Tag Archives: bird-a-thon

Magnolia Warbler © Joe Howell

Take 5: A Wealth of Warblers

Bird-a-thon is a wrap! How did you and your team fair? Spot any cool warblers?

For those new to the tradition, Bird-a-thon is Mass Audubon’s big annual fundraiser and birding competition, in which teams compete head-to-head by earning points from birding and nature activities and by birding in strategic sub-groups in an effort to identify the greatest number of bird species in 24 hours. The event takes place in mid-May, in large part because it’s peak migration season in Massachusetts for many of our migratory bird species.

One group that gets a lion’s share of the attention? Warblers. Each spring, thousands of warblers fly north from their southern winter homes to breed and raise their young, delighting us with their bright colors and distinctive markings.

With more than 30 species of warblers annually occurring in Massachusetts, these colorful avian sprites are consistently among the favorites of birdwatchers everywhere. They consistently both challenge and seduce birders with their animated but sometimes elusive behavior, preference for sheltered forest canopy, and frequently difficult-to-distinguish songs.

Below are five photos of beautiful, bright warblers from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest to celebrate the end of another successful Bird-a-thon. And check out the hundreds of birding programs happening at Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries across the state this spring and summer. May you be blessed with a wealth of warblers!

Yellow Warbler © Jason Gilbody
Yellow Warbler © Jason Gilbody
Magnolia Warbler © Joe Howell
Magnolia Warbler © Joe Howell
Cape May Warbler © Andy Eckerson
Cape May Warbler © Andy Eckerson
Prothonotary Warbler © Jeff Carpenter
Prothonotary Warbler © Jeff Carpenter
Palm Warbler © Mary Dineen
Palm Warbler © Mary Dineen
Eastern Phoebe copyright Anthony Lischio

10 Common Bird Sounds

Do you wonder what you’re hearing outside? Is it the Northern Cardinal you see flitting about? Or maybe it’s something more cryptic?

We’ve pulled together 10 sounds and songs of birds that you may commonly hear when you are out and about in your yard or neighborhood, particularly in the spring. Listen to them enough times and you’ll be able to identify some of what you are hearing when you go outside.

Northern Cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal

Both male and female Northern Cardinals sing a loud, whistling song. Northern Cardinals used to be a species more commonly found south of New England and rarely seen in Massachusetts, but they began to expand their range northward in the 1950s. Now they are a very common species in New England.

Eastern Phoebe

© Anthony Lischio

Eastern Phoebes are cute flycatchers that often nest in manmade structures, like under the eave of a house. Their song gave them their name because it sounds like “fee-bee”.

Black-capped Chickadee

The Black-capped Chickadee is the official state bird of Massachusetts. While its chickadee-dee-dee call is perhaps the most identifiable, the chickadee’s song is a clear two- or three- note whistle similar to the Eastern Phoebe’s song. Play them both back-to-back to hear their differences.

Northern Flicker

© Christopher Peterson

The Northern Flicker is a flashy member of the woodpecker family with a spotted breast and bright yellow feather shafts that you may glimpse when they fly. Their song sounds a lot like they are laughing and can be confused with the song of the Pileated Woodpecker, though the Northern Flicker’s song is more even-toned.

Mourning Dove

© Brian Hunter

The soft coo-ing song of the Mourning Dove is often mistakenly thought to be the sound of an owl.  Another sound you may hear them make is the loud whistling their wings make when they take off and land.

Wings:

Common Grackle

© Matt Sabourin

Common Grackles are blackbirds that have a striking iridescence to their feathers in the sunlight. Their song sounds like a rusty gate opening.

House Wren

For such a tiny bird, the House Wren certainly has a lot to say—and loudly! Their bubbly song is fast-paced and often made up of over 12 syllables per bout of singing. They also have large repertoires of songs and will sing around 600 times an hour during the spring.

Baltimore Oriole

© Sarah Keates

The striking Baltimore Oriole is often considered a sign of spring in Massachusetts with its flute-like song. Baltimore Orioles build intricate hanging nests that cradle their young.

Grey Catbird

The Gray Catbird is another bird whose song inspired its name. Though they make a lot of different sounds, including gurgles, squeaks, and whistles, their cat-like mew is very distinctive.

Mew:

Chipping Sparrow

Unsurprisingly, given its name, the Chipping Sparrow’s song is a series of metallic sounding chips. If you look closely at this small sparrow, you’ll spot its rusty hat.

— Margo Servison

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

Cedar Waxwing © Stephen Kent

A Sweet Bird-a-thon Victory

The rain may have dampened their scopes, but definitely not their spirits. Congratulations to these winning teams!

Cedar Waxwing © Stephen Kent

With an impressive 237 species, the winner of the Brewster Cup (most species recorded statewide) is: Team Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary

This year’s Forbush Award winner (2nd place in species recorded statewide) is back in the winner’s circle with 231 species: Team Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary

And, we are thrilled to welcome our 2018 County Cup winner to the winners’ circle (highest percentage of county par value): Team Arcadia and the Connecticut River Valley Sanctuaries (Hampshire County, 152/140, 109%)

Stay tuned for a master list of species recorded during Bird-a-thon 2018. Want to contribute to the Bird-a-thon 2018 photo album? Email us your photos. View the Album→

The Competition Continues

The birding may be over, but you still have time to help your favorite team raise important funds. Fundraising totals, awards, and prizes for teams and individuals are announced in mid-June. Donate→

Thank You to Our Sponsors!


Presenting Sponsor: Camosse Masonry Supply


Lead Sponsor: Eversource

Media Sponsor: 90.9 WBUR
Supporting Sponsor: ARE Demo & Excavation, Inc.
Community Sponsors: Dune Jewelry, MetLife, Lennox & Harvey, Lauring Construction

Bird-a-thon

Some Heroes Wear Binoculars

Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear heavy binoculars that they “borrowed” from their father 20 years ago–or carry scopes around that are twice their size–or proudly display a well-worn Bird-a-thon t-shirt.

This past weekend, Bird-a-thon teams fanned out across the state to focus their eyes, ears, and lenses on nature. And now that the birding is done, we wanted to take a moment to thank all of our Bird-a-thon participants and supporters.

Bird-a-thon, is not only an opportunity to focus on nature, but also a celebration of the hard work team members have done to raise essential funds for Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries and programs.

The funds raised in conjunction with this one day event will impact the work of Mass Audubon for the coming year and beyond. Bird-a-thon funds are used to:

  • Provide program materials for campers, students, and aspiring naturalists of all ages–to build communities that value, appreciate, and protect nature.
  • Support the work of dedicated staff with expertise in community engagement and advocacy–allowing for quick responses to environmental challenges and opportunities.
  • Manage land and wildlife based on the most current science available–keeping Mass Audubon sanctuaries healthy and vibrant for this and future generations.

And while the birding portion of the event may be over, there is still time to make an impact—with or without a cape.

Be a hero: support your favorite team >

Thank You to Our Sponsors!


Presenting Sponsor: Camosse Masonry Supply
Lead Sponsor: Eversource
Media Sponsor: 90.9 WBUR
Supporting Sponsor: ARE Demo & Excavation, Inc.
Community Sponsors: Dune Jewelry, MetLife, Lennox & Harvey, Lauring Construction

A Bird-a-thon First

Back in 2013, Owen Cunningham considered himself pretty knowledgeable about nature. But when he decided to tag along with Moose Hill team during Bird-a-thon he realized how much there was to learn.

Owen and his mother, Kathleen Guilday

“If you would have asked me then how many species of bird I thought were native to our state I might have guessed around 50,” he said. “But Mass Audubon counted 270 different species in 24 hours that year! I could not believe how little I knew of the native wildlife I had spent my whole life around. From that day, on I began keeping my own list to help me appreciate all these species I had been taking for granted.”

This year, he is doing more than just keeping a list. As the new property manager for the Museum of American Bird Art (MABA) in Canton, he inspired the sanctuary to participate in the fundraising and birding competition for the very first time.

The team has a modest goal of raising $3,000 to help support the 121 acres of conservation land for people, birds, and other native Massachusetts species as well as MABA’s expanding art collection and exhibitions, which are wonderful reminders of “how inspiring and beautiful our natural world is so long as we work to protect it.”

Check back after May 13 to see just how many species Owen and his teammates see!

Get Involved

Want to get more involved in Bird-a-thon? Join a team to create a fundraising page and/or contact a team captain to join a birding roster. Can’t participate in Bird-a-thon this year? Consider donating to a sanctuary or program team.

Thank You to our Bird-a-thon Sponsors

Lead Sponsor: Standard Auto
Support Sponsor: AmeriPride Services
Community Sponsor: MetLife

Coder, Artist, and Bird-a-thon Booster

This is Kaiden.

He’s 9 years old and a booster for Arcadia’s Bird-a-thon team. He’s hoping to raise $500 to help Arcadia manage its grassland and forests to help local wildlife like the bobolink, the kestrel, and the eastern meadowlark.

“I feel happy when I feel close to all the different birds chirping, and all this life. Animals are just like people. They have lives, go about their daily business, raise families, and make homes,” he wrote on his fundraising page. “Each needs a special place to do these things. Mass Audubon is helping make that possible, and I am happy to be helping too.”

To help spread the word, Kaiden coded his very own web-app called a Day at Arcadia (click the grass if it gets too tall and a special mower will come to assist you), drew an eastern meadowlark, and starred in a video that explains just what it means to be a Bird-a-thon booster.

Want to Join Kaiden?

Get involved in Bird-a-thon by joining a team to create a fundraising page and/or contacting a team captain to join a birding roster. Can’t participate this year? Consider donating to a sanctuary or program team.

Thank You to our Bird-a-thon Sponsors

Lead Sponsor: Standard Auto
Support Sponsor: AmeriPride Services
Community Sponsor: MetLife

Wellfleet’s Not-so-Lame Ducks #mabirdathon

The Wellfleet Lame Ducks, part of the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Bird-a-thon team, are an accomplished fundraising force of beginner and intermediate birders. Hear from team leader, Peggy Sagan (pictured far right), about how the flock formed.


The idea for the Lame Ducks was hatched in 2011. At that time, there were several extraordinary women who were committed to the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary but didn’t consider themselves “real” birders.

Wellfleet Bay’s special events coordinator thought “What if we offer these women the opportunity to become better birders? Would they commit to fundraising for Bird-a-thon?” The answer, she soon found out, was a resounding yes.

Since then, Sanctuary Director Bob Prescott and other sanctuary staff have led the “Lame Ducks” (as the team was named) on a series of birding outings each spring to increase their bird knowledge and identification skills.

In return, what began as a small, laid-back clutch of mixed-ability birders has fledged into a fundraising powerhouse, regularly contributing one-third to one-half of Wellfleet’s Bird-a-thon total. And along the way, the flock has become just as competitive about their birding ability and species counts as they are about their fundraising prowess.

Although the individual lame ducks have come and gone as families relocate and personal situations change, most of the original members are still birding and fundraising for Wellfleet’s Bird-a-thon team and we are so grateful for their participation.

The 2017 Lame Ducks include: Ann Allan*, Josie Anderson, Marie Broudy, Janet Drohan*, Janet Golan, Mary O’Neil, Patty Shannon, Christine Shreves, Janet Sisterson*, & Lynn Southey (*original member)

Get Involved

Want to get more involved in Bird-a-thon? Join a team to create a fundraising page and/or contact a team captain to join a birding roster. Can’t participate in Bird-a-thon this year? Consider donating to a sanctuary or program team.

Thank You to our Bird-a-thon Sponsors

Lead Sponsor: Standard Auto
Support Sponsor: AmeriPride Services
Community Sponsor: MetLife

The Most Notable 2016 Bird-a-thon Sightings

More than 700 birders on 24 teams participated in Bird-a-thon 2016 this May, recording a total of 270 species of birds. That’s only 1 species away from the Bird-a-thon all-time best total of 271 species in 2009!

Highlighted below are some notable sightings as determined by Wayne Petersen, Director, Important Bird Area Program. (See the master list of species recorded.)

The birding may be over, but you can still support Bird-a-thon by making a donation to your favorite team or participant. Bird-a-thon is Mass Audubon’s largest fundraiser, providing important support to wildlife sanctuaries and programs across the state. See Bird-a-thon 2016 results and award winners