Looking out from the camera on his laptop as he discussed the mockingbird, Nick Lund might have looked and sounded to the world like a rap singer.

“Mississippi, Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas all have this drab, little, dumpster-trash-eating, singing, pretty, cool, whatever bird as their state official bird,” Lund said on a live-streamed video for the American Birding Association’s YouTube channel on March 25.

Welcome to the online world of virtual birding. It has ramped up during the coronavirus pandemic, which coincided in North America with spring migration. That means there are plenty of warblers and new song birds in everyone’s backyard to get both new and veteran birders excited.

While many of Maine’s spring birding festivals already have been canceled because of the pandemic, festival organizers and birding guides are offering more virtual options and social media clubs to help birders learn and connect online. Lund, Maine Audubon’s outreach coordinator, said it is an opportunity for Maine naturalists to make connections with people stuck at home who are eager to learn about nature – or simply to find a fun, new distraction. Many birding clubs and conservation organizations are responding with online seminars.

Chickadees are one of Maine’s most abundant bird species – and a new online seminar by Maine Audubon helps you learn their calls. Portland Press Herald file photo by Gabe Souza

In addition to the video that Lund helped to produce for the American Birding Association, he also has given online seminars locally in the past few weeks to health-care groups and senior communities.

At The Cedars retirement community in Portland, the virtual birding seminar led by Lund on Zoom was a hit, said Sarah Martin, lifestyles manager at The Cedars.

“I was busy before, but I am busier now than I expected to be,” Lund said. “Information about backyard birding is really important now as people are looking for things to do.”

Judy Camuso, a birder as well as the commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said at this stressful time, nature can give us hope – even if it’s just outside our front door.

“For me, the mental health aspect is reason to be outside now,” Camuso said. “It allows me to forget all the state-of-emergency-type issues, to hear the first wood frogs, or see chipping sparrows are back. It tells me: Everything in the natural world is OK, and we’re going to be OK.”

With that, here are some places to learn more about birding online:

MAINE VIDEOS

Maine Audubon Naturalist Doug Hitchcox has started creating instructional videos for those new to birding. His first is how to identify bird songs typically found in a Maine backyard.

With the classic dry humor he’s known for, Hitchcox offers in the video on the Audubon website easy-to-remember mental cues, such as the fact the Northern cardinal sounds like “a kid playing with a laser gun” or the reminder the common grackle’s amazing repertoire “often sound like a rusty hinge or squeaky gate.”

He plans to offer more videos in the coming weeks. Look for them at: maineaudubon.org/education/connections/

FESTIVALS ADAPT

The grackle, a common bird at feeders in Maine, can be noisy – but has am amazing repertoire of calls. Doug Hitchcox photo

At least two of Maine’s spring birding festivals were canceled by the second week of April, and others are likely to follow suit. Some festival organizers expect to offer online options for birders free of charge. Here are a few in the works:

The Downeast Spring Birding Festival, slated for May 22-25, is canceled but planning online programming, such as birding lectures. Check back at cobscookinstitute.org/birdfest

The Rangeley Birding Festival is slated for June 5 -7, but organizers plan to decide by May 1 whether the event will be held. They hope to offer a webinar on birding in the region as well as a game camera at a feeder in an area of western Maine’s boreal forest. Check for more at rlht.org

VIRTUAL CLUBS

Online birding clubs are nothing new – but more have started and the popular ones are even busier now.

The American Birding Association has started a “Virtual Bird Club” that live streams events like bird identification talks, similar to the one Lund did in March. Its website is aba.org.

One of the newest Facebook groups to come out of the worldwide pandemic is (excuse the expression) #BirdTheFeckAtHome. Billed as a site “for birders self-isolating and social distancing,” it includes posts of birds from across the planet, with the ultimate goal of posting 2,000 species from people’s backyards worldwide. Amazing videos of exotic species abound – especially if you’ve never been to Cuba, Australia or New Zealand. Prepare to get sucked into this bird-rich website.

The popular “MAINE Birds” Facebook group, with almost 28,000 members, is a private group with specific guidelines – but if you play within their rules of etiquette, the community offers constant Maine bird sightings, explanations of native species, and expert birders who help answer questions. It’s seen an uptick in activity and posts in recent weeks, said administrator Kevin Rogers.

The “Google Street View BirdingFacebook group, which Lund helped organize, challenges birders to find birds in Google Map street views. The group has just 3,700 passionate birding members – but they’re after 1,200 species found on Google street views.

Anyone new to birding, will want to join the eBirding site managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, found at ebird.org. On the site, anyone can easily record their bird sightings, photos and audio recordings to help scientists worldwide. It also provides access to a treasure-trove of maps and data about bird populations across the planet.

“I think this situation gives birders the time to sit back and go through the old photos that we never got around too,” said ornithologist Kyle Lima of Ellsworth. “Make sure to add your bird photos and audio to eBird, helping to build the library of rich media.”


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