Tag Archives: bird-a-thon

Come One, Come All: Bird-a-thon 2022

Every May, around a thousand of people participate in Bird-a-thon. Last year, 13 teams recorded a combined total of 274 bird species in 24 hours, while raising over $310,000 to support Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries, conservation efforts, and education programs across the state. 

Finding 274 different species of birds is quite an accomplishment, but if you’re new to birding, a competition may sound intimidating. Don’t worry! Bird-a-thon is actually a great way to learn and hone your birding skills. Whether you love exploring nature or just want a good reason to go outside, everyone is welcome to Bird-a-thon.  

Read some tips and tricks to help you maximize your time birding. 

Tools and Resources for Bird Identification 

Some birds are easy to identify, like the bright red Northern Cardinal or the unmistakable Blue Jay. But telling a Purple Finch and House Finch, or a Cooper’s Hawk from a Sharp-shinned Hawk, is a bit trickier. 

Experienced birders suggest getting a book or field guide to learn the basic physical characteristics of different species. You can also download tools like the Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where you can practice identifying birds based on their look and sound.  

Look through our program catalog to find an online and in-person class or event where you can build your birding foundation. Options range from joining staff on a morning walk as they teach you how to identify different species, to taking birdwatching basics class. 

© Susan Balser

Birding Hotspots in Massachusetts 

When you’re ready to put your new skills to the test, start going to birding hotspots, or places that can be “bird magnets”. There are many places across Massachusetts where you can practice your birding, including any Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary. Over a dozen of our sanctuaries have a bird checklist for you to keep track of what you see. Here are just a sample of our hotspots: 

  • The swamps, thickets, and woodlands of Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Marblehead are great spots to find spring migratory birds, especially warblers. Rocks jutting from the ground on Warbler Trail offer a higher observation point to look for birds in the trees below or the sky above.  
  • In the dead trees surrounding the secluded pond at Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary in Hopkinton, you can find woodland birds and waterbirds like Pileated Woodpeckers, Great Blue Herons, Ospreys, and an occasional Great Horned Owls. You may also spot some Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers nesting in the duck boxes installed near the pond. 
  • The Berkshires is an ideal location for both beginner and experienced birders. At Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox, you can join a program with a skilled guide or bird on your own as you look for species like Eastern Bluebirds, Yellow Warblers, and Cedar Waxwings. 
  • Along the salt marshes and woodlands in the Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Barnstable, you may see birds like the Northern Harrier, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and Willet. The sanctuary is also a great place to see scenic views of the barrier beach habitat.  
© Andy Eckerson

When to go Birding 

Just as the early bird gets the worm, an early birder sees the bird. Bird-a-thon pros know that dawn and dusk are the best times to look for a majority of birds. Many species take advantage of the insects and small creatures crawling around before the sun sends them back to tunnels and holes in the ground. 

For some species, you’ll have a better time finding them after sunset. At dusk, listen for the courting whistles from the American Woodcock or the loud ‘wok’ sounds of the Black-crowned Night-Heron. If you want to hear the haunting calls of a Barred Owl or Eastern Screech Owl, you will have to stay up late or wake up early to hear these night predators. 

How do you Bird-a-thon? 

While birding for Bird-a-thon can be highly competitive, it’s also a great way to get outdoors and learn about wildlife while raising money to support Mass Audubon’s conservation initiatives.  

From admiring them in your backyard to exploring new landscapes, there is no one way to be part of this annual tradition. Visit the Bird-a-thon website to join a team and make an impact.  

Making Inclusive & Equitable Access to Nature Real

A Q&A with Meghadeepa Maity, Organizer of Arcadia’s Sitting Duck Award-Winning Team

This year’s Bird-a-thon included a new competitive birding award: the Sitting Duck for most bird species observed while remaining in a 25-foot circle. The West Team took home the award in an intentionally inclusive event organized by volunteer and avid birder Meghadeepa Maity.

We talked with them about the big win, their commitment to making nature accessible and safe, and how this aligns with Mass Audubon’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.

Meghadeepa Maity
Meghadeepa Maity

Why was organizing an intentionally inclusive event so important to you?

I am a fierce advocate for safety, accessibility, and inclusivity in the outdoors, especially in birding spaces. Among other things, I facilitate the Anti-racist Collective of Avid Birders; I am a Birdability captain; and I am a co-coordinator for the Murmuration Project

I believe that anti-oppression work can’t go far without deconstructing systems and institutions that aren’t built with BIPOC, disabled folks, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and trauma survivors in mind. It’s all too easy for those with privilege or power to say that they aren’t explicitly exclusionary, then absolve themselves of responsibility. In this regard, Mass Audubon is an institution that has shown great humility, initiative, and a commitment to taking actionable steps to diversify the outdoors.

On a more personal note, many facets of my identity have historically been excluded from the outdoors, and often make traditional birding communities feel uncomfortable or inaccessible. I appreciate how invested Mass Audubon is in building equitable access to nature, and wanted to use Bird-a-thon as an opportunity to show community members how powerful outdoor spaces can be when one is intentional with their efforts to make it inclusive.

What were the results of the inclusive stationary count circles you organized for Bird-a-thon?

We had almost 70 participants—we welcomed people who dropped by for short stints over the 24 hours of Bird-a-thon, so I don’t have an exact count. Ages ranged from 4 to 88 and fell within an incredible spectrum of racial, gender, and disability identities. Some had been participating in Bird-a-thon for decades, while others had never attended a birding event before.

Those birding from the 25-foot wide, wheelchair-accessible circle at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton spotted 77 species. The Feminist Bird Club (Boston chapter) was impressed by our inclusive initiative and decided to help rack up our species total by setting up their own stationary counts on the coast, adding another 25 species to the tally. So, we observed 102 species total, and we raised $1,300 for Mass Audubon.

It was exciting to have this all recognized with the first ever Sitting Duck Award. No matter how you want to measure it, this event was groundbreaking and an epic success.

Group of people and chairs in a circle at Arcadia.

What did you learn from your organizing during this year’s Bird-a-thon?

In birding spaces, the presumption is that being a competitive birder and an inclusive birder are mutually exclusive. For Bird-a-thon this year, I’d set out to prove that inclusion works, even when success is measured using traditional metrics. It meant a lot to have the support of the West Region’s Bird-a-thon organizing team to prove this hypothesis. I was humbled by the number of people that came out for our event. It’s easy to forget that you’re an introvert when you’re surrounded by people who believe in you!

I learned that I don’t have to give up competitive birding to make space for everyone outdoors. In order to meet our accessibility goals, our count circle was located in pretty unremarkable habitat (in many birders’ opinion), but I found my lifer Yellow-billed Cuckoo from our little corner at Arcadia!

You can try to separate anti-oppression from conservation efforts, but the reality is that we are better together. I hope that we’ve set an example that will become a Bird-a-thon tradition, and will be trending within Mass Audubon and in birding communities across the country.

Mass Audubon and the West Region team are grateful to Meghadeepa for their leadership and bringing so many into the joys of birding throughout the year and during this year’s Bird-a-thon.