Birdwatching: The BirdCast website allows you to monitor nocturnal migration


A Hermit Thrush browses at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Spring migration is in full swing right now with most of our warblers, vireos, thrushes, tanagers and many other perching birds near their peak migration.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has a fantastic new tool for monitoring bird migration. BirdCast leverages radar scans to determine the density of nocturnal migrants anywhere in the continental United States.

You can find the BirdCast website at

Scroll down a bit to the Migration Dashboard box, enter the state or county you’re interested in, and click Search.

As I write this column on May 1, I see on the migration dashboard that 548,600 birds have passed through Maine tonight so far. More than 3.4 million birds are now flying over Maine, making it one of the three busiest spring migration nights.

You can see the value of this BirdCast tool in letting you know when a warm birding morning awaits, or perhaps when you might want to catch a few extra winks because few migrants are passing by. The Migration Dashboard provides other interesting data such as flight direction and speed, altitude, and a cumulative graph of all the birds that passed through Maine (or any other state) this spring.


Where does the time go? It looks like the Maine Breeding Bird Atlas project is just getting started. In fact, it started in 2018 and we are now in the fifth and final year of this project to document the distribution of Maine’s breeding birds at precise scale.

Despite the challenges of COVID during the 2020 and 2021 seasons, we have made great strides in completing many priority blocks, especially in the southern half of the state. Priority blocks, each approximately 9 square miles in area, are spread throughout Maine to ensure the state is carefully sampled.

However, 303 priority blocks have not yet been completed. Twenty hours of observations are required to complete a block. Many of these blocks have been sampled and I hope you will consider adopting one or more of these blocks. You can see a map of incomplete priority blocks at Atlas Blockbusters Website. Click on a block to see how many hours are needed to complete the block.

Some species are at risk of being undersampled due to their secretive nature, dense habitats, or nocturnal activity. Two initiatives are aimed at these species and volunteers are needed.

the Maine Nightjar Monitoring Project is designed to collect Whip-poor-wills and Common Nighthawks, two declining species in Maine. Volunteers walk a prescribed route at dusk and on moonlit nights listening for these species (as well as owls and other vocalizing birds). The routes that need to be completed are in Biddeford, Burlington, Exeter, Island Falls, Greene, Greenwood, Lakeville, Medford, North Berwick, St. Albans and Sumner.

You can learn more about the program at To register, contact Logan Parker at [email protected]

Marsh bird surveys target nine species of marsh birds. These species are the Pied-billed Grebe, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Green Heron, Virginia Rail, Sora, American Coot, Common Gallinule, and Sedge Wren. All of these birds are more easily identified by sound than sight in their dense habitats.

Observers play recordings of each species and listen to responses. Each marsh is sampled three times: once in the last half of May, once in the first half of June and once in the second half of June.

Two hundred marshes were randomly selected throughout Maine. To see which marshes to adopt, visit the Maine Natural History Observatory website. Some marshes can be sampled from the edges; others require a canoe or kayak.

On this website, you can read more about the details of the sampling protocol. To register, email Glen Mittelhauser at [email protected] and indicate Waterfowl Survey in the subject line.

Herb Wilson taught ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes comments and questions from readers to [email protected]

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