Blue jays spring to mind when you think about dominant birds at feeders, but Project Feeder Watch notes several other birds that are more feisty. Julio Cortez/Associated Press

The Maine Bird Atlas, a community-science project to determine the distribution of birds across our state, is in its fourth of five years and consists of two parts: the Maine Breeding Bird Atlas Project and the Maine Wintering Bird Atlas Project.

The fourth year of the Breeding Bird Atlas was a spectacularly successful season. We are now well situated to meet the project goals for coverage of nesting throughout the state. I’ll write more on this project in the spring as we gear up for the last field season.

The fourth year of the Wintering Bird Atlas is just under way and we need your help. Here’s the way this project works. The 7.5-degree topographic quadrangle maps produced by the U. S. Geological Survey provide the framework for the project. Each of these quadrangles is divided into six equal blocks, each about 3 square miles. Those blocks are the unit of focus for both atlas projects.

At a minimum, the atlas coordinators want to have a winter atlas block completed for every topographic quadrangle in the state. You can see the progress of the winter atlas in your area by visiting the map on the project’s web site.

How is a block completed? The winter season is divided into two parts: an early winter period from Dec. 15 until Jan. 31, and a late winter period from Feb. 1 until March 15. To complete a block, observers have to log at least three hours of observations for both the early and late season.

You can’t complete a block by observing your feeder from the comfort of your home. It is paramount that you sample all of the habitats in the block. The map referenced above indicates the progress toward completion of every block in the state. Some are complete, some have either the early or late period complete, some have little or no data.

Choose an area and go birding. You will enter your data into the Maine eBird web site.

Six hours to census 9 square miles represents only a modest effort. Completed blocks near you may well be missing fairly common birds. To see the species list of each blocks to date, click on any block in the progress map and choose Link to Species List. As an example near me, I see the Waterville NW block is complete but the species list does not include red-tailed hawk, red-breasted nuthatch, or common redpoll. I’ll devote a little time this winter trying to target these birds.

Project Feeder Watch, a citizen-science project maintained by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Birds Canada, provides a way for you to contribute important data without venturing out into the cold Maine winter. You can find their website at: feederwatch.org.

Project Feeder Watch runs from the second Saturday in November until April 30. Its web site has clear instructions on how to participate. You enter your feeder data directly onto the site and can view summaries of the data. Project Feeder Watch watchers can report behaviors of their feeder birds in addition to their abundance. Since 2016, Project Feeder Watch observers have reported over 100,000 aggressive interactions at feeders. Who are the bullies and who are the wimps?

It turns out that a fairly strict hierarchy of aggressiveness exists. Blue jays spring to mind when you think about dominant birds at feeders. For eastern birds, they do rank highly but, in increasing order of feistiness, defer to European starlings, red-bellied woodpeckers, common grackles and, at the top, American crows.

Close behind blue jays, the hierarchy has American robin, red-winged blackbird, hairy woodpecker and mourning dove. In increasing wimpiness, we find northern cardinal, downy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmouse and house finch. The meekest species at our feeders are red-breasted nuthatch, purple finch, American goldfinch and the least aggressive of all, our state bird, the black-capped chickadee.

The power of citizen science!

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


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