Big Day of Birding

Saturday, May 21, 2016 Lucas County Bird Conservation Areas

Pin Oak Nature Center
45996 State Hwy 14, Chariton, Iowa

Lucas County is home to a very large variety of Iowa’s wild birds and can also boast some wonderfully varied habitat to support them. Birdwatchers, or “birders”, as they are now more frequently known, have been coming from around the state to view the beautiful resident and migratory birds found at Stephens State Forest and other parts of the county. Local growth in birding could potentially result in more tourism dollars for the county, as well as provide another reason for carefully conserving local soil, water, forests and grasslands. To begin furthering these benefits, Tourism Lucas County has teamed with experts on birds, forestry and conservation to create a “Big Day of Birding” (BDB), set for this coming May 21st. It is anticipated that this first-time endeavor will grow into a future birding festival, opening more tourists’ eyes to the county’s birds and other wonderful natural resources, while also expanding local revenues.

But just how might drawing people’s attention to local birds and birding help boost a local economy? Birding is one of the largest forms of outdoor recreation across the nation, with an estimated 44 million participants. Many people may be surprised to learn that the most recent survey of wildlife-related outdoor recreation, conducted every five years by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, reveals birding has more participants nationally than either hunting or fishing. Other surveys show birders outnumber golfers by 19 million, and only gardening exceeds birding’s popularity as a form of outdoor recreation. Here in Iowa specifically there are more birdwatchers than hunters or anglers, and overall wildlife-watching expenditures are as large as hunting and fishing expenditures combined. Birding dollars are spent for travel, lodging, restaurants, birding equipment (binoculars, field guidebooks, outdoorwear, etc.) and supplies for feeding and housing birds on private property.

This year’s Big Day of Birding in Lucas county plans to bring in specialists in bird identification from around Iowa to help lead field trips on May 21. They will split up the county between teams to identify as many species of resident and migrant birds as possible. The current bird list for Lucas County stands at nearly 240 species, and it is hoped that some new species may be discovered by the field trip teams. Stephens State Forest already hosts some of Iowa’s largest variety of woodland birds, especially migrating warblers. Warblers are highly colorful “jewels of the forest”, and birders from around the nation are always looking for great places to view these incredible small beauties.

Two major units of Stephens State Forest and surrounding private lands have been designated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as “Bird Conservation Areas” (BCAs) because of their importance to nesting and migrating birds. Iowa Audubon and the National Audubon Society have co-designated those sites as “Important Bird Areas” (IBAs) under a worldwide program conducted by BirdLife International, based in Great Britain. Besides conserving avian habitat, another function of the BCA and IBA programs is to attract more birders to come view the array of bird species, both to educate about the values of birds to our environment and to help boost local economies via “bird tourism”.
Big Day of Birding activities actually will begin on Friday evening, May 20, at the Pin Oak Nature Center, located just south of Chariton. There, everyone from expert birders to first-timers, and from local citizens to visitors from anywhere, are invited to come and learn about the BDB and enjoy a video about the fun of birding. Early on Saturday teams will start exploring the county to see what all might be found. Lists of bird species seen will be turned in Saturday evening and Sunday morning to the BDB coordinator, who will display a poster-sized master list at Pin Oak Nature Center for everyone to see and learn about the wonderful variety of Lucas County’s birds. A guide may also be available to lead a bird walk near Pin Oak Nature Center, to help novice birdwatchers identify some local varieties. Publications and other information about Lucas County birds and birding will be available for distribution at the nature center.

More details about this exciting first-time event will become available between now and mid-May. Look for future news articles, posters, flyers and other information to come. Individuals interested in possibly joining a field trip team may contact event co-sponsor organization Iowa Audubon by emailing

By Doug Harr

Volunteers Needed

On Saturday, May 21, a “Big Day of Birding” (BDB) event will survey Lucas County for birds. Five volunteer teams, led by some top Iowa birders, will each be assigned a portion of the county to record all observed varieties of birds. Volunteers, whether experienced birdwatchers or anyone new to this kind of outdoor recreation, are sought to fill out the teams. Besides enlarging the list of bird species for Lucas county, BDB organizers hope that some local residents might like to try their hand at birding, one of the nation’s most popular outdoor pastimes.

Each BDB team will be provided with a van and driver, allowing volunteers to simply concentrate on birding. Because team sizes will be limited by number and sizes of vans, volunteers for the day must contact event coordinator Doug Harr ( by no later than May 7th, in order to sign up and receive further information.

In addition to finding all varieties of birds possible, field trips are also aimed at helping new or less-experienced volunteers learn more bird identification. Each team member will be given a special Big Day of Birding t-shirt plus snacks and beverages for the day. Pin Oak Nature Center, south of Chariton, will serve as event headquarters.

For anyone else wishing to learn some local bird identification but unable to spend most of May 21 on a team, some shorter (1-2 hour) birding hikes will be conducted around Pin Oak Nature Center and on nearby trails. On Friday evening, May 20, BDB teams and the general public are invited to attend an introduction to the weekend’s event. That program will be conducted at the nature center, beginning at 6:30 PM.

A goal of Lucas County’s Big Day of Birding is gain new information about local birds, for help with planning a proposed larger birding festival in 2017. Birding festivals often attract birders from many states, benefiting the local economy and helping everyone realize the importance of conserving local natural resources.

If you’re interested in volunteering, contact the Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street office at 641-774-4059 or email.