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2008 Dickcissel Flight Call Challenge Award

download bilingual competition poster (411 kb pdf )

Every spring, colorful little birds called Dickcissels fly northward from their primary wintering ground in Venezuela to their breeding ground in the grasslands of central North America (see map). They mostly migrate at night and it is thought they use the stars and the earth’s magnetic field for direction. During their journey many fly across the western portion of the Gulf of Mexico but many also go around the Gulf and head northward over the plains of northeastern Mexico. We estimate that millions of Dickcissels fly from Mexico across the Rio Grande River into southern Texas each spring in the last week of April and first week of May.

During their night flights they often give a buzzy “brrrt” call note to keep in contact with one another. Since 1999, these night flight calls have been monitored with a microphone from the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge on the south Texas Coast. The spring season calling total has ranged from 1682 in 2000 to 411 in 2002. The variation in numbers appears to be largely due to weather factors involving wind direction. Easterly winds tend to drift the flight inland. Westerly winds tend to concentrate the flight along the coast, leading to higher call totals detected at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Old Bird is offering a $1000 competitive grant award to the team of high school students who makes the closest estimate to the number of Dickcissel night migration calls that were detected by the acoustic monitoring station at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (LAA on map below) in spring 2005. The acoustic monitoring station at Laguna Atascosa operated every night from April 15 through May 10 in 2005 from 8PM to 5AM.

LAA = Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge


While a lottery-like element of luck is involved in winning, teams can greatly increase their odds by studying how weather has impacted night flight call totals for Dickcissels in previous years. That is what happened in Old Bird's previous competition in 2005! Weather data  and Dickcissel flight call totals for the past six years are available for inspection (seasonal weather patterns and Dickcissel night flights). See also the results and essays of the winners of the 2005 competition.


Anyone is welcome to participate and submit Dickcissel call totals, but the monetary award is only for a team of two high school students. Home schooled students or non-schooled teenagers (13-19) are also welcome to compete. Individuals may only compete on one team. Teams competing for the $1000 award must have a team name and a teacher or advisor who is sponsoring their participation in the competition. Teachers can sponsor many teams. All entrants must submit (by regular mail or email) their projected Dickcissel night flight call totals to Old Bird no later than May 10, 2008. The winning team will be announced May 15 2008.


Participating teams should submit the following information:


            Team name:

            Names of team members:

            School name & address::

            Sponsoring teacher/advisor name:

            Sponsoring teacher/advisor contact info (email or phone):

            Estimated Dickcissel flight call total:


Submit the information to admin@oldbird.org or by snail mail to:


Old Bird, Inc. 

605 W. State St. 

Ithaca, NY  14850 USA


note: entrants of high school age who are home schooled or are not in school, please indicate that for your school name. You sponsor could be a parent, guardian, or mentor.


Note: all entrants will be sent a confirmation email that their submission was recieved. If you have not recieved a confirmation that your entry was received within 24 hours after you submitted it, please resend your entry or contact Old Bird directly by phone at (607) 272-1786.



A grant of $1000 US will be awarded to the winning team. Flight call estimates of each competing team will be posted on the Old Bird website on May 15, 2008. In case two or more teams tie for the closest estimate, the award would be determined by having the teams of finalists each compose a one page essay describing their formula for coming up with their winning number. The most credible & creative essay would determine the winner of the 2008 Dickcissel Challenge Award.


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