The ABA Young Birder of the Year Contest 2015: Protecting our Local Birds

By Dessi Sieburth

I was surprised when I got a call from Bill Stewart, the organizer of the contest, and Jeff Gordon, the President of the American Birding Association, to let me know that I had won the overall ABA Young Birder of the Year contest. I had placed first in conservation and sketching categories. The contest was hard work and a lot of fun. The prize that I received was a pair of Leica Binoculars, and they are awesome!

I especially liked the conservation project when I went out to photograph as many species as possible in a single day to raise money for habitat conservation. I photographed 84 species and raised $255. I also enjoyed the project where I did a photo exhibition at a local coffee shop. I showed my photos of Western Bluebird juveniles and wrote an article about what people can do to help birds such as trimming trees in the fall and planting natives. Another project I did was my Western Bluebird Nest Box project. I monitored 18 bluebird nest boxes and got 73 fledglings. I was surprised to find a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches nesting in one of the boxes. I sent the results to the California Bluebird Recovery Program. I also did a project about the endangered California Condor. I went on the LA Audubon fieldtrip at a California Condor wildlife refuge at Hopper Mountain. This fieldtrip was organized by Nick and Mary Freeman. There, I interviewed a biologist about the threats that California Condors face today. I found that condors get sick or die from micro trash and lead poisoning. I published the interview in the LA Audubon newsletter. I also led bird walks for young birders and thought them about birds.

photo-juvenile-Western-Bluebird-was-exhibited-at-a-local-coffee-shop by-dessi-sieburth EDIT

This photo of a juvenile Western Bluebird was exhibited at a local coffee shop.

The challenge in the conservation category was to find ways to teach the community about the importance of protecting our local birds. Luckily, our local newspaper published my article on what people can do at home to help birds. Millions of birds get killed by outdoor cats, and many owls die by eating poisoned rats. I wrote about leaving cats indoors and not to use rat poison. The sketching category was also challenging and very fun. Every week, for several hours, I went out sketching. While sketching I studied the bird, its plumage and behavior. I captured the overall shape of the bird but I also focused on the small details. I enjoyed sketching comparison species, like Least and Western Sandpipers.

This sketch shows a comparison between two similar species: Least and Western Sandpiper.

I learned a lot from participating in the ABA young birder contest. Field sketching improved my overall birding skills, as sketching forced me to look at small details in plumage and behavior that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. I learned that small conservation projects can make a big difference. For example, my article in the local newspaper about what people can do to help the birds in our neighborhood reached over 6000 readers. I learned that giving presentations is another effective way to teach many people about conservation. I gave a talk about my projects to LA Audubon at Debs Park. My goal is to keep educating the public about the threats birds are facing and giving people ideas what they can do to help. I hope to inspire more kids and adults to protect the birds. Thanks to LA Audubon for the support!


This is another page out of my sketchbook (of a Western Scrub Jay).

Dessi Sieburth, a 12 year-old birder and conservationist, lives in Montrose, California with his parents. He has been birding and drawing birds since he was eight-years old. This year, Dessi participated in the ABA Young Birder of the Year contest. He also received a scholarship to attend the Western Field Ornithology conference in San Diego, California this October. He regularly participates in field trips with Los Angeles Audubon.  At Dessi’s young age, his life list is currently at 460 species!

Published Western Tanager Vol. 81 No. 5 May-June 2015