PIEDMONT -- The screech of a cockatiel is the most beautiful sound in the world.
Well, maybe not. But Piedmont High School's Sami Barney, Katie Cummins and Jasmin Nadim convinced three judges Friday night that their shrieks and whistles were close enough to the real call of the bird to win first place at the school's 49th annual bird calling contest.
For their efforts, the trio won a trip to New York City to be on "Late Show with David Letterman" later this month.
"I am more than thrilled to go to New York," Cummins said with flowers in her hand and plumage, made with decorative yellow pipe cleaners, still stuck to her forehead. "I did this with my best friends and I am so proud of us for doing this together."
Piedmont High School's bird calling contest is an event special to the Bay Area and one that attracts audience members from around the region. The sold-out show at the school's Alan Harvey Theater brought Michael Delehanty and his family to Piedmont from Walnut Creek for the second year in a row.
"It's one of those things you can only do in the Bay Area," he said. "I come from a theater family. My dad was a drama teacher for more than 30 years and I just love the comedy in (the bird calling contest)."
If you've never been, the contest is part comedic acting, part ornithology lesson and, of course, an as-best-as-they-can imitation of calls from western screech owls, snowy egrets and barred owls, among others. Thirty-one students participated on teams to make the sounds of 11 birds in all their hooting, burping, screeching glory.
"This is something the community really gets behind," said Piedmont High School social sciences teacher and event producer Ken Brown. "And it pushes the students out of their comfort zones. You have skilled actors out there and novices and they all are out of their comfort zones making bird calls."
The skit by 10th-graders Landon Campbell and Joey Moyer was of a father and son, hopelessly not seeing eye-to-eye, then coming together to bray the calls of the Pacific Loon.
Campbell just finished up a Tom Robbins role in the play "To Kill a Mockingbird" while Moyer had a part in "Hamlet." The bird calling contest gave them a chance to let loose and have a little fun in front of a large, engaged audience.
"We really love the stage and have since our youth," Campbell said. "We want to deliver great comedy to the audience and we're blessed that Piedmont offers this and gives us the opportunity to have some fun."
This year's judges were amateur ornithologist Mark Delventhal, tennis coach Corey Reich and Mark Andrews, a Pixar director who won a 2012 Oscar for the movie "Brave."
Far from just looking at who puts on the best comedy show, Andrews said he was looking for authenticity in the bird call, the exaggeration of the calls and more.
"I want to see the character of the bird in the bird itself," he said.
The show was hosted for the second year by Alec Sieben and Eli Nash. Both participated on teams displaying calls and Nash won second place, along with Gabe Bolio and James Clifford, for their red-necked grebe impression.
Elliot Gordon and Walter Le Duy won third place for their snowy egret call. All three teams will tape the Letterman show on April 24.
Letterman has been hosting the Piedmont winners for 18 years and, before then, Johnny Carson hosted them for 17 years. What will happen now that Letterman is retiring?
"I don't know," Brown said. "Letterman has been having us for 18 years so mission accomplished. He can retire now."