Quick Start Guide for Contributing Breeding Bird Records

Savannah Sparrow nestlings

Savannah Sparrow nestlings

Observers of all skill levels can make valuable contributions to the Maine Breeding Bird Atlas, and contributing data really is quite simple. Here is a more simplified set of directions to get started, honestly!

If you haven’t already signed up, click here first to get started.

Mapper Screenshot

Atlas Block System, Maps, and Location Precision: The Atlas block is the basic survey unit of the Maine Bird Atlas and Maine is subdivided into approximately 4,000 Atlas blocks. Awareness of the specific location and block name where you document birds is critical for contributing records. We suggest that you download and print PDF Atlas maps of your region, or take along a Delorme Atlas of Maine or a GPS in the field with you to accurately record the locations of birds you observe.

Incidental Observations and Adopting a Block: Incidental observations of breeding birds anywhere in Maine, even in blocks "adopted" by others, are welcome and an important source of records. However, we encourage volunteers to sign up to "adopt" a block and take responsibility for documenting breeding birds in a specific block over multiple visits. Signing up for a block does not prevent anyone else from reporting birds in that block, it just assists coordinators in planning, and assures commitment of the “adopter” to have surveys completed by the end of the project in 2022. AGAIN, anyone can submit a record to ANY block, regardless of whether it is already “adopted”!

If your block of interest is already being covered by someone else, you can still contribute observations, but we ask that you also consider adopting another block of interest. Many blocks, especially in remote areas, are still in dire need of attention. In the remaining years of the project, we want to especially focus on priority blocks. We have identified 974 of the over 4,000 blocks for priority sampling. They are highlighted in green on our ‘Explore and Adopt a Block’ map tool.

Explore and Adopt a Block

What Information to Collect: Don't rely on your memory for records of birds you observe, but instead write down your observations in a notebook or App. We suggest tucking a printed field form and a printout of breeding codes in your bird book so you have this easily available when needed. We require the following information, for all observations, when collecting information for the Maine Breeding Bird Atlas:

  1. Date, Observer(s), Time(s):
    • Important to record this basic information for all records. Do not summarize your observations across multiple dates.
  2. Specific Location:
    • At a minimum, all observations should be connected to the Atlas block where the bird was located, although we encourage observations to be as precise as possible within each block. In addition, you will want to keep track of the survey distance that your bird list represents. Make sure you did not cross boundaries into a new block. You will want to keep separate bird lists for each block.
  3. Species Observed, Breeding Behavior Code, and guesstimate of Abundance:
    • We need to know the species of birds you observed at each location. Do not guess on identifications, tentative identifications should not be recorded.
    • Also record the type of breeding evidence you observed. Was the bird singing, carrying food or nesting material, acting agitated, etc.? Refer to our summary slideshow (PDF) of breeding behavior codes for examples of each code and categories.
    • Finally, a rough count or estimate of the number of individuals seen or heard for each species at each location. An "educated guess" on the number of individuals seen or heard is preferable to no count at all. This count should be the actual number of birds seen or heard, not a projected estimate of the number that may be present in the area but were not detected.
Ruffed Grouse with chick

Photos left to right: Ruffed grouse with chick, Tree Swallow exiting a nest cavity, singing Black and White Warbler

Safety, Ethics, and Private Property: Always put your safety first. In addition, the welfare of birds and the protection of their habitat is extremely important. A sighting or photo should never take precedence over the well-being of wildlife and active nests should NEVER be approached. Breeding behaviors can be observed at a distance. Private property should never be entered without permission.


Northern Goshawk

Options for Sending us your Data: There are several options for submitting data to the Maine Bird Atlas. Our preferred method for entering data will be through eBird site on your computer at home, work, on your phone (eBird app), or at a local library. Entering data through eBird is very simple and fun - we encourage everyone to give it a try. Click here for more info on how to enter records into eBird.

If you prefer not to enter your data on a computer, for whatever reason, we have a group of volunteers willing to enter records submitted on our paper forms, although make sure to fill out the form completely and legibly so that we can enter your observations. Paper forms should be sent to us every month, mailed directly to the atlas project (Maine Bird Atlas, c/o Glen Mittelhauser, Maine Natural History Observatory, 317 Guzzle Road, Gouldsboro, ME 04607) or the forms can be scanned or photographed and emailed to us.

For more information on being an atlas volunteer: