Georgia has a competition each year for kiddos from 5 to 18 that encourages them to get out into nature and learn about birds. That competition is the annual Youth Birding Competition where kids from all over Georgia will race to find the most unique species of birds within Georgia state lines in a 24 hour period of time.
From what I understand, this is the first state-wide competition of its kind. The original concept premiered in Cape May, NJ as a spin off to go alongside an adult competition. A biologist with Georgia DNR in the Non-game Division, named Tim Keyes, brought this concept to a larger scale in Georgia.
My son, Ethan, with Eddie as his team mentor, has participated since he was in Elementary school. Every year, his birding identification skills have increased, as have his awareness of the ecosystems that the birds live in. He has traveled to Maine to study Puffins with the National Audubon Society. He answers questions for many local people who have seen birds and want to know what kind of bird they saw. He even volunteers as “Chippy” the Chipping Sparrow who answers identification questions online for Atlanta Audubon Society. He assists local biologist, Charlie Muise with bird banding as schedules permit and he travels to Jekyll Island, Georgia in October to assist with the migratory birding station there.
Much of this interest has been fostered by the people he has met and the experiences that he has had during these competitions. Ethan always liked birds and tried to name them. Eddie realized that this could be a fun way for Ethan (and himself) to learn more and meet more like minded people. And they truly have succeeded on both counts!
Team members have changed over the years, but the Chaotic Kestrels birding team has solidified around some really interesting and talented teenagers. Outside of birding, they play sports, make videos, shoot rifles competitively, sing rap music in a Scottish brogue, ride horses, and just are plain ol’ good kids. There is not a single one of these kids that you wouldn’t enjoy spending time with. They are personable, intelligent, and funny. They make up a great team!
These kids worked together to plan a route, identify birds, and record them accurately during a single 24 hour period of time during migration. They identified 156 unique species, including one rare dove and broke the previous YBC Georgia All-Time Record! They came in 2nd place overall in the State of Georgia and I couldn’t be more proud of them!
Next year will be the final year for this incarnation of the Kestrels team as two members will graduate and be ineligible for the program after the 2015 season. One of them has already begun mentoring another young group of Elementary School birders who competed for the first time this year. Did I mention that these are some awesome kids?
This program is also free for participants. Many wonderful sponsors (Atlanta Audubon, Albany Audubon, Georgia Ornithological Society, T.E.R.N. just to name a few) donate time, funds, and prizes for the kids. But, the payoff for this program is far more than just a free t-shirt and prizes! These kids are spending time with a mentor and/or a parent, out of doors and enjoying nature. They are developing observational skills and coming up with questions about things they want to know more about. They are learning research skills to answer those questions and seeing the information with an eye toward application of that knowledge. No classroom experience can compare with the skills and experiences that happen with hands on learning. Many of these kids will go on to support Conservation efforts, become Biologists and other scientists and teach others to love the world that is around them.
That ain’t gonna happen tethered to a video game, folks! In life, you’ve gotta get dirty to get the payoff. These kids are the payoff for the next generation and, with luck, generations to come.
Till next time,