AUSTIN — Next month, hundreds of birders will flock to the coast, forests, prairies and mountains of Texas to compete in the nation’s biggest, longest and wildest bird watching tournament.
The registration deadline for the 20th annual Great Texas Birding Classic, which runs from April 15 to May 15, is April 1.
Since the Classic started 20 years ago, a lot has changed. The competition has expanded statewide to record participation, and it’s no longer just for experts since new categories appeal to budding naturalists and avid birders alike.
Competitors can choose from more than 40 tournament categories to test their birding skills, participating for as little as half a day or as long as a week in a statewide tourney. Participants form a team and compete in such categories as the Big Sit!, in which birders must remain within a 17-foot-diameter circle to count their birds.
Other categories include a sunrise-to-noon event, youth-only tournaments, a human-powered contest and one tournament held entirely within Texas state parks.
“The Birding Classic is a wonderful opportunity for bird watching enthusiasts and all nature lovers to gather with family and friends to see how many bird species they can spot in a few hours, a full day, or even a few days in a row,” says Shelly Plante, nature tourism manager for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“This is a fun event that anyone, regardless of their age or ability, will enjoy.”
Last year, more than 530 competitors competed in the Birding Classic, documenting 413 out of 643 documented avian species in Texas. The 2015 event attracted a record-breaking 100 teams that competed from Far West Texas and the Texas Panhandle to the Golden Triangle in southeast Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. The Birding Classic sported family teams, teams of work colleagues, birding buddies having their spring birding get-away together and more.
Registration fees and team sponsorships for the event raise money for birding and habitat conservation, restoration and enhancement grants throughout the state, helping preserve critical bird habitat and support nature tourism.
Overall last year, the tournament raised $25,000 for conservation grants — a 40 percent increase from the previous year. Since its inception in 1997, the Great Texas Birding Classic has awarded conservation grants totaling $844,500.
One of last year’s participants, teen birder Hannah Franklin of San Antonio, joined a team sponsored by the Texas Ornithological Society that competed in an age group competition in Central Texas.
“It was an amazing day with wonderful friends, fantastic birds and great leaders,” Franklin says. “I can’t wait for next year.”
This event is made possible by sponsorship and registration fees, donations from event sponsors Toyota and Texas Ornithological Society and the awards ceremony sponsor Audubon Texas.