Category Archives: Get Involved

Lily with goats

In Your Words: Lily, Age 18

Lily is a goat volunteer at Habitat Education Center in Belmont. If you’d like to get involved at Habitat, check out the award-winning Habitat Intergenerational Program (HIP), a volunteer community service and learning program that connects people of all ages and enables them to participate in environmental service projects together.


Volunteer Lily with the Habitat Goats
Volunteer Lily with the Habitat Goats

As a city high school kid with an interest in the environment looking for volunteer opportunities, it was clear to me that Mass Audubon would provide the experience in nature that I have always craved. Goat tending at Habitat Education Center in Belmont is unique, hands-on work that has brought me closer to nature than I’ve ever been.

There are plenty of rewarding and demanding chores to be done each day, from keeping the feeders stocked with hay to sweeping and scooping manure, but running the goats from their greenhouse home to the meadow is one of the most thrilling parts of being a volunteer.

All passersby love to watch as three or four of us run alongside the herd of six chubby goats, with the person in the lead shaking a tin can of pellets while trying to keep ahead of the two alpha males. Although they often seem quite lazy while basking in the sun for nearly half the day, goats don’t mess around when it comes to treats!

Habitat’s resident Nigerian Dwarf goats provide ecological care
Habitat’s resident Nigerian Dwarf goats provide ecological care by clearing several acres of meadow land each year, reducing carbon emissions, and removing invasive species.

While I have an important job to do as a volunteer, the goats have their own mission: they are perfect “meadow mowers” in the summer. They eat invasive plant species and poison ivy and help to trim down woody plants in the meadow.

The goats certainly have unique personalities and traits. Lily is often dubbed the “roundest” goat by many visitors. Jacob sometimes requires a little more encouragement and attention from staff and volunteers, but he cracks us up when he won’t budge or refuses his medicine. Kudzu brushes against us asking for a rub, and Chester loves to lead the group to and from the meadow. They never fail to keep me and the other volunteers busy.

Each week I volunteer, I gain even more experience and responsibility working with animals and interacting with visitors. Goat tending has also become less of a job and more of an outlet to unwind from my busy life of AP classes, swim practices and meets, and family responsibilities. Sitting with the goats and brushing their fur or watching them nibble hay from their feeders are the little things that make me happy. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.


In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares their story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected]  to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 

Barred Owl © Jenny Zhao

Take 5: Freebirds

Mass Audubon’s annual Bird-a-thon is an amazing event that allows us to share our love for birds and, thankfully, the number of participants grows each year. We have always been mindful that while this event has unmatched potential for getting people excited about birds, birding, and conservation, it also has the potential to create stress for some species if we do not manage how participants interact with the rarest birds found in our state, especially those that are on-nest this time of year. Stress on wildlife is the last thing we want to encourage.

For several years, we have been adding precautions to the official event rules and guidelines to ensure that our Bird-a-thon activities are not causing any harm to birds. For instance, using audio recordings to lure birds in is not permitted. This rule is there to protect rare birds from being lured with a broadcasted audio file multiple times simply to be counted by teams during Bird-a-thon.  Some species are given “Freebird” status for exactly that reason—every team can check off these birds, and that eliminates the possibility of multiple teams descending on one rare bird in quick succession.

This year we are taking additional steps to protect birds during Bird-a-thon by adding the regularly occurring and rare owls to our list of “Freebirds”. Each team gets to count these birds toward their totals without having to actually see them:

  • Barn Owl
  • Eastern Screech-owl
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Long-eared Owl
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Northern Saw-whet owl
  • Northern Goshawk
  • King Rail
  • Golden-winged Warbler
  • Cerulean Warbler

This decision takes us one step closer to doing our best to protect the nature of Massachusetts while we encourage people to take a deep dive into birding. We realize this shift may affect the way some teams develop their strategies for Bird-a-thon, but at the end of the day, it’s all about protecting the birds, and we trust that’s a mission all Bird-a-thoners can get behind.

Instead, we hope you’ll enjoy these five beautiful photos of owls from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Good luck to all the Bird-a-thon teams! Fly on, freebirds!

Barred Owl © Jenny Zhao
Barred Owl © Jenny Zhao
Great Horned Owl © Katherine Sayn-Wittgenstein
Great Horned Owl © Katherine Sayn-Wittgenstein
Snowy Owl © Paul Malenfant
Snowy Owl © Paul Malenfant
Barn Owl © Victor Simas
Barn Owl © Victor Simas
Eastern Screech-owl © David Morris
Eastern Screech-owl © David Morris
Bald Eagle flying

When Pest Control Poisons Wildlife: Why It Happens and How to Help

(Disclaimer: the post below includes a photo of a dead bald eagle)

This week, Massachusetts passed a sad benchmark–the first documented case of a bald eagle death in the state from second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide (SGAR) poisoning.  

Or, in clearer terms: rat poison. 

Anticoagulant rodenticides kill rodents by preventing blood from clotting normally. But these poisons can have unintended victims when wildlife, like birds of prey, ingest them or eat prey that has consumed the bait. 

Second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) can be especially problematic since they don’t kill rodents immediately. Poisoned rodents can still live for a few days and consume more poisoned bait during that time, and the delay means they can ingest enough poison to kill a much larger animal. 

Photo: James B. Condon

Aren’t These Poisons Regulated?

Second-generation anticoagulants have been banned by the EPA from the consumer market, but licensed exterminators are still allowed to deploy them. Other rodenticides, called first-generation anticoagulant rodenticides and non-anticoagulant rodenticides, are still approved for residential consumer use if enclosed within a bait station. 

While this was the first confirmed case of an eagle death in the state as a result of SGARs, the issue of birds of prey becoming the unintended victims of these poisons is a growing problem. Nearly every raptor species is vulnerable to rodenticide poisoning. For example, one recent study found that 100% of tested red-tailed hawks at Tufts Wildlife Clinic had been exposed to anticoagulant rodenticides. Secondary poisoning has also been documented in species like foxes, bobcats, and coyotes.

What’s the Solution?

With rat populations on the rise, pest control measures continue to be necessary. But many poison-free options for preventing rodent problems exist. In addition to non-chemical traps, these include exclusion methods, like sealing up access points to buildings, and sanitation methods, like securing trash bins to reduce food sources.  

If the situation necessitates hiring a pest control company, choosing one that uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can also make a big impact in reducing widespread pesticide use. IPM relies on a series of pest management evaluations, and its strategies can include trapping, sealing up entry holes in foundations, walls, and roofs, and removing or trimming vegetation that obscures the ground.  

We also need laws to regulate the pesticides that do continue to be used. In California, legislation has passed prohibiting the use of SGARs until state agencies can reevaluate what long-term restrictions are needed to avoid impacts to nontarget wildlife.  

Here in Massachusetts, An Act relative to pesticides would better regulate the use of SGARs, in turn reducing their impacts on birds of prey and other wildlife. The bill would: 

  • Increase use of IPM strategies in Massachusetts 
  • Educate consumers about the benefits of IPM and impacts of SGARs 
  • Require digitization of pesticide use forms, making them more accessible and searchable 

You Can Help Stop Wildlife from Being Poisoned

Ask your state legislators to co-sponsor An Act relative to pesticides today! The more co-sponsors a bill has, the more support it has behind it and the better chance it has of passing. 

By improving our approaches to pest management, we can reduce the need for rodenticides at their source and help our wildlife thrive. 

Bald Eagle Flying © David Morris
Bald Eagle © David Morris

Maria Vasco, UMass Boston Campus Ambassador to Mass Audubon

Student Ambassador to Mass Audubon Receives Highest Honors

Maria Vasco, UMass Boston Campus Ambassador to Mass Audubon
Maria Vasco, UMass Boston Campus Ambassador to Mass Audubon

As schools are getting back in session, we want to honor recent graduate and Mass Audubon alum Maria Vasco, an environmental studies and sustainability major in the School for the Environment at UMass Boston.

Maria received the top two honors a graduating undergraduate can receive from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education: the John F. Kennedy Award for Academic Excellence and the “29 Who Shine” Award, for her academic achievements, commitment to service, and good citizenship. As part of the JFK Award, Maria will have the opportunity to address the graduating class at their commencement ceremony, although the event was postponed due to COVID-19 safety concerns.

In her sophomore and junior years, Maria was the campus ambassador for Mass Audubon, organizing and leading climate cafes on the UMass Boston campus and at the Timilty Middle School in Roxbury and recruiting fellow students as part of a partnership between the university and Mass Audubon.

“I love to tell my fellow students about all the inspiring work that Mass Audubon is doing and inviting them to be a part of it, from attending Climate Cafes to pursuing environmental careers,” Maria said. “For many, it’s the first time they’re hearing about Mass Audubon, and they’re usually interested to learn more.”

Maria’s passion and leadership led the way for the partnership to grow and flourish recruiting students for a variety of internships, work-study placements, and summer jobs in conservation as well as nonprofit management roles. It’s a natural “fit” between Boston’s only public research university and Massachusetts’s leading nonprofit organization in conservation, environmental education, and advocacy.

In addition to her impressive academic accomplishments and important work with Mass Audubon, Maria is also an entrepreneur. She launched the UVIDA Shop webstore, which aims to help consumers reduce their plastic waste through the use of eco-friendly products like bamboo toothbrushes, reusable water bottles, and biodegradable glitter.

After graduation, Maria is continuing to build her business on the side while working for Exporta Technologies, a Harvard-based software-as-a-service (Saas) startup based in Cambridge.

Reflecting on her time working with Mass Audubon, Maria noted, “An important trait I have picked up…is to be confident in myself and make more of a push to leap into bigger opportunities.”

Congratulations to Maria! And best of luck in your bright future from all of us at Mass Audubon. Keep pushing for even bigger opportunities to advocate for people and the environment!

A Victory for Birds

Great news for birds and for all of us who care about them!

Great Blue Heron copyright John Yurka
Great Blue Heron © John Yurka

A federal court ruled yesterday that the legal basis for the Trump Administration’s rollback of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is inconsistent with the intent and language of the law.

U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni found that the Administration’s legal opinion, which would needlessly put millions of birds at risk, “runs counter to the purpose of the MBTA to protect migratory bird populations” and is “contrary to the plain meaning of the MBTA.”

As many Mass Audubon members know, the MBTA’s passage in 1918 was a direct outgrowth of the advocacy spurred by Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, who more than two decades earlier had founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society to end the slaughter of birds for their feathers.

It is heartening to know our founders’ legacy lives on in the actions and support by nature lovers that continue to inspire today.

The court’s decision comes as a result of lawsuits filed by environmental organizations and eight states, including Massachusetts; we specifically thank Attorney General Maura Healey and her staff for their stalwart determination to help bring about the ruling.

To be sure, this fight is not over. Mass Audubon has formally objected to the proposed regulatory rollbacks and supported legislation in opposition.

But we need your help to stop any future attempts by the Trump Administration and its allies to dismantle the founding achievement of the Audubon movement and one of the nation’s bulwark legal protections in support of thriving wildlife.

Please make a donation today so we can continue to advocate for the birds that we all love.

David O’Neill
President

Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose

A Crushing Blow to Birds

Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose
Eastern Bluebird © Cheryl Rose

The United States government has released a draft environmental impact statement that will crush the bird conservation successes of the last 100 years.

Their report recommends ending federal protections for harassing, trapping, or killing birds, or taking nests and eggs, unless it can be proven that the intent of the action was only to kill birds, or the species is an endangered species. This kind of loss, called incidental take (detailed here), kills millions of birds every year, even with federal protections in place enabling responses to reduce impacts. Removing these protections will unleash unbridled assaults on our native birds, which is why this change must be stopped.

Join us and act now to protect birds, and stop this regulatory change.

An Age of Enlightenment

Since 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) has protected our native birds from purposeful or incidental losses.  Mass Audubon’s founding mothers, Minna Hall and Harriet Hemenway, built public support to end the feather trade and protect all birds. Some species were split off to be managed as game – and they flourished with special protection.

The vast majority of species like bluebirds, hummingbirds, terns, and owls all entered a new era of protection and conservation. They were given a reprieve from hunting and harassment, egg and nest collecting, and any other behaviors that killed birds without a permit. This helped drive innovative conservation initiatives that allow industry to thrive, and native bird populations to coexist with a booming economy. It worked well – maybe better than in any other country in the world.

The Return of the Dark Ages

Despite these conservation successes, decades of economic expansion, and public comments representing hundreds of thousands of citizens, the Trump administration has chosen to recommend advancing regulatory changes that will make it legal for anyone to kill unlimited numbers of birds, as long as their action is “otherwise lawful.”

The federal government did this while admitting their chosen path would serve the single benefit of “improving legal certainty,” but have negative effects on all other environmental conditions – including bird populations.

So, if you want to build a shopping center, and construction starts in June, and there is colony of herons or a nest of owls on the land, you can legally cut down the trees, destroying the nests, eggs, and chicks.

And, importantly, if your industry is a repeat offender and kills thousands of birds each year in uncovered oil waste pits (because you won’t follow best practices and cover the pits), there is no penalty.

There will be no repercussions, and no incentive, for making even minor changes to construction or industry practices to protect non-game birds like wrens, egrets, and loons, unless your state has legislation that covers these species. At this time Massachusetts does not have legislation that protects these species – we have always relied on the federal MBTA to do that.

What You Can Do

Join Mass Audubon and others who care about birds:

  • Donate to Mass Audubon so we can keep fighting to save the birds we all love and care for.
  • Submit comments opposing the proposed elimination of incidental take protections for birds. Let federal officials know you support Alternative B to restore the Incidental Take provision.
  • Let your Congressional representatives know that you support legislation to restore MBTA protections, and that you support bird conservation.

Birds fill our lives with curiosity, hope, and wonder. We marvel at their audacious colors, ability to withstand freezing nights, and migrations across the hemisphere. We benefit as they help ecosystems thrive by pollinating plants and eating pesky bugs that damage crops.

But they need us more than they have in the last hundred years. It is our turn to step up and make our voices heard.

Bird-at-home-a-thon 2020 in Review

Bird-at-home-a-thon, which took place May 15-16, was more than we could have hoped for. Thanks to all of you, we not only had a record number of participants, but raised a record amount of funds ($290,000 and counting) that will support conservation, education, and advocacy across the state.

The Results

Our 26 teams recorded an impressive combined total of 242 bird species in Massachusetts. We were amazed at all the different bird species we could see right from our backyards and neighborhoods.

Teams across the state not only got points for birds seen, but for taking part in a variety of nature-themed activities including filling bird feeders, going on scavenger hunts, and even coloring! The Teams that received the most points are:

  • Eagle Eye Award for most points earned goes to Team Drumlin Farm with 992 points
  • Home Habitat Award for second place for the most points earned goes to Team Wellfleet Bay with 537 points.

Highlights

We loved seeing all the amazing posts on social media and our online digital gallery during the event. Here are some of our favorites:

Barred Owl

Drawings & Silly Names

Activity Time

Indigo Bunting

Prairie Warbler

Birding on the River

Flicker Drawing

Bird Art in West Boylston

via Lisa Carlin

Getting Crafty

via Christine and Steven Whitebread

View more Bird-a-thon pictures in the online photo gallery. Feel free to add your own Bird-a-thon pictures as well, and please be sure to include your name in the file name so we know who to credit.

It’s Not Too Late To Get Involved

The birding may be over, but fundraising is open until mid-June! We can’t thank you enough for your generous support.

Thank you to our 2020 Bird-a-thon Sponsors!

Hostess Catering
Metlife

Burds you can see in an urban setting

Birds to Look For During Bird-at-home-a-thon

While this year’s Bird-a-thon has shifted focus to birding closer to home and around your neighborhood, you can still find tons of exciting birds. Some birds are common in many habitats, like Northern Cardinals and American Robins, but here is a list of other feathered friends you are likely to see (or hear!) in habitats across Massachusetts along with some fun facts. 

UrbanSuburbanForest Grassland/Fields Wetland/Fresh Water Coast

Urban

Peregrine Falcon © Martha Akey; Turkey Vulture © Verne Arnold; Mourning Dove © Ruthie Knapp; American Crow © Neal Harris; Common Grackle © Anthony Nomakeo

Peregrine Falcons (1) are found on all continents except Antarctica. They are also the fastest bird in the world! 

Turkey Vultures (2) find their carrion meals by smell as well as sight. When threatened, a Turkey Vulture will projectile vomit to defend itself.  

Mourning Doves (3) are known to make nests in odd places. A nest on top of an upside-down push broom leaning against a wall was once reported to our Wildlife Information Line. 

American Crows (4) congregate in large numbers (sometimes up to a million birds or more!) to sleep together in the winter. One such roost has been common in Lawrence, MA. 

If you look closely at a Common Grackle (5) in the sunlight, you’ll see that it has quite beautiful iridescent feathers. 

Suburban

Carolina Wren © Ian Barton; White-breasted Nuthatch © Rebecca Smalley; Gray Catbird © Kristin Foresto; Red-bellied Woodpecker © Irene Coleman; Chipping Sparrow © Kristin Foresto

Carolina Wrens (6) are also known to nest in odd places when living in suburban areas, like in an old boot, or in a mailbox. 

White-breasted Nuthatches (7), like other nuthatches, can move head-first down tree trunks and are frequently seen in that upside-down pose.

The Gray Catbird’s (8) song may last up to 10 minutes. 

Sometimes, Red-bellied Woodpeckers (9) wedge large nuts into bark crevices, then whack them into smaller pieces using their beaks. They also use cracks in trees and fence posts to store food for later in the year. 

In 1929, Edward Forbush (MA ornithologist) described the Chipping Sparrow (10) as “the little brown-capped pensioner of the dooryard and lawn, that comes about farmhouse doors to glean crumbs shaken from the tablecloth by thrifty housewives.” 

Forest

Northern Flicker © Gates Dupont; Eastern Towhee © Mike Duffy; Wood Thrush © Kathy Porter; Black-and-white Warbler © Brad Dinerman; Yellow-rumped Warbler © Bernard Creswick

Although they can climb trees and hammer like other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers (11) prefer to find food, like ants, on the ground.

The Eastern Towhee’s (12) song sounds like they are saying “drink-your-tea.” 

Wood Thrush (13) can sing two parts at once. In the final trilling phrase of their three-part song, they sing pairs of notes simultaneously, one in each branch of its y-shaped voicebox. The two parts harmonize to produce a haunting, ventriloquial sound. 

The scientific name for Black-and-white Warblers (14) is Mniotilta varia meaning “moss-plucking,” after their habit of probing bark and moss for insects. 

The yellow patch just above the Yellow-rumped Warbler‘s (15) tail gives them the nickname “butter butts.” 

Grassland or Open Field

Tree Swallow © Mike Duffy; Eastern Bluebird © Dorrie Holmes; American Kestrel © Anthony Lischio; Bobolink © Bernard Creswick; Eastern Meadowlark © Phil Brown

Tree Swallows (16) are one of the best-studied bird species in North America, helping researchers make major advances in several branches of ecology. Despite this, we still know little about their lives during migration and winter. 

Eastern Bluebirds (17) typically have more than one successful brood per year. Young born in early nests usually leave their parents in summer, but young from later nests frequently stay with their parents over winter. 

American Kestrels (18) can see ultraviolet light, which allows them to see the urine trails that voles leave as they run along the ground. These bright paths help kestrels find prey. 

Bobolink (19) songs sound like R2D2’s voice from Star Wars.

Male Eastern Meadowlarks (20) can sing several variations of its song. Scientists analyzed one male meadowlark and found he sang more than 100 different song patterns. 

Wetland or Freshwater Pond, Lake or River

Belted Kingfisher © Edmund Prescottano; Wood Ducks © Christina Ernst; Green Heron © Lisa Gurney; Spotted Sandpiper © Keenan Yakola; Hooded Merganser © Srimanth Srinivasan

Fossils of Belted Kingfishers (21) dated to 600,000 years old have been found in Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, and Texas. 

Wood Ducks (22) nest in trees ranging from directly over water to over a mile away. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her but does not help them in any way. Ducklings may jump over 50 feet without injury. 

Green Herons (23) are one of the world’s few bird species who use tools. They often create fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to attract small fish. 

Unlike most birds, Spotted Sandpiper (24) females establish and defend the territory, arriving to the breeding grounds before males. Males then take the primary role in parental care, incubating the eggs and caring for chicks. 

Hooded Mergansers (25) find their prey underwater by sight. They can actually change the refraction properties of their eyes to improve their underwater vision. Plus, birds have an extra eyelid called a “nictitating membrane,” which is transparent and helps protect their eyes while swimming, like a pair of goggles. 

Coast and Saltmarsh

Piping Plover © Sherri VandenAkker; American Oystercatcher © Cameron Darnell; Double-crested Cormorant © Kristin Foresto; Common Eider © Roger Debenham; Great Egret © Marco Jona

Piping Plovers (26) will sometime use a foraging method called foot-trembling where they extend one foot out into wet sand and vibrate it to scare up food like marine worms, insects, and crustaceans. 

Unlike most shorebirds, American Oystercatcher (27) chicks depend on their parents for food for at least 60 days after hatching. 

Double-crested Cormorants (28) often stand in the sun with their wings outstretched to dry. Cormorants have less oil on their feathers so their feathers can get soaked rather than shedding water like a duck. Having wet feathers probably make it easier for cormorant to hunt underwater. 

Common Eider (29) mothers and chicks form groups called “creches” that can include over 150 chicks and include non-breeding hens as protection. 

During the Great Egrets (30) breeding season, a patch of skin on its face turns neon green and long feathers called aigrettes grow from its back. These feathers were prized for ladies’ hats in the 19th century and inspired Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna B. Hall to form Mass Audubon to protect them.

Ready to start birding?

Get involved at massaudubon.org/birdathon

Nature Heroes in Action

This past year has been remarkable in so many ways—and it’s all thanks to Nature Heroes like you. You have visited sanctuaries, attended programs, volunteered your time, shared your experiences on social media, made donations, and so much more.

Check out a snapshot of what you helped accomplish this year below or in our Annual Report and watch our new video to see more Nature Heroes in action!

Watch the video >

1,386

Happy campers that attended summer camp thanks to scholarships.

800

People that participated in Mass Audubon Climate Cafes and Youth Climate Summits.

67

Bird-friendly forest stewardship plans put into action across 8,370 acres in Massachusetts, thanks to Mass Audubon-led Forestry for the Birds training.

829

Cold-stunned turtles rescued off the beaches of Cape Cod, including “Munchkin,” a 330-pound adult female Loggerhead. The largest ever to strand during cold-stun season in Massachusetts, Munchkin is now believed to be foraging in warmer waters.

456

Acres of additional land protected across Massachusetts, raising our total conserved acreage to 38,211 acres. This land serves as important habitat for plants and animals; provides people with clean drinking water, fresh air, better health, and more places to experience the joys of nature; and leads to a more resilient Massachusetts in the face of climate change.

510,000

Visitors that explored one of 60 wildlife sanctuaries across the state.

Want to see those numbers grow?

Include Mass Audubon in your year-end giving to help protect the nature of Massachusetts for people, for land, and for wildlife!

For Land, For People, and For Wildlife

Today, at a Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary near you, you helped to save something truly extraordinary. You did it last week, and the week before that. In fact, you did it every day this year.

And you are in the very best of company: your friends, neighbors, and 135,000 like-minded people all across the state are also taking action to protect the nature of Massachusetts.

On Giving Tuesday, we’ll share some stories via email and Facebook about how your support is making a difference for wildlife, wild lands, and people. We hope you will be encouraged by what’s possible when we all work together, and inspired to make a gift to Mass Audubon.

Your donation will have even greater impact thanks to a few wonderful supporters who have pledged to match all Giving Tuesday donations, up to $20,000!

Donate today >