Atlasing during COVID-19: Instructions for Maine Bird Atlas Volunteers

ArrayApril 24, 2020 at 2:35 pm

Important Note: The guidelines below are current as of April 15, 2020.  However, things are changing almost daily, and it is your responsibility to check the resource links below for any changes to public health mandates.

During these challenging times, we know that getting out in nature is an important way to relax, exercise, renew your energy, and that contributing to a project also helps bring a sense of purpose.  At the Maine Bird Atlas, we want to make sure you have the resources to enjoy the outdoors safely and responsibly.    

It is easy to practice social distancing while watching birds, especially if its just from your own yard or property. But, here in Maine, walking and hiking in nature are also allowed and are designated as essential personal activities under the current Stay Healthy at Home mandate. Here is what you need to know before heading out with your binos

NOTE: These guidelines are designed both to protect yourself and protect the people in the communities where you are traveling.  Older adults, in particular, are vulnerable to experiencing severe complications from COVID-19, and Maine has a large proportion of older residents. It is your responsibility to take these precautions to slow the outbreak and protect yourself, but also to protect the people in the Maine communities where you travel.

Choosing Where to Bird:

Consider visiting less-trafficked birding sites closer to home first.

If leaving your own property, now is a time when choosing areas with lower human traffic is preferable. It is, however, NOT the time to test your adventurous side or exploration skills. It is more important than ever not to take risks, as any injuries or sticky situations, literally, will add stress to medical resources, rescue personnel, and increase exposure across communities. The farther you travel to a birding spot, the more we emphasize the need to be prepared and practice social distancing. Pack/prepare everything you will need prior to leaving to lessen the need for stops at stores, and plan to avoid interacting with others entirely.  

Some site-specific guidelines:

  • Parks/Land Trusts: Check online and/or call ahead to make sure the area is still open to visitors.  Keep in mind that many parks and trails have been closed and those that are open, are more crowded than normal right now.  Have a backup plan for an alternative location.
  • Neighborhoods: Be considerate of the people who live there.  Be the courteous one and wait, move, or adjust your walking route to keep at least six feet (more is always better) between yourself and others. 
  • Trails:  Remember that maintaining 6 feet or more of distance when passing other hikers on a trail will require you to step off the trail.  Be the courteous one.  Step off the trail and wait for the other person to pass.  Then step back on the trail and continue.  Dont keep hiking off the trail as this may damage sensitive plant communities. 
  • Shorelines:  Walk below the hightide line to give any shorebirds plenty of space. 

Remember that you may need to abandon your original plan if your chosen birding spot is too crowded.  Make several backup plans for places to go and avoid peak times.  If the parking lot is full or even approaching full, it is too crowded. 

Protect Yourself and Others:

Follow all outdoor safety practices outlined by the Maine government. 

  • Practice social distancing: Stay at least six feet away from other people who do not live in your household. Gathering in groups of 10 or more are prohibited.
  • Minimize stops to buy groceries, gas, or supplies: If you must stop, minimize the time spent there and always wear a facemask (cloth, dust, or bandana) when you are inside even if no one else is.
  • Use hand sanitizer:  You should apply hand sanitizer before and after entering buildings or touching anything that is touched by other people.  If you are pumping gas, sanitize your hands after you have stepped out of your car and shut the door but before you have touched the pump. 
  • Don't linger: Shorten your stay when visiting natural stopping points such as waterfalls, summits, and viewpoints so everyone can enjoy them while maintaining a safe distance.
  • Don't touch: Avoid touching signs, kiosks, buildings, and benches to minimize the potential spread of the virus.
  • If you feel sick (even cold-like symptoms), stay home: It puts others at risk when you leave home while exhibiting symptoms related to COVID-19, or if you have recently been exposed to the virus.

Group birding/Block-busting:

While birding with friends is always more fun, we strongly discourage group outings involving individuals outside of your current living situation. Instead:

  • Practice a-social blockbusting. Carve a block into different routes. Assign the routes to various people by email. Bird your route and individually submit your observations to eBird.

    When the block is finished, all participants can meet on Zoom and share a celebratory beverage. Not quite the same as sitting around a campfire sharing birding stories after a long day afield, but it will help ensure we all stay healthy to enjoy those times again in the future.


  • Plan an outing for 2021. It is only Year 3 of the project after all.

Be Prepared:

  • Expect limited services: Facilities like public restrooms are likely closed, so plan accordingly.
  • Bring everything you need: Do what you can to avoid having to make stops along the way.
  • Dress for success: Maine trails in the spring and summer can be wet, muddy, slippery, or icy; bring appropriate gear to match the conditions.
  • Don't take risks: Stick to easier terrain to avoid injuries or scenarios where help would be needed.
  • Watch out for ticks: Wear light-colored pants, closed-toe shoes, and apply EPA-approved bug repellent.


Stay up to date:

Maine CDC:

Maine State COVID Response:

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife:

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry:

Some places to visit:

Maine Coast Heritage Trust:

Maine Land Heritage Trust:

Maine Trail Finder: