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Each year, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge coordinates with area schools on art and natural resource education in association with the Friends of Malheur NWR and the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. The following Youth Art Programs combine science and art to expand student’s understanding of bird species and habitat while building creative skills and artistic masterpieces.


The AIR Program is a dynamic arts and science initiative designed to teach youth about migratory birds, their habitat needs, and to learn a new creative art technique. Ultimately, the program encourages students in kindergarten through 8th grade to observe, understand, and share what they have learned about migratory birds and conservation through art.


Classrooms throughout Harney County are visited by a Malheur Refuge staff member who teaches the students about migratory birds, their habitat needs, and wildlife conservation while the Friends' sponsored AIR instructor teaches creative art techniques to foster a lifelong appreciation for art and wildlife. In recognition of their artistic efforts, the student’s artwork is displayed at the annual Harney County Migratory Bird Festival and in storefronts throughout Burns and Hines. Our 2023 AIR instructor is Ms. Julie Burchstead!


Since she was a child, Julie has always been more comfortable in the Oregon outdoors than inside. She spent her childhood collecting leaves, rocks, insects, and small creatures from the delightfully vacant lot next to her home, and from forays into the mossy woods, snow melt creeks, coastal tide pools, and the Columbia River Gorge. To her mother’s chagrin, there were more than a few escapees from the cardboard shoe boxes she would stash in her room. For 33 years as a teacher, she delighted in sharing this curiosity with students in her Oregon and Vermont classrooms. One of her favorite joys was finding new ways for her students to express their learning and discoveries of nature in artwork. 


Now retired, Julie loves having opportunities to visit the remote and wild corners of her beloved state, often on horseback, with a sketchbook always at hand. She also contributes periodic articles, as a Douglas County Master Gardener, to her local paper (Roseburg News Review) often accompanied by her artwork. Last year, Julie was fortunate to  visit Harney County for the first time as a May volunteer at Malheur Wildlife Refuge. She fell in love with the moody skies, lonely landscapes, The Steens, and most of all, the astounding variety of birds. She is very excited to soon be spending time with the students of Harney County capturing these amazing birds in art. 


The AIR program is sponsored by the Friends of Malheur NWR ( and supported by Harney County Migratory Bird Festival Early Bird Memberships.  

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The Youth Wildlife Art Contest encourages students in kindergarten through high school to observe, understand, and ultimately share what they have learned about migratory birds. By creating a unique art entry for the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival, the students are provided an opportunity to artistically express their knowledge of the diversity, interdependence, and beauty of wildlife. The art contest suggests educators, supervising adults, and students to use diverse resources to direct their exploration and investigation of migratory birds and their habitat needs, and the principles of visual art design.


​Student submissions are judged in groups according to grade level: K,1-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Contest scholarships are awarded to the top three winners in each group, sponsored through the Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. 


SUBMISSIONS ARE DUE APRIL 7, 2023 TO THE HARNEY COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE. Only one entry per youth, and entry forms are required. Submission guidelines are available by emailing


Artwork submitted for the youth art contest will be displayed at Harney County Fairgrounds Memorial Building (in conjunction with the Migratory Bird Festival Wildlife Art Show & Sale) from April 14-16, 2023, and anyone can come vote on their favorite pieces. Winning art will be posted digitally on the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival and the Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Facebook and its website gallery pages in late April 2023. 

Winning artwork may also be selected to replace current youth art on pole banners in downtown Burns! The pole banners are displayed for several months each spring and we love to feature our local youth artists! 

Together, the AIR Program and Youth Wildlife Art Contest:

  • Foster Awareness of wildlife habitat and its importance for bird migrations.

  • Encourage learning about wildlife and bird species characteristics to spark curiosity about the natural world.

  • Develop the skill of close observation for scientific and artistic purposes.

  • Encourage creative experimentation.

  • Provide a rich artistic and educational experience for Harney County students.

  • Generate artwork for the festival’s student art exhibit in a way that is inclusive.

  • Connect Harney County youth to their community and beyond be showcasing their work through the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival

Scroll through this image carousel to see some of our past contest submissions! 
Emmalee Estrada, Fields Elementary Grade 8
Hadley Marshall_Burns High School_edited
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