By RANDY ZELLERS/Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
LITTLE ROCK – With the fall migration of many bird species beginning, birdwatching enthusiasts and educators are just as excited as the most avid waterfowl hunter, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has a great way to bring more birders into the watchable wildlife ranks. After 20 years the AGFC’s Wings Over Arkansas program has been revamped and is ready to share the outdoors with more people than ever before.
The program rewards birdwatchers for the number of different species they document in their birdwatching adventures with special certificates of recognition and pins they can display as they move up in the ranks.
“There are six levels of advancement to the program,” Kirsten Bartlow, Watchable Wildlife Program coordinator for the AGFC, said. “You start at 25 species with the Carolina chickadee level, and top out at the swallow-tailed kite level when you record 300 separate species sightings.”
Participants in this free program receive an Arkansas Bird checklist as well as a free Arkansas Backyard Birds pocket guide to help them identify common species in The Natural State.
“We also have a brochure filled with handy information to help you get started, including links to popular websites and apps to make your birding efforts more rewarding,” Bartlow said. “Smartphones were not as prevalent as they are today when the program was last updated, so we’re excited about telling people about all these resources at their fingertips.”
Bartlow worked with Karen Rowe, the AGFC’s Nongame Migratory Bird Program coordinator, to refine the list for the program and help beginning birders with the species they are most likely to encounter.
“It is not a complete list of every bird ever confirmed in Arkansas,” Rowe said. “We removed those species that had 10 or less recorded occurrences in the state to cut down on confusion for beginning birders. The complete list is curated by the Arkansas Audubon Society, and we include a link to it in the program documents for interested people.”
According to Bartlow, the program is great entertainment for people from all walks of life. Educators can also adapt the materials to their classroom studies to help engage with students who may be learning on virtual platforms. Bartlow has seen great success introducing everyone from school-aged children to retired individuals at assisted-living communities to the outdoors with the help of the program.
“Everyone can enjoy birdwatching,” Bartlow said. “Whether you get out and visit parks and remote areas, or just want to sit by a window and watch a bird feeder, you can find many species of birds to participate in the program.”
Bartlow says the new Arkansas Backyard Birds pocket guide is filled with new, colorful images of the most common species found in Arkansas and interesting tidbits about their behavior and habits.
“The pocket guide, brochures and publications were all given a fresh new look by AGFC Graphic Artist Kristen Hodges, so even if you’ve participated in the program before, you may want to order a new book just to see the new look,” Bartlow said.
Visit www.agfc.com/wingsoverar for more information on the program and downloadable materials, or you may call 501-223-6352 to request free printed guidebooks and brochures to get started.