Flight Plan

One of Maine’s largest citizen-science projects flies forward

Forty-one years ago, work on the first Maine Bird Atlas commenced as ornithologists began the arduous task of documenting birds that breed in Maine. After five years of observing birds and analyzing the data, the first atlas was published in 1983. “There are a lot of reasons why the atlas is important,” says Adrienne Leppold, wildlife biologist and songbird specialist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW). Beyond the fact that birds are one of the few organisms to occupy every habitat in the world, birds are also huge indicators of environmental health. “Their ability to move in and out of places is not only fascinating but indicative of environmental changes,” says Leppold. Tracking changes in bird population and distribution is vital to understanding how to conserve and protect wildlife for generations to come. Last year MDIFW, professional partners, and volunteers began collecting data for the second Maine Bird Atlas. Now serving as the project director, Leppold has gathered a team of researchers, biologists, and citizen scientists to help produce the most comprehensive atlas yet. The 2018-2022 Maine Bird Atlas will provide an up-to-date understanding of bird diversity and distribution across the state and, for the first time in Maine’s history, documentation of wintering birds, too.

A citizen-science project, the Maine Bird Atlas largely depends on volunteers to collect data. Anyone who is willing to observe a bird in its natural habitat from a safe distance—Leppold stresses that you shouldn’t interfere with an animal for the sake of data collection—and to record the data online can volunteer. “The great thing about this project is that it doesn’t matter what you don’t know. Just tell us what you do know,” she says. Even one record is a major contribution, and Leppold’s goal is to have more than 1,000 people contribute in 2019. (More than 650 people participated in 2018.) Participants submit their observations online to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s e-Bird database (ebird.org/atlasme). After data collection finishes in 2022 it will be analyzed, summarized, and published in 2024 as the 2018-2022 Maine Bird Atlas. The new Atlas will provide a wealth of knowledge to researchers, biologists, and the like, and with new data and electronic versions available, bird watching will be easier and more accessible for everyone. And in 2024 volunteers will take pride in knowing that they were part of one of the largest citizen-science projects in Maine’s history.

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