Penobscot Valley Chapter – Maine Audubon: Birdathon 101

Let us know you’re interested in forming a team. Contact Bob Duchesne at duchesne@midmaine.com or 207-827-3782.

Description:

A birdathon (also called a Big Day) is an attempt to find as many bird species as possible in one day. It’s usually conducted as a fundraiser, with sponsors pledging a few cents per bird. Any number of people may form a team, though three or four is generally the norm.

Sometimes there is a competition between teams. The most famous is the World Series of Birding, conducted by New Jersey Audubon. Teams from all over the world participate. There are strict rules. Fortunately, the PVC Audubon birdathon rules are lax, and made to be broken. Break all you want.

Chapter Rules, sort of:

  • Teams may pick any day to go out from mid-May through early June.
  • Birdathons may start at any time of day, and may be of any duration, but must be completed within 24 hours.
  • Birds should be positively identified by sight or sound by all team members. However, birds may still be counted if identified by a majority of team members, and a certain percentage of birds may be accepted when identified by only one member. That percentage is left up to the team. We’re not the birdathon police. Typically, no more than 5% of the day’s list should be single-observed birds.
  • Birds must be alive, wild, and unrestrained.
  • Identification mistakes happen. Don’t worry about it.
  • Teams must stay together, within earshot of each other.

Getting started:

  • Form a team.
  • Choose a team name, the wackier the better. (Some of my team names over the years: The Cardinal Sins, The Raven Loonatics, The Bleary-eyed Vireos…)
  • Find sponsors (optional). Sponsors may pledge on a per-species basis or offer a flat contribution to support the team. Contributions stay local, supporting the Chapter’s programs and scholarships.
  • Alert the Chapter of your team (optional) to be included in further fun and festivities, tips and advice.
  • Pick a date. Also consider picking a rain date.
  • Plan a route. Scout ahead, if desired, locating difficult species prior to the Big Day.

Strategy:

  • The secret to observing many birds in one day is to visit as many different habitats as possible. Choosing a route and timetable is crucial. Unfortunately, there’s a trade-off. Too much time spent driving between habitats reduces time spent birding.
  • Migration timing is an important consideration, and may influence decisions on the route. In Eastern Maine, migration is in full swing by the third week of May. After Memorial Day, many birds will have reached their destination and settled down. Meanwhile, winter birds (especially ocean birds) often linger until the first of June, but depart soon after. If your route includes saltwater, earlier is better. For woodland birds singing on territory, later is better.
  • For a big list, plan on doing at least some birding in darkness. Owls, nighthawks, whip-poor-wills, snipe, and woodcock are typically discovered before sunrise. My own team meets at 2am.
  • Plan on getting most of the songbirds before 9am. Birds start singing well before dawn. Plan a route that puts you in a noisy spot at daybreak. Songbirds begin to quiet by mid-morning. Leave city, marsh and coastal viewing for later in the day.
  • Stock the car with food and coffee. Minimize non-birding stops.
  • Budget time wisely and be relentless about sticking to the timetable. Sometimes the birds aren’t cooperating. Move on. Getting too far behind schedule often leads to missing key habitats and species as time runs out on the day.
  • Know in advance where to find target birds, if possible. Some birds are widespread. Others are picky. Knowing where to find bobolinks and cliff swallows makes for a quick addition to the day’s list.
  • Assign roles. Have a driver, score-keeper, time-keeper, etc. Double check the list of sightings regularly. In the excitement of the day, it’s easy to forget to check one off.
  • Adjust these strategies to fit your own team’s needs. The day can be as strenuous or relaxed as you please. Above all, have fun.