blairsville Birders (Union County), 41 species

Mentor Award

  • Tom Painting, mentoring Pi-billed Grebes, a high school team from Atlanta

2024 T-shirt Art Contest details and results are at https://georgiawildlife.com/YBCTshirtArtContest.