Quick Start Guide for Contributing Breeding Bird Records

Common Tern

Photo Credit: Kirk Rogers

Observers of all skill levels can make valuable contributions to the Maine Breeding Bird Atlas, and contributing data is really quite simple. Here is a simplified set of directions to get started. Note that we will soon be developing separate guidelines for contributing wintering bird records for Maine.

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. We have identified roughly 800 blocks, in particular, for priority surveying. Signing up for a block does not prevent anyone else from reporting birds in that block, it just assures commitment of the "adopter" to conduct survey activities.

Explore and Adopt a Block

If your requested block is already being covered by someone else, you may be asked to switch to another nearby block. Many blocks are in remote areas of the state, and we encourage volunteers to consider "adopting" some of the more remote blocks where access is challenging.

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 and Survey Distance: As a minimum, we need to know the Atlas block where the bird was located, although we encourage observations to be located to be as precise as possible within each block. In addition, record the survey distance that your checklist represents. If your observations are made while walking through an area, we recommend that the survey distance does not exceed 1 or 2 miles in length.
  3. Species Observed, Breeding Code, and 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 (refer to our breeding evidence summary chart ), and a 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.

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.

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 the Maine Bird Atlas eBird site on your computer at home or at your local library. If you are new to eBird, visit our instructions on how to set up an account and get started entering data. Entering data through eBird is very simple and fun - we encourage everyone to give it a try. 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.

Still Have Questions: Look through our Volunteer Handbook (PDF) for more details and answers to your questions. If you still can't find an answer to your questions or need technical assistance, contact the regional coordinator for the area where you are observing birds.

Bird watchers

Photo Credit: Doug Hitchcox