2023 Hastings Area Earth Day Birding Festival and Youth Birding Competition Summary

Despite the cold, snowy weather, the 2023 Hastings Area Earth Day Birding Festival and Youth Birding Competition were a huge success. We would like to express our gratitude to all of our program partners including the Hastings Environmental Protectors, City of Hastings, Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, and to the organizations that donated prizes to our Youth Birding Competition including Tropical Wings, Cardinal Corner, and Hasting Fleet Farm! By the end of the event, participants had counted 112 species of birds.

Over 50 adults attended the Birding Festival, which included a passionate keynote address by birding expert Ben Douglas; birding field trips to locations such as Afton State Park, Lake Byllesby, Sand Coulee SNA, Schaar’s Bluff, and more; and “Raptors of the Confluence” presentations featuring CNC ambassador birds of prey.

Meanwhile, 38 children (consisting of 15 teams) were counting birds as part of the Youth Birding Competition. Participants ranged in age from 3-15 years old. Some birded from home at locations across Minnesota and Wisconsin, while others birded within the CNC Count Circle. Here is a summary of the competition results with a tally of species counted by each team:

 Hastings Area Count Circle:

11-15 year olds:

Sassy Songbirds-75

Puffin Protectors-43

Falcon Finders-16

     10 year olds & under:

City Birds -33

Blue Jays-16

     Backyard Birding:

  11-15 year olds:

Wandering Warblers-11

10 year olds & under:

Of a Feather-16

The Waxing Gibases-9

Myers American Kestrels-7

Loony Loons-6

Team American Goldfinch-6

We received a hilarious and heartfelt account of one family’s experience. Team American Goldfinch is led by 6-year-old Everett with assistance from his father Steven. This is Everett’s third year participating in the Youth Birding Competition. Here is the story of Everett’s day as told by his dad:

“So, the third earth day competition for team American Goldfinch started with SNOW. We would like to put in a formal complaint that the weather ordered for this year’s event was less than ideal, and after….2 hours of the team captain being upset with the weather conditions we buckled down, and attempted to beat our epic record of 5 from last year. This started out slow, Dad’s attempt at baiting song birds was ruined twice this year with the backyard lilac and honeysuckle hedge being completely turned into a brush pile by the massive winter storms. Summer will be ripping out the damage, planting new trees and trying to find a new place to hang the feeders. They were super active this winter, 12 cardinals at once, and two very well fed squirrels that the “guard” labrador never seemed to see when she was let out to “defend the feeders”. Off topic, be assured that her performance was brought up before HR. Back to birding. At this point in the day, around noon, spirits were low. Then, a familiar sound appeared! It was the call of the beloved Blaster Bird….sorry, Northern Cardinal. We looked in the back and a male Cardinal was putting on a desperate and what we thought, thrilling display of his prowess at sounding like he was a foley artist for Star Wars. Success, on the board.”

“This renewed the spirits of our fearless, ha, leader and he started to check windows with excitement. 15 minutes later, “Dad, I can’t find any” rang through the house and allerted the “guard lab” who marked it with an unenthusiastic “woof”. Dad went to the window with the team leader to help consoul, but was able to see it, the one bird that we have tried to spot for 2 years. Dad gave clues, and ended up holding and orientating the leader’s head in the right direction for our intrepid leader to see it, a pair of American Goldfinches in the brush pile, RIP lilac. Bird 2, American Goldfinch! Leader runs to the front to check the pollinator garden and sees two new birds! One pair of Robins, “making a mess of the garden” and then the “blackish bird with no tail”, identified with the help of the trusted book, as a Starling. Bringing our total to 4!”

“Lego proceeds to distract the birding leader, when from the other room we hear, “Boys, look in the road”. The leader runs to the window, flops? on the couch and looks. He sees it, the “Big Black Bird”. I ask him to verify it’s identity, and it is corrected to Crow! There we have it tied for last year. Now, can we beat it?”

“A while passes, our leader is losing hope and the “guard lab” needs to go out. As she slowly trips her way out the stairs, tired of the cold rain, we see movement in the brush, 4 lingering Dark Eyed Juncos, our friends from winter giving us one last surprise and with that 6th (high score undoubtedly), the leader declares, “I’m done, lets watch Bluey”. We look forward to next year, I am hoping to push our leader to do it live at the nature center. Maybe we will hit double digits (I assume he will want to count the animal ambassadors). Thank you guys for this event!”

Everett and his parents visited CNC the following day, with Everett sporting the “Jr Birder” badge he received for participating in previous years. He enthusiastically recounted his adventure to CNC staff. He was then speechless and shook with excitement when receiving his prize package. Upon arriving home, he promptly hung his bird feeder.

This competition connects families to nature in profound ways. After participating, families have become dedicated bird watchers and conservationist, and many children have express that they want to work in the field of environmental science when they grow up. Whether teams recorded as many as 75 species, or as few as 6, their experiences are both fun and educational.