Great Crested Flycatcher feeding a chick (Photo by Don Reimer)
Great Crested Flycatcher feeding a chick (Photo by Don Reimer)
Regular readers of my column will note that I’m a frequent proponent of studying the behavior of birds as a path to knowing individual species and observing their complex inter-species relationships. Well, a fun opportunity to watch birds and support a new citizen-science project begins this spring. Although the peak of spring migration is several weeks away, The Maine Bird Atlas project has already recorded some early nesters. For instance, Great Horned and Barred owls and Bald Eagles are currently nesting. American Crows and Rock Pigeons are carrying sticks and constructing spring nests. By May and June nesting activity will hit full swing.

Spanning 2018 to 2022, the success of this five-year atlas project will rely on field data gathered by hundreds of citizen volunteers and a small cadre of professional birders. Maine conducted its first breeding bird atlas between 1978 and 1983. Over 200 volunteers documented 201 breeding species in Maine, with an additional 15 species of uncertain status. With the conclusion of the first atlas over 30 years ago and a lack of any statewide assessment of wintering birds, our comprehensive understanding of bird diversity and distribution in the state is sorely out-of-date. Thus, the goal of the current atlas effort is to conduct Maine’s second breeding bird atlas with updated methods that can still compare to the original effort and to implement Maine’s first wintering bird atlas to expand our knowledge of birds in the state.

Not an expert? Not a problem. Every sighting counts! There are two main ways you can contribute breeding bird records to the Atlas. The first is Incidental Observations: Records of breeding birds, anywhere in Maine, are welcome as an important source of information. Report nesting birds seen on summer camping or fishing trips into remote northern boreal regions. The second way is Adopt and Survey an Atlas Block: Take responsibility for surveying an Atlas Block in your general vicinity. You might discover sparrows, robins, cardinals, jays or phoebes nested in your neighborhood this year. Enter them into the Atlas.

Your first step to join the Altas is to visit the website: maine.gov/bird atlas. This site provides a comprehensive Volunteer Handbook that outlines the guidelines for participation and contains detailed field data forms and specific behavioral codes to document evidence of breeding. For atlassing purposes, Maine is divided into 31 regional survey blocks that are part of six larger super-regions. Each region is overseen by a regional coordinator who will respond to questions or issues that might arise and provide guidance as needed. Explore the interactive Atlas maps and learn more about contributing online data through the eBird portal. You do not need a smartphone or other handheld device to participate. Results can be submitted through any home computer or on simple paper tally forms that can be entered later on.

Serving as the Regional Coordinator for the St. George region, I can be contacted through the email address found on the website. In rough terms, the St. George block encompasses an area from Union south to sections of East Boothbay, with a west to east sweep from Damariscotta to Rockland.

We anticipate some changes to Maine bird populations and distribution during the past 30 years. Introduced populations of Wild Turkeys were limited to scattered areas of southern-central Maine. Other species have expanded their breeding ranges northward. Considered as a Maine rarity in earlier decades, pioneering groups of Red-Bellied Woodpeckers have now established a foothold across the state while becoming increasingly common as nesting birds.

I’ll be sharing more specific information and updates on the Atlas Project in future columns. Meanwhile, check out that website!