Youth, Birds Win in DNR's First Virtual Birding Competition


Georgia’s first virtual Youth Birding Competition connected children and teens with birds in a 10-day contest capped by an online awards ceremony Tuesday night.

Seventy youth, from kindergarteners to high school seniors, took part in the 15th annual Department of Natural Resources birdathon. From Sept. 24-Oct. 3, teams used as much of any 24-hour period as members wanted to for counting and reporting native bird species statewide.

The popular competition, usually held in spring, had been canceled by the pandemic in 2020 and switched this year to a virtual format and an early fall timeframe because of COVID-19 concerns.

Coordinator Tim Keyes said that going virtual, expanding the competition from a set 24-hour period and not having birders travel to a central site to submit bird checklists opened the door to some teams. More than half of the 21 teams had not participated before.

“The format gave teams much more flexibility in the timing and the route they chose to travel, as there was no fixed date or meeting place,” said Keyes, a wildlife biologist with DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section. “The downside was that we missed seeing, feeding and physically handing awards out to the crowd of hungry and tired but enthusiastic birders. We certainly hope this will be the last time we have a virtual awards ceremony, but we also hope to learn from changes this year to improve the event.”

Moving the competition to fall added challenges. Unlike in spring, many birds were not singing and their plumage is distinct. But, Keyes said, “We anticipated teams rising to the challenge.”

They did. Awesome Osprey!, a team of middle-schoolers, finished as the overall winner. The three siblings from Cornelia totaled 148 species, shy of the 171-species event record set in spring 2019 but a strong count for fall.

Keyes noted, too, that Birding with Baby Yoda in the Elementary School Division raised $1,209 to help DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section restore and conserve songbirds and other native Georgia wildlife, rare plants and natural habitats. All told, teams raised almost $1,460 this year. Fundraising for conservation is a voluntary part of the event.

The event also featured a T-shirt art contest that drew 155 entries. Birding participants will be mailed T-shirts featuring a loggerhead shrike drawn by Owen Li, an 11th-grader at SKA Academy of Art and Design in Duluth. As the art contest grand-prize winner, Li received a $100 Michaels gift card.

Team members will also receive caps featuring 2020’s top art entry: a peregrine falcon painted by Alston Li, Owen’s brother. Although last year’s art winners were announced, T-shirts were not printed because the birding competition was canceled. That led to DNR’s decision to feature Owen’s peregrine on a cap.

During Tuesday night’s online ceremony, organizers also announced the top art entry from a youth who also participated in the birding competition. Abigail Moeller, a homeschooled ninth-grader from Adairsville and member of the Moeller Myrtle Warblers team, received that honor for her artwork featuring a red-tailed hawk.

Winning entries from this year and 2020 are posted at

The Youth Birding Competition and T-shirt Art Contest 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 the Georgia and Albany Audubon societies. Visit for more 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 and


High School Division

  • Wood Thrushes (126 species) 
  • Orioles (95 species)
  • The White Hawks (84 species)

Middle School Division

  • Awesome Osprey! (148 species), and overall competition winner
  • The Awesome Anhingas (72 species)
  • Bufford Buffleheads and Double A Falcons (tied at 58 species each)

Elementary School Division

  • Birding with Baby Yoda (72 species)
  • King of the Rails (38 species)
  • The Falcons (25 species)

Primary School Division
(two teams competed)

  • Eagle Eyes (39 species)
  • Sister Business (11 species)

Fundraising (division leaders)

  • Birding with Baby Yoda (Elementary Division) and overall top fundraiser, raising $1,209
  • Kangafox, $145; Middle Division
  • Bufford Buffleheads, $100; Middle Division

Fundraising for conservation is voluntary.

Top Rookie teams (first-year teams)

  • Primary: Eagle Eyes (39 species)
  • Elementary: Birding with Baby Yoda (72 species)
  • Middle: The Awesome Anhingas (72 species)
  • High: The White Hawks (84 species)

Mentor Award

Seema Sheth, mentoring Birding with Baby Yoda (Elementary Division) 


  • Youth Birding Competition:
  • 2021 T-shirt Art Contest details and results: