As we begin to again safely visit our wonderful system of Mass Audubon sanctuaries, this post is a reminder of how you can contribute to our knowledge of birds at these sites. Mass Audubon uses eBird data as part of bird monitoring and inventory efforts, and visitors’ observations help demonstrate how birds use the places we protect. The more information we have, the more we can bolster bird populations amid changing climate conditions and surrounding land use. Your observations help us help birds!
Mass Audubon has updated guidelines for submitting sanctuary observations to eBird, some of which may be new even for experienced eBirders. Most importantly, we ask that, unless you are contributing to a specific project, eBirders only submit sightings under the most general eBird hotspot for each sanctuary, instead of using latitude/longitude coordinates or specific locations within each sanctuary.
The normal format of the Avian Collision Team (ACT) will not be possible this spring. Last year, ACT involved around 40 volunteers looked for dead or injured migrants along routes through Boston. Working a couple of days each week during migration, those volunteers tallied 193 window-struck birds in total, representing nearly five dozen species.
Many volunteers, once primed to look for window strikes, also started reporting injured birds outside their homes and offices. Window strikes are indeed not only an urban issue, and houses in the suburbs or countryside play an important role. While a skyscraper kills an average of 24 birds per year, low-rises are not far behind at 22, and most single-family residences kill between 1–3. (Buildings vary, of course, and some are responsible for more than 100 collisions a year).
Residences: a silent culprit
Standalone homes are responsible for 90% of bird-window collisions. Even though sleek, all-glass facades on non-residential buildings kill many more birds on a per-building basis than the average single-family home, residences are more than 60 times as common as tall city buildings—making their collective impact even more significant.
More importantly, bird collisions are harder to detect outside of the city. Landscaping around houses conceals the bodies of window strike victims, and scavengers like raccoons and squirrels abound. Consequently, window strikes at residences are underreported.
Help us track bird-window collisions at home
Participating in this project requires less effort than a normal ACT season, since it only involves a quick daily check at one building (your home). It’s important, however, to make this a daily or near-daily routine, since there may only be one or two days out of the season when you find a bird (although there may be many more). As always, data on where window collisions are not occurring is just as important as where they are. The data from this project will help us better understand the problem and eventually develop recommendations for reducing bird kills caused by window collisions at residential structures and low-rise office buildings.
The survey period officially runs until June 2, when most migrants are settled into their breeding territory. Anyone is welcome to continue submitting data after that, though—breeding birds are nearly as likely to collide with windows as migrants.
If you want to learn how to make your home safer for birds, check out these tips. Please only put up bird-friendly products like window tapes or screens before or after the data collection period. Modifying your windows in the middle of the data collection period will make it impossible to analyze data from your building.
To learn more about why birds have a hard time detecting glass, and to sign up to survey your home, visit our Anecdata webpage.
American Kestrels, Barn Swallows, and Cliff Swallows are all declining in Massachusetts, like many other open-country birds. The Bird Conservation team is initiating two exciting studies on these species during this spring and summer, and data from the community will be integral to both studies’ success!
Have you seen these birds nesting?
If you have any information on these species’ current (2020) nest sites, or are willing to look for them, please submit data via our swallow project and kestrel project webpages on Anecdata (a citizen science website).
You’ll need to set up an Anecdata account first. Click on “register” to first create an account, and click on “join project” once you’ve signed up with Anecdata.
Both projects are fairly simple for users: simply click on “add an observation” and report the coordinates of nesting American Kestrels, Barn Swallows, and Cliff Swallows. In the case of both swallow species’, it’s also useful to know if you observe structures that do NOT host a colony but which you think potentially could (e.g., old barns or small wooden bridges near open grassland and freshwater). Note that this study is focused on nesting sites, not places where birds are observed foraging or flying around.
What we hope to accomplish with your help
The purpose of the swallow project is straightforward: we want to identify sites where Barn and Cliff Swallows are nesting that may not yet be known to biologists.
Mass Audubon’s work on the kestrel project on the other hand, will be a little more involved. After compiling a list of remaining nest sites, the Bird Conservation Department will team up with state biologists in 2021 to fit kestrels with radio tags. These tags will track their movements around the region after nesting, and eventually to their wintering grounds.
Kestrels breed widely throughout Massachusetts, but there are many Breeding Bird Atlas blocks that showed declines between Atlas 1 (1974-1979) and Atlas 2 (2007-2011). Interestingly, there are both urban-nesting and farmland-nesting American Kestrels, and the two populations may be showing different population trajectories. Studying the life histories of these birds, including tracking their movements away from nest sites, could hold clues as to why so much apparently good kestrel habitat goes unoccupied in the state.
As always, all nest data is kept strictly within the community of biologists working to conserve these species.
More Tips For Searching
Both projects run from May 20 – August 20, to reduce potential confusion between nesting birds and migrants.
The focus is on nest sites and not on places where birds are seen flying around.
If you need a refresher on identifying Barn and Cliff Swallows in the field, check out our ID tips for these similar-looking birds.
Please participate only if you can do so in your own local communities.
It’s likely that some sites will be on private property where direct observer access is impossible.Please don’t trespass! Even if you’re only able to observe from a road edge and can’t collect, it’s helpful to know that you saw swallows or kestrels entering or leaving a particular cavity or structure.
All three of these species were once common sightings in rural parts of Massachusetts, and they’re all a joy to observe and spend time near. Thank you for helping Mass Audubon protect them, and happy birding!
Mass Audubon and the Boston NASA DEVELOP National Program
team are collaborating to learn more about how Massachusetts
beavers impact the landscape using satellite imagery, and we need your help.
The NASA DEVELOP
National Program addresses environmental and public policy issues through
interdisciplinary research projects, applying NASA Earth observations to
community concerns around the globe. Teams of DEVELOP participants partner with
decision-makers to conduct 10-week rapid feasibility projects, highlighting
relevant applications of NASA Earth observing missions, cultivating advanced
skills, and increasing understanding and use of NASA Earth science data and
technology. The DEVELOP Program conducts 55-65 projects annually across 11
national locations. This spring, the DEVELOP Boston team is partnering with
Mass Audubon to explore how beavers influence the Massachusetts landscape.
(Castor canadensis) is North America’s largest native rodent. They
are adapted for aquatic environments and easily recognizable by their long,
flat tail and sharp front teeth.
European colonists found beaver’s
thick, waterproof fur highly desirable and decimated their populations across
the U.S. Unregulated trapping, deforestation, and the destruction of
wetlands led to the local extinction of beavers in Massachusetts by the end of
the 18th century.
In one of the most successful
conservation efforts in U.S. history, New York reintroduced approximately 20
beavers from Canada and Yellowstone in 1904. By 1915, the population exploded
to about 15,000 individuals and began to disperse to surrounding states. In
1928, beavers were discovered in West Stockbridge, the first recorded occurrence
in Massachusetts since 1750.
To support Massachusetts
populations, Mass Audubon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary reintroduced
three additional beavers in 1932. Today, beavers have been restored to
nearly their entire historic range throughout the state, found everywhere
except Cape Cod.
Busy Beavers Build Habitat
Beavers are known as ecological
engineers. They alter and create new habitats by building dams from sticks and
mud to create still, deep ponds. These ponds provide beavers with access to
food, protection from land predators, and shelter.
By building dams and creating
ponds, beavers restore lost wetlands, of which about half have disappeared in
the lower 48 states since European settlement. Beaver ponds are home to rich
biodiversity, including amphibians, reptiles, spawning fish, muskrats, bats,
various birds, and a wide variety of plants.
Altering the hydrology helps
control downstream flooding, improve water quality, trap silt, and resupply
groundwater. When the dam is abandoned and the pond drains, nutrient-rich silt creates
highly productive meadows. However, beaver dams may cause unwanted flooding to
neighboring properties, but can be mitigated through various
Tracking Beavers from Space and on the Ground
The spring 2020 Boston NASA
DEVELOP team is using NASA satellite imagery to find and track beaver flooding
events across Massachusetts to see how their populations are impacting
landscapes. The team will be corroborating potential beaver flooding using iNaturalist
beaver observations. iNaturalist
is an online citizen science platform, where users upload and identify species
observations (images or audio recordings).
How You Can Help
Help Mass Audubon and the NASA
DEVELOP team by reporting beaver signs, including dams, lodges, chewed logs, or
beaver themselves using
iNaturalist, either in our sanctuaries or anywhere across Massachusetts.
Written by Cameron Piper, TerraCorps Service Member
The Avian Collision Team is a volunteer effort to monitor bird-window strikes in downtown Boston. This fall was the second season, running from early August to mid-October. Volunteers walked 7 survey routes from Saturday to Tuesday between 6 and 9 a.m., finding a total of 74 individuals. This makes 193 total strikes between the fall and spring seasons.
Note: Mass Audubon’s volunteers collect specimen with a permit from the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. It is illegal to collect birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Table 1 shows a preliminary roundup of the window-strike species found by ACT volunteers. Locations and images can be found on iNaturalist, where other citizen scientists around the world are submitting similar window-strike data on a project called “Bird-window collisions”.
Table 1: Number of individuals of each species found by ACT
White-throated Sparrow. . .
House Finch. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Black-billed Cuckoo. . . . . . . . .
Ovenbird . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Northern Waterthrush. . . . . . .
Yellow-billed Cuckoo . . . . . . .
Common Yellowthroat . . . .
Blackpoll Warbler. . . . . . . . . . .
Red-eyed Vireo. . . . . . . . . . . .
Hermit Thrush . . . . . . . . . . .
Northern Flicker . . . . . . . . . . . .
Blue-headed Vireo . . . . . . . . .
Black-and-white Warbler. .
American Robin. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Blue Jay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Lincoln’s Sparrow . . . . . . . .
Song Sparrow. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
European Starling . . . . . . . . . .
Magnolia Warbler. . . . . . . .
Nashville Warbler. . . . . . . . . . .
Cedar Waxwing . . . . . . . . . . .
American Redstart . . . . . . .
Chestnut-sided Warbler. . . . . .
Veery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Brown Creeper . . . . . . . . . .
Black-throated Green Warbler
Chipping Sparrow. . . . . . . . . .
Golden-crowned Kinglet . .
Canada Warbler. . . . . . . . . . . .
Clay-colored Sparrow. . . . . .
Dark-eyed Junco . . . . . . . . .
Indigo Bunting. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Swamp Sparrow . . . . . . . . . . .
Savannah Sparrow. . . . . . .
Virginia Rail. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Pine Warbler. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Northern Parula . . . . . . . . .
Belted Kingfisher. . . . . . . . . . .
Black-throated Blue Warbler
American Woodcock . . . . .
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. . . . .
Palm Warbler. . . . . . . . . . . .
Red-bellied Woodpecker . . . .
House Sparrow. . . . . . . . . . .
Mourning Dove . . . . . . . . . . .
Red-breasted Nuthatch. . . . . .
Brown-headed Cowbird . . .
Swainson’s Thrush . . . . . . . . .
White-breasted Nuthatch. . . .
Baltimore Oriole . . . . . . . . .
Note: This list is still being updated as we finalize our data
As evident in Table 1, window collisions in downtown Boston during the times in which we survey are primarily migratory species. Much like moths to a light bulb, migrating birds are drawn to city lights during their nighttime migratory journeys. They land in cities and in the early mornings when they re-orient themselves and look for food, they fly into glass windows. Learn more about this hazard and how you can do something about it on Mass Audubon’s website.
ACT will start again during spring migration, running its third season from April 11 – June 2. Sign up to be a volunteer and direct questions to [email protected]
In addition to collecting data on bird-window collisions, Mass Audubon’s Avian Collision Team also generates many good stories that range from hopeful, to tragic, to simply strange. While most of the birds our volunteers found were dead, some were nursed back to health at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic. What follows is an account of one window-struck Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) that proved to be an emotional roller coaster for our project coordinators.
Part I: The warbler is alive
A dedicated ACT volunteer called up about a handful of window-struck birds outside a building facing the Boston Public Garden. Most were dead, but for a single Chestnut-sided Warbler. It was apparently sitting on the curb, visibly breathing, but injured. The volunteer was a little shaken up. Since they didn’t have a net or tools to safely catch the bird, I advised them to wait to see if the bird could fly off on its own before trying to catch it.
Part II: The warbler is dead
A few minutes later, the volunteer called back– sounding
even more shaken. The bird had flown away, but just as it lifted off, it was
caught in a gust of wind from a passing car and was struck by the fender. From
the volunteer’s description, the bird was truly lifeless. The volunteer said
they would take the carcass back to their freezer and eventually bring it to
the Harvard zoology museum, where we had been depositing specimens for
Part III: The warbler is alive, again
“It’s alive!” were the first words out of the volunteer’s
mouth on our third phone call within a half-hour. “The bag started moving!”
Stunned birds can truly appear lifeless, and in fact, many birds
that hit windows are stunned, concussed, or go into shock before eventually
shaking themselves off and flying away. But just because a bird can fly doesn’t
mean it’s healthy. A broken clavicle or corocoid bone allows birds to make
short flights, but prevents them from gaining altitude, halting their migration
and making them an easy meal for predators. Any bird found stunned from a
building impact is a good candidate for treatment at a wildlife care center.
The volunteer met Mass Audubon staff at a nearby T station to hand off the
bird, which was taken to Tufts Wildlife Clinic.
Part IV: The warbler is dead. Again.
The Tufts clinic graciously provides every animal with a
case number, so its finder can call up to check on its condition.
While the bird was initially given an optimistic prognosis,
we learned a few days after dropping it off that it had suffered untreatable
head trauma. The bird had died.
While healthy bird populations naturally fluctuate enough to
practically erase the effect of one birds’ death, there is no harm in trying to
save individual lives. Naturally, most volunteers prefer to put in the extra
effort involved in helping injured birds than leave them to die from an
indirectly human-inflicted injury. It was sad not to be able to save this
warbler, but we did successfully release a number of other birds, including
Brown Creepers, Song Sparrows, Ovenbirds and Common Yellowthroats.
If you want to help monitor window collisions and ambulate injured birds, join Mass Audubon’s Avian Collision Team for its fall migration via this form!
Here’s an easy way for anyone living or working in Boston to
help migratory birds: help monitor window collisions!
Mass Audubon is
seeking new volunteers for the fall season of the Avian Collision Team
(ACT). ACT is an initiative to collect data on bird–building collisions, and to
rescue injured birds.
This spring, the team of birders, conservationists, and
other concerned citizens observed 115 birds across 38 species affected by
window strikes. This fall, and in coming seasons, we need to keep up the
momentum and grow our dataset.
Window collisions are an under–appreciated source of bird
mortality in the US, causing several hundred million
Birds struggle to distinguish reflections from reality, and
often strike glass windows that reflect the sky or nearby greenery. City lights
also confuse night-migrating birds, which use the stars to navigate, and which
often land near sources of light pollution. Many window strikes occur as birds
try to re-orient in the morning, after being drawn in to an unfamiliar concrete
The program runs from August 24–October 28 in downtown Boston.
Volunteers need to sign up for 1-4 weekly shifts, Saturday–Tuesday, that can
take place between 6-9am. Most shifts last around 30-60 minutes.
Volunteers walk predetermined routes through downtown Boston
to photograph or collect deceased specimens, fill out data sheets, and occasionally
rescue live birds. We’ll be holding volunteer trainings on August 11, 18, and
Carrying out ACT surveys can be an eye-opening experience,
between watching the city as it’s waking up, discovering seemingly out-of-place
warblers, buntings, and vireos, and occasionally saving the life of an errant,
injured migrant. And once you’ve found your first few birds, a collector’s
instinct sometimes kicks in, making the search all the more engaging. It’s like
birding with a twist– a sense of urgency, purpose, and sometimes, a touch of
Since mid-April, a team of Mass Audubon volunteers has
combed the streets of downtown Boston in search of migratory birds killed by collisions
with windows. Here are some preliminary results of our first season running the
Avian Collision Team (ACT).
The first statistic that jumps out is the higher-than-expected number of live, injured birds found by our volunteers. Based on what we heard from New York, Chicago, and Toronto, we had told volunteers it was highly unlikely they’d be able to save any injured birds. This ended up being far from the truth! Here’s one video of a Brown Creeper that was well enough to be released after suffering non-life-threatening head trauma:
The Five “Hardest-hit” Species
Some patterns are also beginning to emerge in the species of
birds we’ve been finding. Here’s the full breakdown:
The five most frequently-encountered birds (in bold text
above) have something in common: they’re all low-flying migratory species, and
they’re relatively common. Certain buildings also seemed to kill a
disproportionate number of birds that climb trees vertically, like woodpeckers,
nuthatches, Black-and-white Warblers, and Brown Creepers. Other cities have reported similar species profiles with an emphasis on common migratory birds that fly low and weakly.
The Bottom Line
A few dozen people surveying a thin slice of the city for an hour or so per week found 119 window-struck birds of 38 species.
Other cities report that certain seasons have up to four times the number of strikes than others. The wide variability of window strikes makes it difficult, after just one season, to make broad statements about how many birds die from collisions in Boston annually, or establish how Boston shapes up compared to other cities. That said, our numbers fall roughly into the range reported by similarly-sized programs in other cities, like Baltimore, Detroit, and New York.
After accounting for scavengers, industrious building cleaners, and low volunteer detection rates, it’s estimated that only 10-20% of window strikes on a given route are actually recorded. That makes our numbers all the more sobering, especially considering our volunteers covered less than 1/50th of the street area of Boston.
That said, window strikes by themselves may not drive bird declines in Massachusetts. Window strikes are an additional stressor, however, on top of a laundry list of human-caused threats to bird populations. In today’s world of climate change, habitat loss, and invasive species, every bird counts– which is why window strikes are worth understanding.
Cities Are Only Part of the Problem
Outside the study areas in Downtown Boston, our volunteers
reported many casualties even without focused searching. Their findings
emphasize what other studies already suggest: window strikes are at least as
much of an issue at single-family homes and low-rises as they are at tall urban
The good news is that there are lots of ways to make your
home or office windows bird-safe. Here are some tips:
Screens on windows are the cheapest and perhaps simplest option: they break up reflections and also provide a springy barrier that collision-bound birds can bounce off of.
Where screens are impossible,
consider buying or building an Acopian Bird Savers
(hanging lengths of bird-deterring string). Learn how to build your own here!
Window decals only work when spaced less than 2” apart vertically and 4” apart horizontally, but when used correctly, they’re another great option. Certain kinds are transparent to human eyes, so even narrowly-spaced ones won’t interrupt your view.
Installing UV-reflective patterned glass like Ornilux is extremely effective, and
by far the most discrete option– but also the most expensive.
Finally, turning unneeded lights off
at night helps conserve energy and avoid drawing birds into strike-prone areas.
(Disclaimer: Mass Audubon has no
affiliation with any of the above vendors).
in its third year, the Eastern Meadowlark Project is a great way to support
bird conservation by simply going birding.
By checking for meadowlarks at a list of sites and entering observations on our project webpage, citizen scientists help piece together the reasons for this species’ decline.
We know that meadowlarks are in trouble. Between 1974-2011, meadowlarks disappeared from over 78% of their Massachusetts breeding sites, according to Mass Audubon’s Breeding Bird Atlas. This decline is only partially explained by meadowlarks’ habitat requirements.
Our 2018 volunteers found meadowlarks at just 3 sites out of over 100 protected grasslands across the state. While meadowlarks do persist at a handful of known agricultural sites outside our survey areas, these results suggested they aren’t using all of the habitat ostensibly available to them. So, while we know habitat loss is a major factor, we also know that it’s not the only part of the meadowlark decline equation.
Our next step is to check sites where meadowlarks were historically seen–including areas that might not be textbook habitat for them. This year, surveys will take place at sites where Eastern Meadowlarks were spotted during the past two Breeding Bird Atlases (1974-1979 and 2007-2011). This will help us both establish where meadowlarks have disappeared from their historical range, and what kinds of habitats meadowlarks are using aside from natural grasslands.
Go Birding—For Science!
First, visit our Anecdata webpage to select sites where you can help look for meadowlarks. You’ll need to create an account by clicking “register” in the top right corner and creating a username and password. Then, return to the meadowlark project page and click “join project” (just under the photo of the meadowlark). To view a map of sites, click on “add an observation,” then click “use a hotspot” in the upper left, and then click “map.” Finally, be sure to sign up for the hotspots you choose on the signup list mentioned in the project description!
keep our data uniform and reliable, a volunteer should survey a site three
times between April 10 and June 15, for
any 10-minute period between 5:00 am
and 9:30 am. Not all of our sites may have meadowlarks, and that’s
perfectly fine— knowing where they aren’t, and
figuring out why, is just important to us as knowing where they are.
Thanks for helping us help grassland birds– and good luck finding
Mass Audubon needs your help monitoring an underappreciated threat to migratory birds: window collisions. We’re looking for volunteers to collect data on bird-building collisions and rescue birds that survive a strike.
Window collisions are a surprisingly significant source of
bird mortality in the US, causing several hundred million
Birds struggle to distinguish reflections from reality, and
often strike glass windows that reflect the sky or nearby greenery. City lights
also confuse night-migrating birds, which use the stars to navigate, and which often
land near sources of light pollution. Many window strikes occur as birds try to
re-orient in the morning, after being drawn in to an unfamiliar concrete jungle.
How to Help
The Avian Collision Team (ACT) is a new volunteer initiative
to get as much data as we can about building strikes in Boston. We want to understand
the scale of the problem in Boston, where the trouble spots are, and which
species are most affected.
The program runs from April 13–June 4. Volunteers need to
sign up for 1-4 weekly shifts, Saturday–Tuesday, from 8 am to around 9 am.
We are looking for two kinds of volunteers:
volunteers who will walk predetermined routes to collect deceased specimens,
fill out data sheets, and occasionally rescue live birds.
2. Transport volunteers who can pick up specimens from monitors and bring them to a collection site at Harvard. Drivers will also bring occasional injured, live birds to Tufts Wildlife Clinic in Westborough as needed.
Similar programs have shown that in parts of some cities, there are practically no casualties. In others, certain buildings can kill a dozen birds a day during peak migration. Scientists have developed guidelines for what makes buildings especially dangerous to migrating birds, but they’re still pretty rough. The best way to know where and to what extent there’s a problem in Boston… is to check!