Scarborough Marsh is a great place to go birding. Photo by Ariana van den Akker

If you’re looking for a new way to fill your time, whether on vacation or at home, birding is just about the easiest hobby to pick up. You can do it anywhere, it doesn’t require expensive equipment, and it’s a great excuse to get outside and visit different places.

The next couple months are “the peak of fall bird migration,” said Nicholas Lund, outreach and network manager for Maine Audubon, with insect-eating birds heading to warmer and buggier climates and water birds going south to open water.

“It’s a time of transition for Maine birds, with changes happening every day,” he said. So get out your binoculars and a field guide (Lund recommends “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” the Merlin Bird ID app or the Audubon Guide to North American Birds website) and see for yourself. And, Lund assures, no safari wear required.

Here, in his own words, are Lund’s suggestions for and descriptions of a handful birds to look for in southern Maine in September and October

A male bufflehead, with female mallards. Photo by Fyn Kynd


These tiny, adorable sea ducks arrive in Maine from their breeding grounds in Canada in the second half of October. Small groups of these birds (the females have a white dash on their cheek while the males have a big bulbous head like a black-and-white cookie) can be seen along most any coastline in the state, all winter long.

A tufted titmouse at Gilsland Farm in snow and ice. Photo by Ariana van den Akker

Tufted titmouse

A close relative of the chickadee, the tufted titmouse is an equally common visitor to backyard birdfeeders. They’re gray above and white below, with a sharp pointed crest and a wash of orange on their flanks. Listen for their loud, clear “Peter! Peter!” songs echoing through your neighborhood.

Nelson’s and saltmarsh sparrows

Scarborough Marsh is one of the few places in the country to see these two sparrows. Walk the Eastern Trail and keep a close eye for small birds fluttering among the grasses, and listen for their raspy calls, often described as the sound of water sizzling in a hot pan. Both species have orange on their faces, but the saltmarsh has a boldly brown and white streaked breast, while Nelson’s has smudgy streaks and and a dull orange chest. Hurry if you want to see them: Maine’s saltmarsh sparrow population is declining by about 11 percent per year.

Nelson’s sparrow Photo by Doug Hitchcox

Northern harrier

Norther harrier Photo by Doug Hitchcox

This amazing raptor is like a cross between a hawk and an owl, and is migrating through Maine in the fall. Harriers fly low and silently over marshes and grasslands, using the special discs on their face to help listen for rodents. Look for them over any large meadow or marshy-area in fall – Gilsland Farm in Falmouth, Laudholm Farm in York, Biddeford Pool – and keep and eye out for their bright white rumps to help seal the identification.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Maine is famous for its warbler migration; more than 20 species of these colorful songbirds stream into Maine to breed in the spring and stream out again in the fall. One of the very few warbler species who might stick around for the winter is the Yellow-rumped, which can eat certain berries when insects are in short supply. Their fall plumage isn’t quite as lively as it is in spring, but you should be able to see the dandelion coloring on their backside and under their wings. Look in most any scrubby coastal habitat, from the Eastern Prom in Portland to Fort Williams and Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth.

Yellow-rumped warbler Photo by Jeffrey Schmoyer

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