Note: Erika is the Communications Director for Audubon Florida.

I have been birding for about seven years now – time flies when you’re having fun. However,  until this spring I had yet to participate in some of birding’s most time-honored traditions: a Birdathon.

Birdathons have been used as Audubon fundraisers for decades, and the concept is simple: count birds in a set period of time – usually 24 hours. Typically, team members fan out across their region, counting as many species as they possibly can from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m.

Of course, nothing is typical about 2020. By the time migration rolled around, we were all sheltering in place.

At Audubon Florida, we opted to change a typical Birdathon to bring not only our staff together, but our whole Florida birding community.  Staff would bird for 24 hours as part of a fundraiser. The covid-19 alteration? We committed to staying at home, birding from our yards, balconies, and windows.  At the same time, our Audubon Florida community would bird for a week, still staying at home. Who would see more species?

Our 24 hours coincided with Earth Day – the perfect way to celebrate! The day dawned gorgeously at my house in the northern part of the Florida, and I moved my laptop out onto the deck to start counting birds.

The Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and Carolina Wrens came first, plus the usual yard birds and a pair of Eastern Kingbirds. Then I got lucky: a handful of Glossy Ibises had recently taken up residence at the lake, and they – along with a Wood Stork – walked right by my yard. Using a small composition notebook, I kept track as each species as it streaked past my field of vision.


In the late afternoon I pulled my red kayak to the edge of the lake, making a slow lap. Our rules were a bit fluid – we didn’t want people to go to parks in case they couldn’t socially-distance safely, but if a birder could launch a boat from his or her house,  then why not? As I skirted the edge of the grassy edge of the water body, I added egrets and herons and a Limpkin to my list.

I loved the little burst of positive energy I felt when I wrote down a new species. I had always paid attention to the birds around me, but now each day presented a novel opportunity to observe my feathered friends. Why does writing them down prompt greater focus? Who knows, but I like it!

By the end of our Earth Day Birdathon,  I had tallied 39 species. In total, Audubon Florida staff counted 121 species, and Floridians at large submitted over 2,000 checklists that covered 201 birds. Nice!

Since then, I have continued to keep track of my daily bird list in the small composition notebook. I’ve never reached 39 species again, but so far I’ve seen over 60 birds in my yards.  Each new sighting – whether the White-breasted Nuthatch, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, the Killdeer – feels like welcoming new friends to my home. During these crazy times, such welcomes are priceless.
Written by Erika Zambello
Erika Zambello is a National Geographic Young Explorer who grew up in Maine, inspiring a deep interest in nature at an early age. She fell in love with birding after receiving a Sibley field guide for Christmas during her senior year in college, and has birded across the eastern seaboard and internationally ever since. To inspire others to protect birds and the environment, she has blogged for the Conservation Fund, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Triangle Land Conservancy, and Duke University, and is writing a birding guide to Northern New England for Wilderness Adventures Press. She has founded, and is currently living along the Emerald Coast in Florida's Panhandle. You can check out her exploration site or follow her on Instragram.