West Michigan Birdathon & Nature Festival  

Birdathon Instructions & Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Birdathon?
The birdathon is a competitive birdwatching event that is intended to be fun for everyone and friendly to beginners. Similar to a “walkathon,” it is a fundraiser for Grand Rapids Audubon Club’s award winning environmental education program Audubon Adventures. To participate, form a team of two or more people, register for the event, gather pledges and go birdwatching! The goal is to observe as many birds as possible during ANY 6 hour (or less) period between 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 and 12:00 a.m. and Sunday, May 18. We plan to have prizes for a variety of competitions related to observing birds, such as most bird species observed, list including rarest species, or counting the greatest number of individuals of a "wild-card” bird species (announced at team check-in). Bird observations for the competition must be made within the borders of Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon Counties. We will have prizes for the team and individual that raise the most donations for Grand Rapids Audubon Club. Participants from anywhere in the world can compete for this prize. We’ll post updates about exciting sightings in the field at event headquarters as the day progresses.
What if I’m new to birdwatching?
If you are new to birdwatching, we would love to have you participate. We will be on hand to help you out and have helpful hints in your welcome packet. Guided nature walks and bird walks will be available Friday evening and take place throughout Saturday morning. We plan to have at least one raffle prize available to any participants that see a minimum number of species (# to be announced and will be in welcome pack). Any of the guided walks would be a great way to get a good number of your minimum number of species required to be eligible for the raffle prize(s). Additionally, the “wild-card” bird species competition is specifically designed so that people with even minimal birdwatching experience could have a great shot at winning.
How do I participate?
  1. Organize a team or join a team.
    Teams may consist of two or more people. However, all teammates must be within sight of each other during the competitive bird counting period (any 6 hour (or less) period from 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 12:00 a.m. Sunday, May 17. We encourage you to come up with a fun team name.
    You may compete on more than one team. You will need a separate team name and separate birdathon registration fee for each team on which you compete. Your bird lists for each team must remain completely separate. If you compete on more than one team, it is expected that the multiple teams will do their official counting at different times (If two teams birdwatch at the same time, the two groups of people should register as one team). Each team gets 1 event tee shirt with registration. Additional shirts may be available for purchase.
  2. Register! >Registration Information
  3. Gather pledges (See “Pledge Tips” for help with this)
    • Use our sample pledge request letter to help you gather pledges. >Download (pdf)
    • Donations can be made online, mailed in or delivered in person to: 55 Lawndale Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI, 49503. Make sure that sponsors indicate your team name and your name on any donation so you and your team are credited.
  4. Track your pledges. Download our pledge tracking sheet or use your own sheet: xls
  5. Check-in your team just prior to your competitive bird counting time (this time slot is decided by you, but must occur during the competitive counting time-window. Teams can check in electronically starting Monday, April 29 by emailing aqbirdathon@aquinas.edu. Teams can schedule an in-person check in after Monday, April 29, by contacting Rob Peters at aqbirdathon@aquinas.edu or (616) 632-2181. Teams can also check in any time on Saturday, May 17on the Aquinas College campus. During check in, you receive your welcome packets, T-shirts and find out the wild-card bird species.

  6. Birdwatch
    • Record your sightings. Two team members must positively identify each bird prior to listing.
    • In order to compete for prizes in the bird-related competitions, you must birdwatch within the counties of Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon.
    • The minimum number of species will be announced at event check in. All registered participants witnessing a minimum number of species will be eligible for(a) raffle prize(s).
    • Participants anywhere in the world can compete for the “most-money raised” team and individual competitions
  7. Submit results - All observed birds must be submitted by 12:00 p.m.. on Wednesday, May 21. Team Leaders should submit their team's species list and team member list with email addresses.
  8. Collect all your donations & submit them to the Grand Rapids Audubon Club
    All donations must be submitted by Friday, June 7 in order for the donations to be counted toward the “raised the most money” team or individual competitions. Don’t forget to send a thank you to your donors! Consider sending your donors a trip report listing all the species viewed and/or any other highlights from the day.
  9. Win a prize!
    Prizes are being collected from community businesses. Prize donors will be listed on the sponsors page of website. Please patronize them and mention that you are a Grand Rapids Audubon Club and/or Aquinas College supporter. Donations and species lists must be submitted by the deadline to be eligible for the prizes.
    • Prize categories:
      • Most money raised by an individual
      • Most money raised by a team
      • Most species observed by a team
      • Rarest list – If a team records an accidental, they will likely win the award. Alternatively, event organizers will chose 10 birds uncommon in West Michigan. The team seeing most of those 10 birds will win this prize. Tie-breakers will be decided by the amount of donations gathered.
      • Wild-card bird species – A wild-card bird species will be announced at team check-in. The team observing the most individuals of this species will win this prize. This contest is designed so that less experienced bird watchers can be competitive with the most experienced bird watchers.
      • Youth team competition – Most species observed by a team where-in at least half of the members are under 18 years of age.
      • Seniority team competition – Add each species viewed to the average age of your team. The team with the highest score wins.
      • Raffle prizes - All teams viewing a minimum number of species will be eligible for any raffle prizes. This is designed to potentially reward teams with less experience bird watching.
  10. Birdathon rules
    • Anyone is eligible to participate.
    • All teams must stay within sight of each other during official counting.
    • All counting for bird-related competitions must take place in Kent, Ottawa and/or Muskegon counties.
    • At least 2 team members must positively identify each bird for it to be listed.
    • Playing bird song recordings is allowed. Please take care when using these tactics. Do NOT harass the birds, which may attempt to protect territories. We encourage all teams to follow American Birding Association Code of Ethics. http://www.aba.org/

Do you have any tips for gathering pledges?

Yes we do! Here are some pledge ideas:

  • Ask your supporters for a certain pledge amount for each bird species observed (example: your team observes 80 species, one of your pledges is $0.50 per bird, so that supporter donates $40). You can also agree to set a maximum donation from a supporter in this sort of arrangement, if they are more comfortable with that.
  • Some supporters may prefer a fixed donation (example: a single $25 donation paid up front)
  • Be creative and come up with fun ways to challenge yourself and pique the interest of potential supporters.
  • Here are some creative and challenging pledges suggested by Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society’s birdathon webpage:
    • "I pledge $0.25 per each species, PLUS $1 for every owl species you count!"
    • "I pledge $100 for every species you see mating!"
    • "I pledge $5 for every hour you spend birding!"
    • "I pledge $10 for every mile you cover!"
  • Ask your supporters if their employer provides an employer match for charitable donations. Many corporations match employee contributions to not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charities, like Grand Rapids Audubon Club. Any matching donations from supporter employers would count towards your total funds raised.
  • Offer incentives you could provide to increase your own pledges. Some ideas: Invite your donors over for a party. Offer to take donors birdwatching. Offer food in return for donations.
  • We were inspired by Santa Clara Valley Audubon Club’s website. >Go there for additional ideas

Are there benefits for donors?

Donors pledging over $50 will be eligible for a 1 year membership to the Grand Rapids Audubon Club and donations are tax deductible.

Your supporters are donating to a good cause! The donations will be used to support an award winning environmental education program known as “Audubon Adventures” in Kent County elementary schools.


How should I ask for pledges?

You can ask for pledges in all kinds of ways!
  • Use social media to your advantage: Facebook, Twitter…etc.
  • Use the paper mail and email
  • Ask people face-to-face
  • Use the telephone
  • Ask if your friends, family or co-workers would be able to help you gather pledges.

What kind of prizes can I win?

  • Gift cards to Celebration Cinema!
  • We will plant a tree either on the campus of Aquinas College and/or the GRAC Maher nature preserve. An outdoor plaque will be installed next to the tree. The winners of select competitions will have their team name inscribed on the plaque each year.
  • Additional prizes will be added.