The Birds are Back!

Help Out with Spotting Birds

Springtime brings many migratory bird species back to western Massachusetts and, as these feathered friends return, opportunities for citizen science centered around species preservation arise! Help Mass Audubon to monitor some species whose populations are in decline, and learn about three fascinating bird species in the process.

Springtime is filled with sightings of all kinds of exciting natural wonders, and the season’s outdoor appeal makes it a perfect time of year not only for enjoying our natural surroundings, but for learning about conservation and species preservation, too! In particular, springtime ’tis the season for exciting bird sightings, as well as the discovery of new nests and treasure troves of beautiful and tiny eggs. As western Massachusetts becomes filled with northward-moving migratory feathered friends, families can learn to identify these warm weather visitors and, using resources offered by Mass Audubon, learn about and perhaps participate in efforts to support declining populations of a few key species.

Species to keep an eye out for this season include orioles, Eastern whip-poor-wills, and American kestrels. While all three of these birds can be found locally, their populations are in decline and preservation of each species depends on close monitoring by both ornithologists and citizen scientists. Read the rest of this entry »

Bird Feeding Month Feeds Famished Birds & Hungry Minds

Learning Opportunity In Your Backyard

As much as humans express our discontent with the dark and cold (and resulting feelings of isolation) that winter brings, the cold months bring far more challenges for wildlife than they do for humans. While animal adaptations help them cope with the difficulties that New England’s winter weather brings, surviving the coldest and snowiest time of the year is not without struggle. For birds in particular, February is the hardest time of year. Food is at its most scarce, making it tough for feathered creatures to stay full and warm until springtime comes.

In response to the challenges that late winter brings for birds, February has been designated National Bird-Feeding Month. Designated as such in 1994, National Bird Feeding Month helps not only to provide birds with food sources, but also supports community- and place-based learning about local species and the environment… Read the rest of this entry »

Birding in Winter Offers Great Reward

Becoming a Citizen Scientist Opens Your Awareness to Birdlife In Your Backyard

The American tree sparrow can be spotted more easily in the winter due to its markings popping against the neutral tones of the season. Also with the curtains of leaves not offering any cover, it’s a great time of year to study birds and how they hop and fly.

During the chilly months of winter, many of the creatures we’re used to seeing around us make themselves scarce. Small mammals hunker down in nests and burrows, and insects, amphibians, and aquatic life hide out in different ways, patiently waiting for the climate to warm up. In a seemingly barren landscape, some of the best winter wildlife watching opportunities can happen right in your own backyard! Feathered friends of all shapes and sizes flock to feeders during the winter months more than ever, and they’re easier to spot this time of year thanks to trees’ leaf-less limbs. Read the rest of this entry »

Bird Identification in Western Massachusetts Made Easy, and Fun!

The Fun of Bird Identification in Western Massachusetts Made Easy

Blue bunting in West Chesterfield, MA.

Birds are everywhere this time of year, some migrating, some that stay with us over winter. Do you know who you’re sharing your yard with? Birds of all sorts have long since migrated to and from western Massachusetts, nesting here for the summer or passing through in their migrations… and it’s high time to get out and get birding!

Birds species can, of course, be identified by looking at them – their size, shape, color, feather pattern, and other distinctive markings help to distinguish one species from another. But what happens if you can’t get a close look at a bird? What if a flash of red passes by up ahead on a trail, or you’ve spotted a raptor soaring high above you? Often times you’re left with only a roadside silhouette of a sighting with which to try and identify a species, and using physical features alone can sometimes be very difficult. On top of the challenges presented by partial sightings are the similarities that some species share – it can be hard to tell which small, semi-spotted brown-and-white bird you’re seeing if you don’t have binoculars allowing you a closer look.

Click here to read on for resources on how to identify birds by their calls and upcoming birding events in Western MA…

Citizen Scientist Opportunity in the Berkshires with Mass Audubon

Bird Count at Canoe Meadows in Pittsfield

(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

There have been lots of opportunities lately to become a Citizen Scientist and assist with bird population counts!  Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and Bald Eagle Count both took place recently, but there’s another bird count that you can do any time of year!  Mass Audubon offers a checklist of birds that visitors to Canoe Meadows (located in Pittsfield) can print and take along on their excursion.

After visiting, you can submit your bird observations to Audubon’s website to assist with the Oriole Project, Whip-poor-will Survey, Breeding Bird Atlas, and other projects.  In participating, you’ll not only get to have a great outdoor adventure (go for an afternoon hike or strap on some show shoes once the flakes come down!), but you’ll learn more about their behaviors and habitat while contributing to an important study!  Citizen scientists’ contributions to Audubon’s studies are very important, as the organization’s observation capabilities are limited.  Along with this ongoing opportunity at Canoe Meadows, Audubon is hosting numerous birding events over the course of the next few months:

Arcadia in Easthmapton, MA:

Western MA Bird Club Turns 100!

The Allen Bird Club of Springfield – 100 Years Young
By Hilltown Families Guest Writer, George C. Kingston

100 years ago, two women, Grace Johnson and Fannie Stebbins, brought together a group of bird enthusiast and formed what is now known as the Allen Bird Club.-These two photos show the evolution of the Allen Bird Club over the past decade, from outings in formal attire with simple binoculars in 1912, to modern day bird trips with high tech gear and high power lenses. (Courtesy photos)

On the afternoon of Monday, January 8, 1912, Mrs. Grace Johnson, the director of the Springfield Museum of Natural History and Miss Fannie Stebbins, the supervisor of natural science for the Springfield School Department, assembled a group of amateur bird watchers and organized the Springfield Bird Club. The purpose of the club was “to attract, conserve and study birds.” A century later, the Allen Bird Club, as it soon came to be known, is still carrying out this original purpose.

The club was named for Dr. Joel A. Allen, a Springfield native who became a Harvard professor and curator of birds at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In the early days of the club, men and women boarded streetcars to go birding in  suits and ties and long skirts. Today, the attire is less formal and more practical, and the usual mode of transportation is the car, but the comradeship and willingness to help and encourage beginners is the same as always.


Originally formed to bring together people who had been independently keeping records of the comings and goings of birds, the club now has 100 years of these records, including 57 consecutive Christmas Bird Counts. The records reveal changes in both the bird populations and their habitats. Birds which are common today, such as the cardinal, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, and red-bellied woodpecker were rare visitors in the early twentieth century, while birds that were common then, such as the evening grosbeak and the purple martin are now rare. Good birding places, such as Sixteen Acres in Springfield are now fully developed into housing, but the Quabbin Reservoir has created a huge wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the state.


Perhaps the largest undertaking by the Allen Bird Club was the establishment of the Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge in Longmeadow, MA. In 1951, the club selected 175 acres in Longmeadow along the Connecticut River in the area known as “the flats” and voted to name the sanctuary after one of its founders, Fannie Adele Stebbins, who had died in 1949. The refuge is an area of swamps and forests along the Connecticut River that contains important breeding habitat for many different birds including wood ducks and bald eagles. Today, the Sanctuary, at the corner of Bark Haul and Pondside Roads in Longmeadow, contains many more acres and is one of the last remaining floodplain forests along the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. It has been designated a National Natural Landmark and an Important Bird Area.


The club continues to work to preserve land for birds and other wildlife. In mid-2000’s the club received a substantial bequest from the estate of charter member Rachel Phelps. It donated a portion of that gift to the Town of Wilbraham to acquire land from the Rice Farm to help establish the Rice Nature Preserve on Wilbraham Mountain and another portion to Southwick to help it acquire and preserve land along the Connecticut border.


Believing that in order to conserve birds and their habitat, it is necessary to make the public aware of them, so the Allen Bird Club has always run both public meetings featuring distinguished and entertaining speakers and field trips on which birds can be appreciated in the wild. Today the club has 237 members and holds more than eighty field trips a year. More information can be found at the club’s website, – The members of the Allen Bird club invite you to join them for its next hundred years!

George Kingston has been a member of the Allen Bird Club for over 30 years, is a past president of the club, and serves on its executive committee. He is a retired engineer and is currently chair of the East Longmeadow Conservation Commission as well as a member of that town’s planning board and community preservation committee and a Master Gardener. He has birded on all 7 continents.

111 Years of Counting

Citizen Science: Audubon Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count becomes more important every year;” said Audubon President David Yarnold. “The information gathered by its army of dedicated volunteers leads directly to solutions. At a time when people wonder if individual actions can make a difference, we know that our volunteers enable scientists to learn about the impacts of environmental threats like climate change and habitat loss. That’s good news not just for birds but for all of us.” (Photo credit: Jerry Acton)

From December 14th, 2010 through January 5th, 2011,  family volunteers throughout New England will bundle up and head out into the cold to participate as citizen scientists as part of the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC).

111 years ago, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count began when Frank Chapman, founder of the Audubon magazine, suggested an alternative to hunting birds and proposed that people “hunt” them only to count them. Now armed with binoculars, pad and pen, tens of thousands of volunteers head outside to count and record the winter resident population of birds in their region. This data helps with conservation efforts.

Mary Alice Wilson, organizer of the Northampton CBC writes, “Collecting data about birds is a year-round project. In the summer, there are breeding bird surveys and breeding bird atlases. In the spring and fall there are hawk watches, and places to observe (and count) all kinds of migrating birds. In the winter, there is the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Groups gather all over the country to spend one day counting all the birds in a circle 15 miles in diameter. The data is used by researchers to determine population concentrations and trends.”

According to Audubon, counts are often family or community traditions that make for fascinating stories. Accuracy is assured by having new participants join an established group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher. These field parties allow inexperienced observers to observe along with seasoned CBC participants. Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile diameter circle or can arrange in advance to count the birds at home feeders inside the circle and submit the results to a designated compiler.

George C. Kingston, organizer of two Western Mass counts writes, “The Springfield Area Christmas Bird Count will be held on Saturday, December 18th, 2010. The count covers the area from Ludlow to the Connecticut line and Agawam to Hampden. If you are interested in joining a team in the field or in counting birds at your feeders, contact me at 413-525-6742 or by Dec 15. Potluck dinner and compilation for participants at 6:30 pm.

“The Cobble Mountain Christmas Bird Count will be held on Sunday, December 26th, 2010. The count covers the Westfield area. If you are interested in joining a team in the field or in counting birds at your feeders, contact Seth Kellogg at 413-569-3335 or by Dec 22. Pizza and compilation for participants at 4:30.”

Wilson writes, “To find out more about the Northampton Christmas Count, scheduled for Sunday, December 19th, 2010, go to, click on Christmas Count at the bottom on the page, and look through the various documents including the map of the territory.”

Studying birds together can be a fun family hobby. Grab the kids and discover the songs of many New England birds with these audio samples:

To find out more, visit the Audubon Christmas Bird Count web page.

Birding Beyond Your Backyard in the Berkshires

Birding Beyond Your Backyard

Anyone who wants to learn how to identify local birds by sight and sound will be interested in this new free program, “Birding Beyond Your Backyard,” organized by the Hoffmann Bird Club.

After watching the antics of a pair of cardinals, a posse of bluejays or a twittering troop of finches, many people become backyard birders. First, there is the rush to the supermarket to buy a simple feeder and a five-pound bag of seed. Just sit back and watch the birds come in for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then, it’s off to Tractor Supply for more and different types of feeders, a forty-pound bag of seed and a bit of suet.

Within days, the resident birds fly out of the woods into the newest avian restaurant. With a Peterson’s or a Sibley’s in hand, identification is easy: Chickadees and titmice, nuthatches and finches, cardinals and blue jays, hairy and downy woodpeckers. As spring rolls around, a few sparrows stop in, maybe a turkey or two, and now blackbirds and grackles.

Yet the wild areas of the Berkshires are graced with many other species, species perhaps too shy to come to the exposed feeder or maybe a species that’s just passing through during the migration. Here is the opportunity to step out beyond your backyard and learn to observe and identify more and different species.

The “Birding Beyond Your Backyard (BBYB) two-hour walks are free and open to all. There will be a walk at 7:30AM each Saturday in April through four different birding territories in the Berkshires led by an expert birder. In order to be better organized, pre-registration is encouraged. Just call Dave at 413-655-8594 or email

Here are the Saturday BBYB walks for April 2010:

  • April 3rd, Pittsfield Lakes 7:30AM
  • April 10th, Canoe Meadows 7:30AM
  • April 17th, Gulf Road, Dalton 7:30AM
  • April 24th, Springfield Park 7:30AM

So if you would like to reserve a place, register now for one or more of these exciting “Birding Beyond Your Backyard” walks!

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