KENNEBUNK — When Eugene Harmon of Dayton re-landscaped his yard, he didn’t want it just to be a space for him and his wife to enjoy. An amateur woodworker, he began making bird houses and bee hive boxes to see what sort of critters he could attract. The work has paid off, and he’s been rewarded by cardinals, wrens, bluebirds and chickadees all visiting his yard.

So when Eugene’s wife saw on Facebook that the Kennebunk Conservation Commission was sponsoring an event for people interested in making their backyards more attractive to birds on Jan. 27, she knew they had to be there.

Author and illustrator Rebekah Lowell gives a demonstration on how to draw a cardinal. Eloise Goldsmith photo

The “Beyond Birdseed” event, which took place at Kennebunk Town Hall, was put on with the help of the York County Audubon, Kennebunkport Conservation Commission, and the Planeteers of Southern Maine. It featured a book-reading by a children’s author and two speakers who discussed how to make your yard a bird haven, including through planting native plants.

Carol Morris, a communications specialist who helped promote the event, said that they had held a similar event last year that was just focused on native plants — not birding. She said she noticed a shift in the demographic of attendees. “More guys showed up (this year),” she said.

York County residents came to a Jan. 27 event in Kennebunk to learn how to make their backyard a “bird haven.” Eloise Goldsmith photo

Chair of the Kennebunk Conservation Commission Jennifer Shack said that the event was inspired by the work of entomologist Doug Tallamy, a towering figure in the world of ecology who has championed planting native plants and increasing biodiversity in one’s backyard.

Tallamy is a professor of agriculture and natural resources at the University of Delaware who has also authored a book called “Nature’s Best Hope,” which articulates the key principles of his thinking.


Shack said that she herself had learned to like birding from her mother, who would point out beautiful birds in the yard of their home in suburban Chicago.

“I hope people come away inspired to make their habitat for birds that birds can really thrive in,” she said.

In recent years, birding has enjoyed a renaissance, in large part thanks to the pandemic. Global Big Day, a once-a-year bird watching event, broke a record in 2023 for most birders contributing and birds reported. The previous year also set a record for most species reported and most countries birding in a single day.

More and more people are using apps to track their bird sightings, like eBird and Project FeederWatch, both of which are maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Increased interest in birding has also engendered a growing crowd of birding influencers, people who post about their birding activities on social media sites like Instagram.

One of the event’s two featured speakers, Doug Hitchcox, could reasonably be considered a birding influencer. Hitchcox is a naturalist at the Maine Audubon, a columnist with the Press Herald and one of the most knowledgeable birders in the state, according to the event’s press release. He has over 2,000 followers on the social media site X, formerly Twitter, where he regularly posts about his birding expeditions.


Doug Hitchcox (left) and Andrew Tufts (right) from Maine Audubon Eloise Goldsmith photo

During his presentation, he walked the crowd through the birds that one typically sees in Maine, their migratory patterns, and some tips to keep your yard bird-friendly. Those tips included keeping your cats indoors and not using pesticides.

After that, Andrew Tufts of Maine Audubon, gave an overview of the types of native plants that a Mainer should consider cultivating in order to attract birds. Those include grasses, asters, goldenrod, red columbine, and cardinal flower.

Young bird lovers had a dedicated portion of the event, too. Author Rebekah Lowell read from her book, “Catching Flight,” which she had also illustrated. After the reading, she talked about how she developed her love of birding from her grandfather, who always had a story to tell her about the natural world. “I feel like my love of nature is generational. And it’s really important to pass that on, but also listen to those who are here before you and learn from them,” she said.

She then walked the crowd through drawing two different types of birds. Kids sat on the floor and watched her demonstrate how to bring a bird’s body to life on the page.

By the end of the afternoon, roughly 100 people packed the room.

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