ALBANY — The State Department of Environmental Conservation announced the start of the 2021 “I BIRD NY” challenges for beginning and experienced birders. Two levels of challenges provide the opportunity to identify birds and learn about birdlife and offer a chance to win birding equipment.
“No matter where you live or where you come from, birdwatching is a fun, safe activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds,” Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “This is a particularly great time of year to take up birding or take your birding skills to the next level by observing the many spring migrants arriving every day, particularly here in upstate New York.”
“Taking part in the I BIRD NY challenges are a sure way to grow and enrich an appreciation for the natural world,” said State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid. “New York State Parks offer exceptional places for people to see and learn about a diverse species of birds in their native habitats – and we welcome participants to visit.”
New York State’s wide-ranging habitat types, from the Atlantic Ocean’s sandy beaches to majestic Catskill and Adirondack peaks, Great Lakes shorelines, and everything in between, create a birder’s paradise, supporting more than 450 different bird species throughout the year. New York also has 59 designated Bird Conservation Areas to safeguard and enhance bird populations and habitats on State lands and waters. The I BIRD NY program was launched by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2017 to build on the State’s efforts to increase access to New York’s vast natural resources and promote no- and low-cost opportunities to explore the great outdoors and connect with nature.
I BIRD NY is just one of DEC’s ongoing efforts to engage New Yorkers in nature-based activities that provide a fun opportunity for the entire family to learn about the natural world. Because people can watch birds wherever they live, work, or play, birdwatching is an accessible activity that does not require transportation or the purchase of specialized equipment.
Birdwatching is one of the fastest-growing outdoor recreational activities in the U.S. Backyard birding, or watching birds close to home, is the most common way people engage in birding. As a birder’s skill and interest develop, there are several opportunities to contribute to scientific knowledge about birds and the natural world. Programs like eBird, New York’s Breeding Bird Atlas, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch, and the Great Backyard Bird Count (links leave DEC’s website) rely on volunteer birders to contribute sightings to a centralized database.
“Bird watching is like a treasure hunt – once you start looking, it’s amazing how much diversity and beauty in wildlife you can encounter right around you,” said Miyoko Chu, Director of Communications at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “You can download the Cornell Lab’s free Merlin Bird ID app to start identifying new birds for your list today!”
“As millions of people discovered over the past year, outdoor activities like birding offer a great way to stay grounded and relieve stress,” said Mike Burger, Interim Executive Director at Audubon New York. “Whether you sit and birdwatch at an urban park, bike one of New York’s rail trails, or hunt spring gobblers, knowing some of the birds that you see and hear will enrich your experience. New York’s public lands provide thousands of acres of important and accessible bird habitat in all parts of our state. We encourage everyone to take this opportunity to enjoy spring migration.”
Molly Adams, President of the Feminist Bird Club, said, “During the pandemic, we have seen so many new folks finding joy in noticing the birds around them. The I Bird NY challenges are a great way for birders to familiarize themselves with local birds, their habitats, and seasonality.”
Birdwatching can be enjoyed by people from all economic backgrounds and education levels. While binoculars can help, many birds can be identified without special equipment. DEC is hosting its annual I Bird NY Beginner’s Birding Challenge (PDF), which is open to anyone 16 years of age and younger. To complete the Beginner’s Birding Challenge, participants must identify 10 common New York bird species and submit their challenge sheet to DEC. Entries can be mailed or emailed. All challenge participants will receive a certificate of participation and be entered into a random drawing for a chance to win birding accessories.
In addition to the Beginner’s Birding Challenge, DEC is offering the I Bird NY Experienced Birder Challenge (PDF). To complete the experienced birder challenge, birders of any age must identify at least 10 different bird species found across New York State. All participants in this challenge will also receive a certificate of participation and be entered into a drawing for birding accessories.
Birding enthusiasts can visit I Bird NY to access this year’s challenge sheets, as well as find information on where and how to watch birds, upcoming bird walks or other events, a downloadable Beginner’s Guide to Birding (PDF) (also available in Spanish (PDF)), and additional resources.
Two-thousand-twenty-one also marks the second of five field seasons for New York’s third Breeding Bird Atlas.
“I encourage all birders to contribute observations of breeding birds to the Atlas by creating a free eBird account,” said Julie Hart, Breeding Bird Atlas project coordinator for the Natural Heritage Program. “By doing so, birders will increase the value of their observations for conservation. The Breeding Bird Atlas is a valuable tool to help protect birds and their habitat.”
#AdventureAtHome: Looking for an at-home adventure? DEC is featuring special #AdventureAtHome content online and on Facebook and Instagram, with new, live specials, videos, and at-home tools and games for New Yorkers who are homebound or cannot go far for a nature break. Visit #Adventureathome.
To improve public safety and encourage visitors to State-owned and managed lands to practice responsible recreation, DEC recently launched the ‘Love Our New York Lands’ campaign. The campaign is responsive to the steady increase in the number of visitors to state lands, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the decade prior, as more and more New Yorkers and visitors from other states and countries discovered the natural beauty of New York State lands, particularly the Adirondack and Catskill parks. The campaign bolsters ongoing State- and partner-led efforts to educate the public about how to responsibly enjoy outdoor recreation on public lands without negatively impacting natural resources. The campaign will implement a variety of multi-media and in-person strategies to promote Leave No Trace™ principles (leaves DEC’s website), hiker preparedness and safety, sustainable use, and responsible trip planning, as well as reinforce the role of DEC professionals who protect public lands and manage public access, including DEC Foresters, Natural Resource Planners, Forest Rangers, Assistant Forest Rangers, and natural resource stewards. For details and more information, visit the Love Our New York Lands webpage.