Georgia’s popular Youth Birding Competition returns to its roots this year while still offering the wider timeframe for birding adopted during the pandemic.

The 17th annual birdathon held by the state Department of Natural Resources and partners is set for April 14-22, with an awards ceremony and banquet the last evening at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center near Mansfield. Teams of kindergarteners through high-schoolers will pick a 24-hour stretch during the nine-day span and compete by age group to find the most birds statewide before 5 p.m. on April 22.

Following three years of COVID-forced changes and even cancellations, the 2023 competition will again include the contest-ending in-person banquet for all teams at Charlie Elliott’s conference center, about an hour east of Atlanta. Coordinators feel comfortable with reinstituting the banquet and ceremony for everyone who competes, said Tim Keyes, event founder and a DNR wildlife biologist.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer a full in-person event again this year, and we are looking forward to seeing everybody again!”

Keyes added that this year’s competition will include two changes made last year: the week-plus window in which teams can bird (the traditional event covered only the 24 hours prior to the banquet) and the option for teams to electronically submit their birding checklists early (allowing judges to review them before teams check-in at Charlie Elliott conference center for the banquet and awards ceremony).

The goal of the birding competition is encouraging an awareness and appreciation of Georgia’s birds and the outdoors. About 100 youth take part each year. Keyes is hoping even more organizations, from Scouts and schools to nature centers and birding groups, enter or sponsor a team this year.

To register: Deadline is March 31.

The event is free and birding expertise is not required. Mentors are available to help beginning teams.

There is also a companion T-shirt Art Contest (details on same website). Participation on a birding team is encouraged but not required. Art entries are due by March 13.

Sponsors of the Youth Birding Competition include The Environmental Resources Network or TERN – friends group of DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section – Georgia Ornithological Society and the Georgia and Albany Audubon societies.