Top Young Birders Raise Money for Ivory-bill Project

July 2006

By Pat Leonard

Nerdy Birders in action at a Red-cockaded Woodpecker nest hole. Photo by Beth Barrow

They call themselves the "Nerdy Birders," but don’t let the name fool you. These seventh graders from Ringgold, Georgia, know their stuff. They tied for the overall win in the first-ever Georgia Youth Birding Competition by identifying an impressive 100 species. They also raised $2,761 in pledges for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Research Project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Project director Ron Rohrbaugh says, "I was astonished when I opened their letter, and couldn't wipe the smile off my face after reading their story!"

Out for the Count

Teammates David Hollie, Zack Barrow, Christopher Burns, and Jake Dedeker began their birding quest at 4:30 A.M. on April 23. Their first bird of the day was a Canada Goose near David’s home. From there they went to lakes, parks, and wildlife management areas to find more birds. From dawn through late morning the owls, warblers, and other woodland birds fell into place. By 11:00 A.M. the Nerdy Birders had already identified 80 species. The high point came when every member of the team got a good long look at an endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker near a nest hole in the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge. The low point involved encounters with certain other wildlife. Zack said, "The worst was when I found 11 ticks on me!"

Bringing it Home

There were 99 birds on their list when the team headed back to the finish line at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield. Along the way, a female Blue Grosbeak, perched on a sign, became their final bird of the day and the milestone 100th species. It was enough to put the Nerdy Birders in a tie for first place with a rival team, the Savannah Sparrows, for the most birds seen during the event.

For their efforts the boys were awarded new binoculars. David, Zack, Jake, and Christopher also won for the most money raised for their chosen conservation cause, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Research Project. David says, "We decided we wanted to raise money for the welfare of a bird, and of course the first thing that came to mind was the ivory-bill project!"

Nerdy Birders left to right: David Hollie, Zack Barrow, Jake Dedeker, and Christopher Burns. Photo by Linda May

Birding Recap

Altogether 180 species were spotted during the competition. Sixty-eight young people aged 7 to 17 participated on 16 teams with catchy names such as "The Homeschool Hummers" and "The Vacillating Vireos."

Some teams were paired up with experienced birding mentors who spent the previous year teaching them how to identify birds by sight and sound. On the actual day of the event, the teams did not get any help from adults other than those behind the wheel to drive them around. But the Nerdy Birders relied upon luck and natural talent instead of intense preparation. "We really didn't do a whole lot," David admits. "We just planned our route after reading about the places and hoped for the best since we never scouted ahead of time."

The Best and the Birdiest

Organizer Tim Keyes of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is enthused about the competition, which he hopes will become an annual event. "For me there were two highlights," he says. "First, a whole bunch of kids who had never birded before, studied, practiced and enjoyed their first birding event. A new world is open to them. Secondly, kids who have been birding for years were able to shine and get the spotlight they deserve. They were able to hear a room erupt in applause as they accepted their hard-earned awards. I have never seen broader smiles! They set the bar high for next year!"

Ron Rohrbaugh adds, "The Nerdy Birders prove that everyone can make a difference. They set an example for all of us to follow--find something you are passionate about, get involved, and good things will happen. This is a significant contribution to our Ivory-billed Woodpecker work and my hat is off to these fine young birders. I hope that one day they can see an Ivory-billed Woodpecker and remember the important role they played."

More Information

Anyone interested in starting a youth birding competition of their own may contact Tim Keyes at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources: