If you notice some birds, like the American robin, by themselves, don’t fret. That could be a good sign. For many songbirds, males will forage on their own and bring food to its mate while she is incubating eggs in their nest. Nick Lund photo/Courtesy of Maine Audubon

In the previous column, we looked at reasons for why some social groups of birds are seen in groups of threes, rather than as pairs. So it may not be a surprise that a question came in this week, from Scott Johnson of Brunswick, about lone birds. Specifically, Scott has been noticing a solitary American robin at the bird bath and around feeders, a contrast to the usual flocks that they see. While some birds are fairly solitary by nature, it is fun to consider why social birds might be seen alone.

Scott commented, “It’s a bit sad,” and indeed we’re often asked if a solo bird is lonely. But without being too anthropomorphic, a lone bird could actually be a good sign – especially in early May, when the bird’s mate could just be out of sight and is likely sitting on a nest. For many songbirds, like robins, males will forage on their own and bring food to its mate while she is incubating eggs in their nest. Female songbirds develop a bare spot on their bellies, called a brood patch, that allows them to transfer body heat to eggs, so males can pick up duties like going out for groceries while the females are incubating.

It takes about two weeks of incubating before the eggs will hatch, then another week before the chicks can regulate their body temperature themselves. This can add up to a long period when paired birds may only appear as singles around your yard.

Keep in mind that many singletons may just be unpaired. Many birds need to develop for a couple of years before they even attempt nesting. For birds born last summer, that we label as “second year” birds (because it is the second calendar year of their lives), they could still be learning the ropes and not be a prime choice for a mate looking for a bird with more experience. Many songbirds, which are unfortunately not very long lived, will attempt nesting in their second year. For species that live longer, like raptors and seabirds, it can take several years before they’ll attempt nesting. Common loons, an iconic Maine breeder, will take at least four years for males, and five years for females, often six to seven years in either case, before they begin nesting.

So have no fear when you see a “lonely” bird. The absence of a mate could be a good thing. Some birds even just like being alone: the Solitary Sandpiper, migrating through Maine right now, got its name because, unlike most other sandpipers, it tends to be seen on its own in migration.



Spring migration is ramping up, and May is the time when songbirds – especially warblers and other brightly-colored neotropical migrants – are showing up in Maine by the thousands. Don’t miss the chance to see them! Maine Audubon, our chapters and other groups around the state have lots of opportunities to get out this spring. Since I’m always receiving inquiries about where people should go, I wanted to share a few recommendations for spring birding.

First, a shameless plug: I’ll be leading bird walks for two weeks at Evergreen Cemetery in Portland. This “green patch,” surrounded by a “gray city,” funnels in migrating birds that are looking for a place to land and forage after a night of migrating north. I’ll be there Monday through Friday, leading free walks and pointing out warblers to anyone who wants to join, beginning May 8. We’ll meet at the large ponds toward the back of the cemetery at 7 a.m.

Outside of Portland, Maine Audubon will also be running the usual Thursday morning bird walks at Gilsland Farm Audubon Center in Falmouth. At Scarborough Marsh, weekly bird walks at 8 a.m. on Wednesdays begin on May 17, and at Fields Pond Audubon in Holden (just outside of Bangor), there’s a Saturday bird walk series aimed at beginner birders. Maine Audubon chapters offer bird walks across most of the state, from the York County Audubon chapter in southern Maine, north into Western Maine Audubon, and as far east as the Down East Audubon and Fundy Audubon chapters. You can find information and links at maineaudubon.org.

Other clubs with regular walks include the Stanton Bird Club (based in Lewiston), the Augusta Bird Club, and Aroostook Birders. Friends of Fort Williams Park has Wednesday morning bird walks, and businesses like Freeport Wild Bird Supply also help connect people with birds.

There are a handful of birding festivals each spring in Maine, each offering a different experience, different birds, and covering different geographical areas. Most of these festivals offer a la carte options so you can pick and choose which events you want to attend over the weekends. I’m very excited to be guiding at many of these and hope to see you either atop Saddleback Mountain (during the Rangeley Bird Festival) listening to singing Bicknell’s thrushes, counting migrants on Monhegan (a pre-festival trip for the Acadia Birding Festival), or watching warblers settle into breeding grounds around Lubec (at the Down East Birding Festival). A list of festivals is available at mainebirdingtrail.com.

Do you have a nature question for Doug? Email questions to ask@maineaudubon.org and visit maineaudubon.org to learn more about birding, native plants, and programs and events focusing on Maine wildlife and habitat. Doug and other naturalists lead free bird walks on Thursday mornings, 7 to 9 a.m., at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Falmouth.

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