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Nebraska Birding Bowl Results


Male American goldfinch posing on thistle.

Photo by Chris Masada

By Olivia DaRugna, Watchable Wildlife Biologist

The first Nebraska Birding Bowl took place May 1-31 during Nebraska Bird Month. The successful event saw 144 teams participating in one of four categories: Fledgling Flock, Backyard Birders, Dabbling Birders or Competitive Birders. Together, 270 participants (192 adults and 78 youth) contributed over 2,900 eBird checklists, and more than 287 species were observed during Nebraska Bird Month.

Teams birded all over the state during May, visiting almost every location on the Nebraska Birding Guide Map. The sites visited most often by the Dabbling and Competitive Birder teams included Fontenelle Forest, Wilderness Park, Indian Cave and Ponca state parks, and Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. Click here to learn more about these top birding locations. Additionally, teams attended more than 28 Nebraska Bird Month events both in-person and recorded, where they learned about the incredible birds in Nebraska.

Competitive Birder Uriah Soenksen is inspiring his young nephew to bird at Ponca State Park.

Each team that met Birding Bowl requirements was entered into the drawing for prizes. Prizes were provided by the Birding Bowl Sponsors, The Wild Bird Habitat Store, Audubon Nebraska and the Nebraska Wildlife Conservation Fund.

Congratulations to the following participants:

  • $1,000 – Competitive Birder: Ruthie Stearns (Team Tanager)
  • $500 – Competitive Birder: Uriah Soenksen (Crows from Dunland)
  • Field guides – Competitive Birder: Jen Strating (Jen’s Big Week)
  • Vortex binoculars – Dabbling Birder: Katrina Headley (Fowl Friends)
  • Birdfeeder system – Backyard Birder : Laura Von Roenn (Von Birder)
  • Youth birding kits or feeders – Fledgling Flock: Betsy Bitker (Bitker Bunch of Birders), Kevin Lanik (Eisenhower Academy), Heather Schmidt (Love & Learn Childcare) and Anna Stillwell-Edler (The Birdie Blues)
A Fledgling Flock team enjoys watching birds from the playground. Photo by Heather Schmidt.

Birds were also winners in the Birding Bowl, thanks to all the teams’ efforts to contribute data to eBird. Bird observations submitted through the eBird platform contribute to a variety of research that study bird population trends, abundance estimations and ranges (learn more here). Additionally, many participants generously donated to the Nebraska Wildlife Conservation Fund, which supports a variety of conservation efforts in Nebraska (click here to learn more) and funds the Watchable Wildlife Grants.

Teams enjoyed a variety of birds during the Birding Bowl, from orioles in their yards, tanagers at parks, to uncommon migrants, such as the prothonotary warbler. Uriah Soenksen, one of the Competitive Birder winners, enjoyed watching a barred owl at Wilderness Park.

Uriah said, “It was really neat to be looking through my binoculars and see his big eyes staring me down as well!”

The Fledgling Flock team “Eisenhower Academy” on their first birding trip to Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. Photo by Kevin Lanik.

Stories from Prize-winning Teams

Ruthie Stearns, a Competitive Birder prize winner, shares about her experience participating in the Birding Bowl:

“I really enjoyed participating in the bowl and was pleased I didn’t get too competitive with myself. I had to enjoy every outing, whether I saw something cool or not. I also enjoyed that I thought about good places and times to go based on weather and timing. I’d heard that much of McConnell Meadow at Spring Creek Prairie had been controlled burned, and I hadn’t heard any reports of Henslow’s sparrows there yet. But I went the other morning anyway, and thought about where they should be – and I found some!”

For many teams, the Birding Bowl was also a way to connect with friends and family.

Uriah Soenksen explains, “I have a very large family, and it was such a blessing to see how many of them got interested in birds throughout the month. I actually bought my oldest brother his first field guide during the trip.”

Uriah Soenksen with his dad and brother after a full day of birding together at Ponca State Park.

Jen Strating, a Competitive Birder winner, reflects on her time birding:

“I loved the Nebraska Birding Bowl! It was a great way to celebrate my one-year birding anniversary. It was fun, challenging, rewarding and I learned a lot in the process. It was also a great way to connect with my entire family — everyone got involved (ages 2 – 70).  Birding has given me so much hope and joy in the last year, while I’ve coped with health challenges. If I’m having a tough day, I can connect with nature through my feathered friends and everything seems better. I highly recommend birding for the physical and mental health benefits!”

Katrina Headley, the Dabbling Birder winner shares her moving story:

“My mother passed away Nov. 2021, and her birthday was March 3. As I was anticipating her first birthday without her, I wanted to do some things she enjoyed to celebrate her, like painting and poetry. My husband, Matt, had built a picnic table bird feeder for our deck to attract birds and placed it outside the night before. When I woke up, our youngest son recognized the cardinal’s call outside, and I looked out the window realizing there was a cardinal on our feeder! I was so excited because my mother loved cardinals and pretty much any blue bird, and here we got our first cardinal on her birthday! So now, I had my painting — a cardinal. Ever since then, my husband and I have enjoyed seeing all the different birds in our backyard, and when that wasn’t enough, we started walking around the local parks together. We are more in-tune to noticing birds in our surroundings, and it’s been such a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors together and discover new species.”

Katrina Headley’s painting of a cardinal that landed in her backyard.

Heather Schmidt, the Fledgling Flock team leader for the Love & Learn Childcare team says:

“I use birding as a teachable moment. When a child sees a bird, it starts a conversation. What kind of bird is it? What color are its wings, beak, head? What other colors do you see?  It is a natural way to teach diversity, math, science and language. The highlights from this year are when a Baltimore oriole visited our feeders for the first time, and when a little two-year-old exclaimed, ‘Look, a red-winged-blackbird’ when she looked out the window, and she was RIGHT!”

Photo by Heather Schmidt.