The second year of the five-year Maine Breeding Bird Atlas Project is now history. Over 1,200 birders in the state have submitted over 30,000 checklists with 1.2 million records of evidence of breeding in Maine. Wow!

The first breeding bird atlas for the state (1979-1983) documented nesting for 201 species. The current project involves many more observers, and we have evidence for nesting in 224 species after only two years.

Over 50 percent of the roughly 4,000 blocks in the state have some data, but only 11 percent of the 974 priority blocks have been completed. The goal of the project is to complete surveys of the 954 priority blocks as a bare minimum. There is plenty of work to do in the next three summers.

A companion project to the Breeding Bird Atlas Project has just gotten under way: the Maine Winter Bird Atlas. We need your help.

The goal of the Winter Bird Atlas is to document the presence of birds found in Maine between Dec. 14 and March 15. By mid-December, the last of the fall migrants have passed through. Very few birds will begin nesting before March 15. Therefore, the period chosen for observation will capture only wintering birds.

You might be asking why do we need this winter atlas effort when the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count (CBC) has been providing abundance data on our winter birds since 1900. Three explanations spring to mind immediately. First, the CBC is conducted only from mid-December into the first few days of January. It is therefore an early winter count. Some wintering birds don’t arrive in Maine until later in the winter. This pattern is particularly true of irruptive finches like common redpoll, pine grosbeak and white-winged crossbill as well as snowy owls, Bohemian waxwings, northern shrikes and red-breasted nuthatches.


Second, the roughly 40 CBC areas in Maine sample only a small fraction of the area of our state. The Winter Bird Atlas project therefore promises to yield insight into winter bird abundance throughout the state over the duration of the winter.

Third, the more information we have on current abundance of birds, the better. We can establish a more accurate baseline for judging future changes in abundance.

The Winter Bird Atlas differs from the Breeding Bird Atlas in that counts of all birds seen is all that is required. The Breeding Bird Atlas requires longer observations to see behaviors indicative of breeding.

To get started with the Winter Bird Atlas, visit this webpage:

Check the map on the website to find a block (each is about nine square miles in area) near you or in a part of the state you would like to visit. Color codes indicate blocks that have not been completed. To complete an unfinished block, all you need to do is to spend three hours birding in the area in early winter (Dec. 14 – Jan. 31) and three hours in late winter (Feb. 1 – March 15). You do not have to survey all of the block but should try to sample the different habitats in the block.

Then you enter your data into the Maine eBird portal:


In addition to the counts of each species, notes on behavior (e.g., food eaten, interactions with other species) are encouraged to advance our knowledge of Maine wintering birds.

You may not wish to concentrate on a particular block. Your incidental observations are welcome on the Maine eBird portal.

Some observers may not be eBird users. No problem. You can submit your data in written form and Maine Bird Atlas volunteers will enter the data for you. See the Winter Atlas website for details on the procedure.

You do not need to be an expert birder to participate. Contributions are welcome from anyone with an interest in our winter birds.

Herb Wilson taught ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at

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