The fourth year of the Maine Breeding Bird Atlas is off and running. This five-year project will provide an accurate mapping of the distribution of all the breeding birds in Maine and a baseline for future projects to assess changes in bird distribution. Furthermore, it will provide a valuable comparison with the first survey conducted from 1978 through 1983.

For the current atlas project, the state is partitioned into over 4,8oo blocks, each a 2.9-by-2.9-mile squares. To complete a block, a minimum of 15 hours is required along with solid evidence of nesting for 60% of the species.

Of course, a project of this magnitude requires the help of many volunteers. And what an army we have. So far, 1,875 volunteers have participated in the project and submitted over 62,000 checklists, including evidence of breeding behavior. The database currently has 3.6 million records, and we have solid breeding evidence for 216 species.

Even with so many volunteers, the organizers know it is not reasonable to expect every block in the state to be completed. So, the organizers designated 975 of these blocks as priority blocks. These blocks are distributed fairly evenly across the state with some chosen because of unusual habitats.  At a minimum, we need to complete all of the priority blocks.

How are we doing? A third of the priority blocks are complete, 35% have received very little attention and 32% are well under way. The coordinators of the project want to have 60% of the priority blocks completed this year. That translates to 230 priority blocks being completed in 2021.

Current volunteers are eagerly embracing the challenge, but it will be difficult. If you have not participated in the project, we can use your help.

Bird atlasing is quite different from participating in a bird count like the Audubon Christmas Bird Count where an observer identifies a bird, adds it to the list for the day and moves on. Bird atlasing is a more leisurely activity. You find a bird and then watch if for a while, looking for evidence of nesting. Such evidence includes singing, carrying nesting material, courtship displays, feeding young or tending fledglings.

Nesting schedules for our birds vary. Great horned owls begin nesting in late January. Black-capped chickadees and house finches may nest as early as mid-April. Pileated woodpeckers and osprey follow suit in early May.

However, the majority of our birds, particularly the songbirds, nest in June and July. It’s important to wait until all the spring migrants have passed through so we know we are not recording a singing migrant as a possible breeder.

If you search for “Maine Bird Atlas” in your browser, the first hit will be one you want. There are lots of links to explore but I would begin with the Get Started button.

The state has been divided into 31 regions, each with one or more highly skilled birders who serve as a contact for anyone interested in volunteering. If you return to the Maine Bird Atlas home page and scroll down, you will see a link on the left with email addresses for the regional coordinators. Send an email to your regional coordinator if you have questions.

Another great way to be introduced to the project is to attend one of the weekly Zoom seminars hosted by the project directors. The sessions are held every Thursday from 6:30-7:30 p.m. The directors will explain the project and answer any questions you might have. Here’s the link: tinyurl.com/4vfxcdjd

To see where your contribution would do the most good, visit the effort map at: ebird.org/atlasme/effortmap. The priority blocks are outlined in black. The amount of effort for each block is indicated by a color code. Concentrate on priority blocks and welcome to the team.

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

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