Doug Hitchcox, right, Maine Audubon’s staff naturalist, peers skyward recently at the start of a weekly bird-watching walk at Gilsland Farm in Falmouth. Andree Kehn / Sun Journal

Bundled-up birdwatchers armed with binoculars, cameras, field guides and notepads will flock outside next month for the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Seven swamp sparrows, more than usual, were spotted in the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. Contributed / Maine Audubon Society

The Maine Audubon Society is offering a free “Birding Basics” course online to help educate all levels of birders so they can better participate in the worldwide event.

The bird count helps “scientists better understand and protect birds around the world,” according to The four-day event runs Feb. 16-19.

Birdwatchers are encouraged to pick one location and remain in it for 15 minutes of observation, then report their findings online.

Locally, birders can also participate in the count from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 17 during the Winter Carnival at Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm in Falmouth.

There could be some surprises in store, according to Doug Hitchcox, Maine Audubon’s staff naturalist.


Yellow-bellied sapsuckers usually leave Maine in the winter for warmer climates, but seven were spotted during a bird count that ended Jan. 5. Contributed / Maine Audubon Society

Mild temperatures this winter and an abundant food supply have kept some birds around that usually spend winter in warmer climates. Seven swamp sparrows and seven yellow-bellied sapsuckers were spotted during the organization’s 44th Christmas Bird Count in Greater Portland that ended Jan. 5.

“It definitely affected some of these counts,” Hitchcox said.

Usually one or two swamp sparrows are spotted in the area during the Christmas count and most years just one sapsucker is seen, although three were reported a year ago. Counters reported seeing 65 Carolina wrens, up from 26 a year ago with a previous high of 39, just in Portland.

A great egret, a summer bird here, was seen during the recent count in Casco Bay.

“Almost unbelievable,” Hitchcox said.

Great Backyard Bird Counters this year could even make a rare sighting like the tufted duck that found the Presumpscot River in Westbrook to its liking several years back. It became a real celebrity, attracting birders from afar.


“The ducks breed across Eurasia from Iceland and the British Isles east across Russia and Siberia to the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Commander Islands. There are no breeding records of tufted ducks in North America. The ducks regularly visit western Alaska and rarely along the East Coast,” the American Journal reported in 2009.

Maine Audubon offers its free online Birding Basics course at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays through March 19. Each week features a different topic like attracting birds to your yard Tuesday, Jan. 23; bird behavior, Jan. 30; seagulls, Feb. 6; and birds in love, Feb. 13 for Valentine’s Day. Maine Audubon also offers guided bird walks at Gilsland Farm.

For more information on the basics course, the bird walks and the Winter Carnival, go to, call 781-2330 or email

For information about how to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count and how to report sightings, go to

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