DIFW does a lot for Maine Birds

Too many Maine residents think DIF&W only works on fish and wildlife sought by anglers and hunters. But they actually do great work for all Maine critters, from endangered species to song birds.

Today I want to share a column about a birding initiative, written by DIF&W’s Brad Allen.

Maine Bird Atlas

Just thought I’d take this opportunity to update the readers on the results of one of Maine’s largest citizen science projects coordinated by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Bird atlases have been conducted worldwide with the aim of mapping the distribution and abundance of bird species over a large geographic area and for a fixed amount of time.  They follow a standardized methodology and are intended to be repeated at roughly 20 year intervals.

Maine’s current bird atlas is overdue as the initial bird atlas in Maine was conducted between 1978-83.  But with proper funding and coordination, this herculean effort has resulted in the culmination of year one of a five-year effort.  Adrienne Leppold, wildlife biologist and songbird specialist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is the project director.

When asked about the importance of this effort, she replied that “birds are a huge indicator of environmental health.  Their ability to move in and out of places is indicative of environmental change.  Tracking changes in bird populations is vital to understanding how to conserve and protect wildlife resources for generations to come”.

Atlas staff have taken the opportunity this winter to reflect on the past year’s progress.  In particular, the winter months have allowed the Atlas team to pour over 12,000+ bird checklists that private citizens have submitted through the Maine Bird Atlas eBird Portal and process all the data sheets as we gain a better understanding of the current distribution of Maine’s birds.  The first year’s results have been impressive.

Here are some of the numbers.  The atlas team and its 650+ volunteer birders confirmed breeding records for 169 species in the state, plus possible or probable breeding records for an additional 48 species.  Among those confirmed are eight species not reported as breeding in Maine’s first atlas (1978-1983). New breeding records for Maine include eight pairs of Common Murres successfully nesting on Matinicus Rock for the first time since they last bred there 130 years ago.  Another seabird, the Manx Shearwater also nested on Matinicus Rock in 2018, a species that first nested in Maine in 2005 and  continues to do so.

American Oystercatchers are another species that have moved into coastal Maine since the first atlas and are now successfully nesting at a half a dozen coastal beaches and islands.  One pair of King Rails successfully nested in southern Maine again this year, hatching young in early July.  The nesting location is being withheld in an effort to minimize disturbance to this rare pair.    In the first atlas, there were three summer Merlin records in Maine but no evidence of breeding was documented.  In 2018, Merlin were confirmed as breeders in 25 atlas blocks.  Great Egrets, Sandhill Cranes, Fish Crows, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Carolina Wrens were not present in Maine during the first atlas, but all have been confirmed as breeders in Maine during 2018.  Lastly, a Chuck-wills-widow was present in Orland for much of June with possibly a second bird present at the same location.   Breeding has not been confirmed as yet but maybe this year.  This list of breeding firsts in just the first year of the five-year atlas effort is remarkable.

The most common species reported in 2018 by atlas volunteers were Song Sparrows (742 records), red-eyed vireos (705 records), American Robins (696 records) and Eastern Phoebes (268 records).  Each and every report is important to the atlas team and will make Maine’s atlas better.  July and August are excellent months for confirming breeding birds in Maine.  Even if you don’t find a particular bird’s nest, the behavior of the adult birds carrying food to their nests is enough to confirm breeding.

Even one record is a major contribution.  And one does not have to be an accomplished birder to participate in this effort.  Birds are fun to watch so why don’t you become an atlas volunteer.  I encourage to take part in this important effort because more participation will lead to a better product.  If you desire any information on this effort please contact me or visit the Maine Bird Atlas website.  There is a lot of information to get you started and by 2024 take pride in the fact that you have taken part in one of Maine’s largest citizen-science projects.


Brad Allen is a wildlife biologist with MDIF&W.  He is also an avid bird hunter and gun dog man.  He would be pleased to receive feedback on his articles.  E-mail him at brad.allen@maine.gov


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.