Recently, Mac Davis took me around Songo Pond looking for signs of nesting birds. He showed me an agitated pair of Merlins, a small falcon, that had been visiting the same pines for a week. He pushed our canoe up into a brushy area where we watched a pair of cat birds. One kept bringing his mate a leaf, twig or tuft of moss. We saw a pair of loons but, Matt explained that although loons regularly visit the pond, they’d only attempted to nest once in over forty years he’d lived on the pond. There were many other birds that we documented. Several showed signs they were getting ready to nest.  And, that is exactly what we hoped to observe. Mac is one of over a thousand of volunteers who are engaged in a massive project to document breeding birds in Maine, and he invited me to join him as he collected data on the block he is monitoring.

The Maine Breeding Bird Atlas began in 2018 and goes through 2022. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife implemented this study.  The last Maine Atlas was conducted 33 years ago, and the goal is to update our understanding of birds and the environment throughout the state. It follows a standard protocol, which has been developed and used by other states and around the world. Volunteers pick a survey block and are asked to report the birds they see along with a “breeding behavior code”. There are 23 codes. Some are used to indicate possible nesting. Some codes are for behavior like the Merlins where nesting is more probable. The cat birds carrying nesting material, however, receives a code that confirms nesting has begun.

It is a big job and requires the help of hundreds of citizen-scientist volunteers like Mac. If you are interested, you can read more by visiting the Maine Bird Atlas page on the site. You can select a block to monitor, or join us at Valentine Farm Conservation Center on a bird walk. Any data we collect is entered into this study.

As Mac steered the canoe back to his dock, we saw three birds sitting on a float. They were Spotted Sandpipers, a bird that breeds in our area. Breeding code “H” which indicates a bird in appropriate habitat.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected].

Maine Breeding Bird Atlas

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