A New Bird Song ID App

As most beginning—and even intermediate—birders can attest, learning to identify bird songs is a daunting, but crucial undertaking as oftentimes a bird is heard and not seen.

The folks over at Wildlife Acoustics, in collaboration with David Sibley, have created an app called SongSleuth that will open up your birding world. The app listens to the songs of birds singing around you and suggests three birds that you are likely hearing. While it is not yet springtime in Massachusetts, we’ve tested the app this week and it has correctly identified some early-singing Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos.

The features don’t stop there, though. The app also includes bird ID references by David Sibley, allows you to store your bird song recordings in your own personal library, and it even shows you what the song looks like on a spectrogram.

To help users quickly become experts at using the app, Wildlife Acoustics and David have put together a detailed walk-through video and FAQs. They strongly advise that first-time users thoroughly read through the instructions and watch the video.

Fun fact: the Bobolink’s song sounds a lot like R2-D2! Photo © Knut Hansen

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Meet “Maggie”

Male Magnolia Warbler © Laura Gooch

“The Magnolia Warbler is to my mind the most strikingly beautiful warbler that makes its home in New England. The Blackburnian with its orange front may be preferred by many, but that bright front is its chief glory, while the Magnolia Warbler’s beauties are distributed to every part of its graceful little form.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

A favorite of early 20th century master birder, Edward Howe Forbush, the striking and distinctive Magnolia Warbler (sometimes called “Maggie” by birders) is an iconic breeding species of young coniferous woods. Indeed, this species breeds almost exclusively in boreal conifer forests dominated by spruce, fir, hemlock, and cedar. This might prompt one to wonder why the bird is named for a distinctively southern plant family. Alexander Wilson, the man responsible for many common names of North American birds, is the person behind this name. Magnolia Warbler is so called because this conifer-loving species was christened after Wilson first collected a migrant individual in a magnolia tree in Mississippi in 1810.

Trend in Massachusetts

According to our second Breeding Bird Atlas, Magnolia Warbler has made steady gains in the central/west part of the state.

Did you know?

Magnolia Warblers often spend their winters on shade coffee farms. Shade coffee farms are important habitat for many birds—a discovery which spurred the creation of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly certification. The next time you buy coffee, look for “Bird Friendly®” on the package. One popular brand is Birds & Beans, which can be found at some Whole Foods Market locations, our Mass Audubon shop, and a few other places. Search for a retailer who carries it near you here. We’ll be serving Birds & Beans coffee at the Birders Meeting.

Attend our Birders Meeting on March 19 to learn more about warblers.

Male Magnolia Warbler singing © Victor Fazio

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Have You Seen a Pine Warbler?

Pine Warbler © Andy Morffew

“The Pine Warbler is the gentle, modest minstrel of the pines…Its sweet monotonous song harmonizes well with the sighing of the summer wind through the branches, while shimmering heat-waves rise from the sandy soil.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

As its name suggests, the Pine Warbler typically shuns deciduous woods or high-altitude stands of spruce and fir. Rather, it goes where the pines are, and pre-Colombian Massachusetts certainly had plenty of pines. Tall White Pines, intermixed with resinous Red Pines, covered large portions of the state. Gnarled but venerable Pitch Pines dominated the sandy forests of Cape Cod and the Islands. Of course, after the arrival of colonists, homes and farms sprang up as the trees went down. Even as acres upon acres of pine forest disappeared across the state, Pine Warblers persisted for many years on Cape Cod.

Trend in Massachusetts

The Pine Warbler has had extraordinary success in Massachusetts since our first Breeding Bird Atlas in the late 1970s. Pine Warblers persisted on the Cape and significantly increased in almost all of the rest of the state. The Breeding Bird Survey also indicates an increasing population of this short-distance migrant.

Pine Warbler change in presence between Breeding Bird Atlas 1 and Atlas 2.

Did You Know?

Pine Warblers are one of two warbler species that regularly stick around in Massachusetts in the winter. They can often be seen at suet feeders, so keep an eye out!

Attend our Birders Meeting on March 19 to learn more about warblers.

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Did You Know? The Ovenbird is a Warbler!

Ovenbird ©John Harrison

 “Among them all, the most common and conspicuous was the Oven-bird. Its staccato song with its crescendo ending rang through the woods, seemingly the loudest of them all, and when I saw the pretty bird walking with its alert air along a log, putting its little head forward at each dainty step in a manner of a diminutive chicken, I was utterly captivated.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

Though it looks and sometimes acts like a spotted thrush, the Ovenbird is a warbler. Its loud and oft-repeated call is a familiar backdrop in the spring woods, and, where many males all sing in close proximity, the din can be impressive. Like other birds of mature mixed forest, Ovenbirds were likely plentiful in the time before European ships landed on the shores of the “New World.”

As the forests began to fall before the fire and axes of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the majority of Ovenbirds retreated to the remaining forests of the western part of the state until the widespread agricultural period was over. As large areas of contiguous mature forest have gradually returned, Ovenbirds have been quick to recolonize them.


Ovenbirds build their oven-shaped nests in mature forests.

Ovenbird nest

Trend in Massachusetts

Like the Prairie Warbler we posted about last week, the Ovenbird is what we refer to as a “whispering bird”, because it’s breeding footprint in Massachusetts (according to our Breeding Bird Atlas 2) is stable or increasing, but the Breeding Bird Survey is showing significant declines for the species in the state.

Fun Fact

Ovenbirds will often sing together with their neighbors, though they do not sing as a chorus. One male will sing, followed shortly thereafter by another male without overlap between the two. They may repeat their successive songs up to 40 times.

Attend our Birders Meeting on March 19 to learn more about warblers.

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Who Was Edward Howe Forbush?

In ornithology, as in most disciplines, there are inevitably “giants” whose profiles stand taller than those of their peers.  Such a figure was Edward Howe Forbush, a prominent Massachusetts ornithologist living from 1858–1929.

Born in Quincy, most of Forbush’s adult life was spent in Worcester in the county that today hosts a bird club bearing his name. Once established in Worcester, at the early age of 16 he was appointed Curator of Ornithology at the Worcester Natural History Society.

By the turn of the 20th century, Forbush’s awareness and passion for the developing need for increased bird protection resulted in his appointment as Ornithologist to the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture, where his duties included determining which bird species at that time were deemed detrimental or beneficial to agriculture. By 1896 he became one of the founders and supporters of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and in 1908 he was named the first Massachusetts State Ornithologist.

As a lifelong champion of bird protection, Forbush ultimately undertook the project for which he is best known today: the publication of Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States (1925-1929), a spectacular three-volume set of books magnificently illustrated by artist luminaries Louis Agassiz Fuertes and Major Allan Brooks.  In addition to their famous collection of paintings, the species accounts and accompanying essays about the birds in these books are still considered among the best ever compiled on the birds of Massachusetts.

Sadly Forbush never lived to personally complete his magnum opus, yet his many essays and species accounts about birds will forever linger on as richly informational and engaging accounts of the bird species found in the Commonwealth today. The world lost a true hero and a giant in the bird conservation movement with the passing of Edward Howe Forbush.

To get a glimpse of his essays on birds, look for our Warbler of the Week postings, which feature a quote from Forbush for each bird.

Can you spot the grey morph of the Screech Owl in the below Fuertes watercolor?

©Louis Agassiz Fuertes – Plate 47 of Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States: Hawk Owl, Screech Owl, Richardson’s Owl, Saw-whet Owl.

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Meet the Prairie Warbler

© Joel Eckerson

 “The handsome little Prairie Warbler is remarkable only for its song. Dr. Elliott Coues likens this to the ‘plaint of a mouse with a toothache,’ because of its thin wiry quality.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

Natives of more western states than Massachusetts might scoff at the scrubby clearings that we Easterners call “prairies,” but such areas provide perfect habitat for the Prairie Warbler. This species abhors forests, and breeds in shrubby clearings and only the most open woodlands. Both human-caused and natural disturbances have created plenty of Prairie Warbler breeding habitat in the Commonwealth over the past several centuries. However, as forests reassert themselves, Prairie Warblers stand to lose habitat as a result of this natural succession.

Though Forbush complimented the Prairie Warbler only on its song, our own Wayne Petersen, Director of Important Bird Areas, favors this “spectacled” warbler for both its song and its looks.

In addition, Wayne believes that the Prairie Warbler is a good “signature” bird for Massachusetts because we have some outstanding habitat for it on Cape Cod, in southeastern Massachusetts, and along many powerlines throughout the state.


The Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor) breeds in early successional habitats in the eastern U.S.

Trend in Massachusetts

The Prairie Warbler is what we refer to as a “whispering bird”, because it’s breeding footprint in Massachusetts (according to our Breeding Bird Atlas 2) is stable or increasing, but the Breeding Bird Survey is showing significant declines for the species in the state.

Did you know? 

Male Prairie Warblers sing two different—though similar-sounding—songs during the breeding season. He sings one song, the faster of the two, to serenade his mate in courtship and strengthen their pair bond. The other, he sings to declare to other rivaling males that his territory is claimed.

Check out the updated Bobolink Project website!

Hi all,

We are pleased to announce that we have finished updating our website for the coming 2017 Bobolink Project season. Check out the new information at www.bobolinkproject.com. The farmer applications are live and donations are very welcome.

We will be accepting farmer applications until March 20.

  • IMPORTANT: We have changed some of the criteria for eligible farms and clarified a few other things so we highly recommend that you thoroughly read through the For Farmers page.

We also encourage donors to donate before April 1 when we will begin selecting farms for the program. The reason why only donations before April 1, 2017 will be applied to the 2017 season is because the number of farms and which farms we accept into the program depend wholly on how many donations we have pooled up to that deciding date when we start creating the contracts. Any donations that come in after April 1 will be saved for the following 2018 season.

Contact us at bobolinkproject@massaudubon.org if you have any questions.

We are looking forward to a new season of The Bobolink Project!


Warbler of the Week

Hi all,

In anticipation of our warbler-themed Birders Meeting, we’ll be posting about a featured warbler species every week.

This week’s warbler is…

© Davey Walters


Black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia)

In the last days of April or in early May, when the buds on deciduous trees are swelling and when tiny, light green leaflets appear on the shrubbery, in sheltered sunny spots we may find a little black and white striped bird hopping along the lower limbs in the woodlands, turning this way and that, searching over the branches from one side to the other, often head downward, closely scanning the bark, silently gleaning the insect enemies of the trees. This is the Black and White Warbler.” – Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

Breeding habitat: partially open mature or second-growth hardwood and mixed forests.

Most warblers are in constant motion, hopping from branch to branch in their search for invertebrates to eat, which makes identifying many species by their behavior alone usually quite difficult. The black-and-white warbler stands apart from its fellows since it forages by creeping along the bark and larger branches of trees, much like a nuthatch. Although the black-and-white warbler remains widespread in Massachusetts, it is beginning to show the first signs of decline. Check out our Breeding Bird Atlas 2 account for more information on this warbler in MA.

The biggest threat to black-and-white warblers is fragmentation of its forested habitat. When forest patches become more and more fragmented there is increased incidence of “edge effects” such as increased chance of predation, brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird, and disturbance. “As nocturnal migrants, Black-and-white Warblers are a frequent victim of collisions with glass, towers, and wind turbines; as insectivores, they are vulnerable to pesticide poisoning.” (American Bird Conservancy)


New Director of Bird Conservation: Jon Atwood

We are very pleased to announce the appointment of Jon Atwood as our new Director of Bird Conservation. Jon joined Mass Audubon as our Bird Conservation Fellow for grassland birds in 2014, and we were lucky to land him.

Jon received his Ph.D. from UCLA and has been a practicing ornithologist and conservation biologist for 30 years, specializing in integrating behavioral studies of rare and endangered bird species with habitat conservation planning.

While working at Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences during the early 1990’s he collaborated in the analysis of the first 30 years of Manomet’s landbird banding effort, and spearheaded federal protection of the California Gnatcatcher under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. From 1998-2011 he directed the Conservation Biology Program at Antioch University, New England, teaching classes in Ornithology, Ecological Research Design, and GIS, and mentoring over 70 graduate students working on various wildlife studies. During 2011-2013 he worked as Science Director at Biodiversity Research Institute in southern Maine.

As a Bird Conservation Fellow, Jon has focused on grassland birds, one of the most-rapidly declining groups identified in our State of the Birds reports. Jon led a review of grassland management on the sanctuaries, transitioned the Bobolink Project from an academic experiment to a dedicated bird conservation program, and co-authored our booklet on Best Management Practices for Nesting Grassland Birds.  In addition to that work, he has made important contributions to our upcoming State of the Birds report focused on climate change and to analysis of Coastal Waterbirds Program data.

In his new role, Jon will be responsible for setting the overall direction of our bird conservation program, continuing the current momentum on State of the Birds recommendations, leading the bird-related priorities of the Strategic Plan 2020 and the Master Plan for Conservation Science, and identifying and pursuing partnerships and funding opportunities to advance our work.

New RCPP Grant Will Help Protect Southern NE Heritage Forest

As we celebrated the holidays with fellow Mass Audubon staff, Jeff Collins received an email announcing that a large Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant that our team and partners applied for had been approved!

About $6.1 million will be used to protect and manage forests in the Southern New England Heritage Forest. The area is bounded by Hartford and Springfield in the west, Providence in the east, and runs from the Long Island sound north to the Quabbin reservoir. This region contains a critically important continuous corridor of high-priority forested wildlife habitat.

Over 70% of these woodlands are privately owned, so this grant will focus on engaging

landowners and helping them maintain their forests as forests through sound management and— whenever possible—permanent protection.

Mass Audubon’s role in this grant is to assist project partners’ efforts by providing bird habitat recommendations for forest management plans, training more technical service providers (TSPs) to incorporate birds in their work, increasing TSP registration numbers, and conducting wildlife monitoring on managed sites. Our team will also teach landowners about bird-friendly forest management.

The project will begin in the spring of 2018 and run for five years.