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 »

Western Mass Winter Brings Tracking Opportunities

Some of Nature May Nest but Signs of Movement Remain to be Explored

During the cold months of winter, many of the creatures often seen during the rest of the year have migrated south, are tucked away in burrows for most of the winter, or have become even better at hiding so as not to be easily spotted against the snow. But their signs are still there and a lot of fun searching for! Looking for signs like tracks, scat, dens, and nests is a fun and educational way to learn about the habits of wildlife living near you. Read the rest of this entry »

Call for Citizen Scientists: Mass Audubon Invites Public to “Focus on Feeders”

Annual Midwinter Backyard Bird Survey a Fun Way to Support Species

Focus on Feeders is perfect for everyone who appreciates birdlife—first timers, veteran birders, and especially families. Participants not only learn and share information about species that visit their yards and feeders at this time of year, they contribute knowledge to more than 40 years of winter bird-feeder sighting records.

Turn a backyard bird feeder into a Citizen Science project for your family by participating in Mass Audubon’s annual event Focus on Feeders. Held over the weekend of February 1st and 2nd, the event mobilizes armies of Citizen Scientists to observe and record the species of birds that they see at their feeders, on the ground, and in the trees at their home. The information collected this year will add to forty years of data – information that is essential to scientists’ analysis of bird populations and the effect that environmental changes may have on their annual numbers.

In order to participate , families should first learn how to identify some of the bird species commonly seen at feeders and in yards all over Massachusetts. Mass Audubon offers information for inexperienced birders on identifying common winter birds as well as strategies for distinguishing similar species.


Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Mass Audubon Winter Bird Count

Focus on Feeders
Mass Audubon Winter Bird Count
February 2nd & 3rd, 2013

People can help their feathered friends in the coldest season by joining Mass Audubon’s annual Focus on Feeders winter bird count on the weekend of February 2-3. The volunteer survey invites participants to list individual bird species and the greatest number of each seen at one time at their feeders and in their yards during that Saturday and Sunday.   Anyone can participate—including families, first timers, and veteran bird enthusiasts. Participants will be able to learn and share information about the birds that visit their yards and feeders in winter. They will also be contributing knowledge to more than 40 years of winter bird feeder sighting information.

Does your family enjoy watching birds at your feeder during the winter?  Backyard feeders provide a consistent, easily accessible source of food for a wide variety of bird species during the winter, and feeder-watching is a great way for families to learn about the many different species who live in their neighborhood.

This weekend, Mass Audubon is offering a chance for families to put feeder-watching to good use!  Focus on Feeders – the great winter bird count – will take place on Saturday, February 2nd and Sunday, February 3rd, and is an annual event held to collect data on bird species and populations.  All that families need to do to participate is to keep a list of the types of birds seen at the feeder during the weekend, as well as the number of each type of bird seen at a time.  Then, families can submit their data for use in an actual scientific study by either entering it in online or completing a form and mailing it.  The data collected will be used to assess bird populations and habits across the state – information that can be analyzed in order to understand the effects of changes in climate and landscape.

In order to identify birds, families will need to use a good field guide.  Using a field guide to identify species allows kids to develop and practice reference skills while discovering bird characteristics of different species needed to properly identify them.  Learning about the species living in their backyard will help students nurture a sense of place while drawing closer to the natural world around them!

Deadline for submissions is Thursday, February 28, 2013.  More information at

[Photo credit: (ccl) senoracak]

Learn About Bats: Interactive Exhibit, Facts & Habitat

Berkshire Museum presents
Bats: Creatures of the Night
Learn the true story of the only flying mammal
from January 19 to May 12, 2013

Discover bat habitats and where the different species live around the globe at the Berkshire Museum exhibit, Bats: Creatures of the Night. Match different kinds of bats with their preferred foods. Explore life-size models of a variety of bats, from the Fisher Bat and the Honduran White Bat to the Gray-headed Flying Fox Bat. View exciting photographs of bats in action, featuring the Gambian Epauleted Fruit Bat and the Mexican Free-tailed Bat, among many others. Exhibit opens January 19th and run through March 12th, 2013.

Forget the myths and learn the truth about bats: they are gentle, beneficial animals that play an important role in our planet’s ecology. With larger-than-life models and interactive stations, visitors to Bats: Creatures of the Night at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield can experience the sensitivity of bat hearing, discover how bats find their way in the dark, and understand how mother bats locate their young. The exhibition opens January 19 and runs through March 12, 2013.

Bats use echolocation to navigate the dark, and at the Berkshire Museum, you and your family can try it out! Echolocation is just one of the many bat-related concepts highlighted in Bats: Creatures of the Night. The exhibit features a rich array of video, photography, life-like models, and interactive stations to inform museum guests about how interesting–and vital–bats are. The interactive stations sound particularly interesting, including opportunities to simulate echolocation, learn how mama bats keep tabs on their young, and trying on bat “ears.”

The exhibit runs from January 19th through May 12, 2013. The Exhibition Opening Day happens on Saturday, January 19th from 1-3pm, with a number of activities appropriate for all ages. Kids can experiment with echolocation, go on a scavenger hunt through the museum, or get crafty and make a pair of batwings. There will be an introductory slide show at 4pm, and a preview reception from 5-7pm (museum admission is free after 5pm). There is also a gallery walk about bats with an expert on February 9 at 11am. You can read more about it at:


Bats are fascinating. The largest bats have a wingspan of 6 feet and the smallest weigh as much as a dime. They can eat 2,000-6,000 mosquitoes per night and digest fruit in 20 minutes. Of the more than 1000 species of bats around the world, only three are “vampire” bats, who drink the blood of live animals. While vampire bats have sullied the reputation of this useful and gentle mammal, they are intriguing. Vampire bats have an anti-coagulant in their saliva that keeps the blood flowing as long as they are feeding, but allows the animal to heal quickly upon their departure. Vampire bats are also particularly social and have been known to bring food to elderly or sick bats. Bats play an essential role in the ecosystem, as pollinators, seed dispersers and pest managers.

Books to consider for exploring bats at home:


Want to attract bats around your home? Put up a bat house! Families can make their own bat house at an Audubon workshop to be held on Saturday April 13, 2013 at 1:30 at the Audubon Society in Lenox . The program begins with a slide show about bats in our area, as well as their natural history. While there is a registration fee, it includes the materials to construct one bat house. Be sure to bring a hammer. The workshop is suitable for children over 5, as long as they are with an adult. You can read more about it at – If you can’t make the workshop but still want to make a bat house with your kids, check out these DIY Bat House Kits..


Theresa Heary-Selah — Theresa is a teacher and a freelance writer, making her home in Greenfield, MA and Wright, NY with her family.  She teaches at S.H.I.N.E. (Students at Home in New England), a social and academic support program for middle school students in the Pioneer Valley, and writes about home-schooling and technology.  Theresa’s interests include home-schooling, gardening, cooking, hiking, and dancing.

[Photo credit: Evergreen Exhibitions]

Searching for Nests & Animal Tracks in Winter

Stalking Winter Nests & Wildlife Tracks
Family Outdoor Adventures

“Because robin nests are fairly large, and so well built, they are one of the easiest to spot after the nesting season. Look for them in shrubs and on horizontal branches in the lower halves of trees.”

During the cold months of winter, many of the creatures often seen during the rest of the year have migrated south, are tucked away in burrows for most of the winter, or have become even better at hiding so as not to be easily spotted against the snow. But their signs are still there and a lot of fun searching for! Looking for signs like tracks, scat, dens, and nests is a fun and educational way to learn about the habits of wildlife living near you.

To inspire families into winter tracking expeditions, Mass Audubon offers an online list of the Top 5 Nests to Spot in Winter! The list includes information on the American Goldfinch, American Robin, Baltimore Oriole, and Chipping Sparrow, as well as Eastern Gray Squirrels, who builds nests high up in trees as well. The nest list not only shares information on spotting and identifying five different nests, it also includes facts about the nest’s structure, specific reasons for why each nest is created the way that it is, and interesting facts.

Identifying nests together with your family can teach them a lot about the habits of each bird species, and can help them develop a greater awareness of the many animal signs present around them. Mass Audubon also has Winter Walk Bingo Cards families can download and print that would make for fun this winter while searching for nests and other signs of wildlife.

Maybe even take Kurt’s advise and after a week of constant ten degree weather, head to the wetlands and explore an area otherwise not easily accessible outside of winter. Read more in his post, “The Ripple: Winter Wetlands.”

[Photo credit: (ccl) carfull…Wyoming]

Citizen Scientists Track Owls in Massachusetts

Tracking Owls in Massachusetts
Families Can Help Mass Audubon

Great Horned OwlThere are eleven different species of owls found in Massachusetts, and chances are good that there are a few in your neighborhood.  Families can become owl spotters and useful citizen scientists by taking part in Mass Audubon’s efforts in tracking owl populations – there are lots of ways to participate, and any and all information collected in useful!

There are a variety of different owl-themed family programs offered by Mass Audubon, including moonlit trail explorations to search for birds, hands-on learning activities at sanctuary visitor centers, and owl-themed presentations for older students and adults.  After brushing up on owl-knowledge, families can venture out into their backyards or nearby woodland areas (parks, nature sanctuaries, etc.) to search for signs of owls – and maybe even a real-life owl itself!

Findings can be reported on Mass Audubon’s online Owl Reporter form, used to collect all sorts of information on owl sightings, including location, species of owl (or general characteristics of the bird), etc.  There are even instructions for constructing bird houses on the organization’s website – owl-loving families can build them to encourage owls to move into their neighborhood. ()  Taking part in the project is a great way to supplement studies of New England wildlife biology and can help kids develop confidence in animal identification and outdoor skills.  For more information, visit

[Photo credit: (ccl) Eric Kilby]

Community Service: Mass Audubon Statewide Volunteer Day

Work for Wildlife
Mass Audubon 6th Annual Statewide Volunteer Day
Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Spending the day helping with spring clean-up efforts is a way for families to contribute to the preservation of community resources, and can help kids learn about environmental stewardship.

Spend a day volunteering with Mass Audubon! The organization’s annual Statewide Volunteer Day will take place on Saturday, April 28th from 9am-12noon in locations across the state.

In Western MA, families can volunteer at one of three sanctuaries: Canoe Meadows in Pittsfield; Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton; or Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Hampden. Volunteers can help to clean up trails, gardens, and nature centers – there are activities for all ages and abilities, everything from preparing garden beds for planting to restoring trails.

In Pittsfield and Easthampton, families with children of all ages can choose to help set up compost sites, expand herb beds, repair scarecrows, or pick up trash from spring floods.  And at all three locations families with teens can choose to help stake gardens, rake pathways, clear and expand turtle nesting sites, remove invasive plant species, loading canoes & row boats, install a new children’s garden area, along with cleaning up winter debris. For more information check their page, Work for Wildlife, or call 781-259-2185.  Each sanctuary has a limited number of volunteer slots, so be sure to sign up soon!

Do you know of a community service opportunity for families in Western MA?  Tell us so we can share with families interested in volunteering with their kids in our community:

Play Spring Walk Bingo!

Nature Bingo & Scavenger Hunts

Last winter we ask our readers what their favorite snowy day activities were.  One recommendation was to play outdoor bingo with Mass Audubon’s Winter Walk Bingo Cards!  In addition to winter bingo, they also have bingo cards for spring!

This spring take your kids out into nature and go on a hunt for moss on a log, a tail marker, signs of a woodpecker, fiddleheads, spider webs, and even smells and sounds of spring.   Download their Spring Walk Bingo Cards to get started. There are four different versions so a group of four can play together! This is a fun activity to get the family outside, observing their surroundings and engaging their senses.

A few years ago Hilltown Families Contributing Writer, Tony(a) Lemos, wrote about Nature Scavenger Hunts, sharing a sample list families could search for getting outdoors and observing their surrounding… or to use to make your own bingo cards!  Here are some ideas of what families might like to look for on their hunts:

  • Find three different tree leaves, seeds or pods
  • Find an insect
  • Find a feather
  • Find a twig shaped like a letter
  • Find a leaf that a bug has nibbled
  • Find something that has decomposed
  • Find something that is no longer living
  • Find something that was never alive
  • Find two different kinds of tree bark

She also shared ideas on themed scavenger hunts, a simpler method for younger children, along with urban scavenger hunts and recycle scavenger hunts.

Discover additional outdoor activities for kids and families with MassAudubon’s Young Explores.  They have several programs families can enjoy together, including Quests, Discovery Booklets, and recommendations on hands-on activities families and groups can participate in any time of the year!

Support us on Patreon!

Updated: 3/22/19


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:

Volunteer as a Citizen Scientist this Holiday Season

National Audubon’s 112th Annual Christmas Bird Count

112 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. (Courtesy photo)

National Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) takes place from December 14th through January 5th.  Add some outdoor adventure and wildlife observations to your family’s holiday traditions this year by participating in your local CBC Circle by counting and collecting data about the birds in your neighborhood to gauge the wellness of the nation’s bird populations.

The CBC offers families an annual opportunity to participate together as Citizen Scientists and beginning birders who can’t identify many bird species are warmly welcomed to join in too. Kids can learn about local avian wildlife habitats and bird populations by counting and collecting data with their parents. The data collected during the count is used by Audubon and other organizations to assess the health of bird populations.  The yearly count is the longest running ornithology census!

There are bird counts all over the country, including 33 organized count circles in the state of Massachusetts alone. 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. CBC Circles ensure that even the most inexperienced birders can properly count and record data, as each circle is lead by an Audubon Count Compiler.  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.

To follow are Western MA events local compilers are leading, and/or their contact info to get involved. This list will be updated as event information filters in, so check back for updates: Read the rest of this entry »

A Day at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary

Searching for Spring

We picked up a map and headed straight to the vernal pool. It’s wet enough right now to be connected to the pond. It is full of amphibians and hatched eggs right now. Frogs big enough to be seen a few yards away are impressive to anyone, especially to small boys. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Spring has taken its sweet time coming our way. I grew up in a city, and now I live in a smaller one with my family. As a child my mother would take us out of New York around the change of seasons. She said she missed the small seasonal transitions you can only notice in the country and the woods: leaf buds unfurling in springtime, and the first tint of color on autumn’s leaves.

It has been damp this spring without much sun in these parts. Our snow covered mountains are gone. Occasionally, the minivan is warm in the morning, but recently we went searching for more encouraging signs of spring at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. It’s really just a hop down the road from us, but it was our first trip.

There are several different trails to follow at the sanctuary — short ones for small people, or people who have to be at work later that day — and longer ones for weekend mornings and sturdier legs. If you go into the Visitor’s Center you will get some good advice, but first take a nice long look at the white board detailing all the recent animal sitings (which includes deer ticks right now, so long pants tucked into rain boots are a good plan.) We picked up a map and headed straight to the vernal pool. It’s wet enough right now to be connected to the pond. It is full of amphibians and hatched eggs right now. Frogs big enough to be seen a few yards away are impressive to anyone, especially to small boys.

We didn’t have my oldest son Isaac with us on this trip but we are going to go back and try the Quest. It was perhaps a little too challenging for the younger kids on their own to accomplish this wildlife sanctuary treasure hunt, and I truly think they will enjoy it more if they are working together without much help from an adult. Older elementary school kids would be able to do it independently.

As for spring, we did find it: leaves unfurling, shiny green moss, birds squawking, and buds blooming. We feel a little more settled that New England’s snowy winter is behind us. We can crawl out into nature again. I will be celebrating by sending the boys out to play in the neighborhood while I pack away winter boots, hats, gloves and scarves for next year.

If you decide to go in search of spring this weekend, you should know there is a small fee to enter the sanctuary, but it is free to Mass Audubon members. That reminds me to tell you that right now annual family memberships are on sale for $29.


Karen Bayne

Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

Calling All Backyard Bird Feeders!

Citizen Scientists Wanted to Participate in
Mass Audubon’s Focus on Feeders Weekend
February 5th & 6th, 2011

Stringing bird seed pine cones, orange slices and toast cut into shapes onto your trees for attracting birds is a fun hands-on activity to do with the family - and a great way to opportunity to participate in the annual Focus on Feeders Weekend. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Families in western MA are invited to take part in the Mass Audubon’s free annual Focus on Feeders Weekend. During the first weekend of February, take note of the diversity of bird species visiting your bird feeders. Kids will have fun identifying cardinals and blue jays as their bright colors enliven your backyard, and bird enthusiasts can record the different species of winter birds in the region on a simple report form to to be submitted to Mass Audubon. All participants will be entered in a random drawing to win one of several prizes.

“The data collected each year during the Focus on Feeders Weekend adds to an impressive legacy of research on bird population trends and distributions in Massachusetts,” says Mass Audubon President Laura Johnson. “Receiving reports from across the state helps to prioritize conservation efforts. Plus it’s fun!”

For over 40 years families have been participating as citizen scientists by counting and recording the diversity of our fine feathered friends visiting backyard feeders for one winter weekend.  According to Mass Audubon, Focus on Feeders helps to raise conservation awareness and to further their efforts to protect wildlife and habitat in Massachusetts.

Suet cakes are great for attracting woodpeckers and nuthatches. And they are easy to make. Click on the photo to find out how you can make these with your kids. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Last year over 1,000 citizen scientists from 259 of the 351 towns and cities in the state of Massachusetts participated by submitted their observations. Get the complete rules here.

Report forms are available online or request a form at Then, submit your completed report online or mail it to Mass Audubon/Focus on Feeders, 208 South Great Road, Lincoln, MA 01773. Encourage your friends and neighbors to also join the fun as the value of the data collected increases with the number of participants.

Amateur photographers are invited to participate too by photographing visitors to your birdfeeders. Prizes will also be awarded in several categories for those who submit wildlife photos of any species along with their bird count results. Report observations and submit photos by February 28.

For more information visit

Mass Audubon’s Annual Bird-a-thon: Where the Wild Things Are

Mass Audubon’s Annual Bird-a-thon Blends Birding Fun and Funds: May 14th-15th, 2010

Create a team with family and friends and together count the bird species in your neighborhood. A fun way to raise money for Mass Audubon! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

On May 14th and 15th go where the wild things are with Mass Audubon’s Bird-a-thon. This fun annual event, for people of all abilities and ages, offers birders and nature enthusiasts the opportunity to participate in friendly competition while raising funds for Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries and programs. In fact, the Bird-a-thon pledges that you earn through your birding, or collect from donors, directly benefit birds. So, flock together with your family, friends, and neighbors to create a team, or make a pledge to help Mass Audubon protect the nature of Massachusetts.

Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries in Western Mass include:

The statewide Bird-a-thon, now in its 27th year, has grown to 25 teams and nearly 700 staff and volunteers who help raise thousands of dollars to benefit Mass Audubon’s efforts to protect wildlife. The 24-hour competition starts at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 14, and runs through 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 15. But you don’t have to participate the entire time—rotating shifts among teammates is encouraged! The 24-hour timetable allows flexibility in schedules and the chance to locate nocturnal birds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mass Audubon Oriole Counting Project

oriole and crab appleWelcome to Oriole Season 2008!

For this fourth full year of oriole counting, we hope the hundreds of oriole watchers who have helped us in past years will tell us if “their” orioles have returned – as well as looking for new nest sites. And for those of you who have yet to join the fun, please help us with our quest to learn more about the Baltimore Oriole population in Massachusetts. You can send us your reports online or download a datacard*.

Now you can map your orioles on line.
The geniuses in our IT Department have installed a new mapping tool that lets you zoom in on an oriole site and then just click to record it on-line. And you can now record multiple sightings without have to sign in again for each record.

Hello, Western Mass!
There are still 70 towns from which we have no oriole reports, mainly west of the Connecticut River valley. Are orioles scarce way out there beyond Worcester, or is it just oriole-watchers that are few and far between? Check our list of the towns with no oriole records and if you live in or near one, please go find us some orioles, so we can see what’s happening to the species Commonwealth-wide.

Bird your patch
We are especially interested in oriole info from well-defined areas—think cemetery, golf course, or your favorite open space. Search the place thoroughly trying to find all the orioles present. Then note the location of each nest carefully and let us know how much area you searched. If you find no nests we want to know this as well. Negative data is just as valuable (though not quite as much fun) as actually finding orioles.

What are we learning about the status of Orioles?
A lot. To find out more, check out Is This Bird in Trouble?

Don’t forget to write
We love getting your messages sharing oriole anecdotes and notes on oriole behavior. Please keep them coming. Send pictures too. We’ll put a selection up on the website. Send your stories to our Oriole Project Coordinator.

And after the orioles have gone to bed… you can start listening for Whip-poor-wills, once-common night birds that are in serious decline. As part of our Birds to Watch program, we have started a new project to map the remaining populations of these unusual birds. You can hear the haunting call of these birds, then take a ride after dark on a fine summer night and see if there are any calling in your town.

Go to the Mass Audubon Oriole Project website and learn more, and thank you for helping us with Oriole Project 2008!

* Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

Mass Audubon Mass Audubon
208 South Great Road
Lincoln, MA 01773
781-259-9500 / 800-AUDUBON

%d bloggers like this: