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Maine Birding Trail
It’s no secret that Maine is one of North America’s top birding destinations. For breeding warblers, boreal specialties, and birds of coastal and offshore waters, Maine offers unmatched opportunities to find some of the country’s most sought-after species. Spanning both the forest transition zone from deciduous to coniferous woodlands, and the coastal transition zone from sandy beaches and salt marsh estuaries to rocky shore, Maine provides a wide range of habitats for birds, many of which reach their northern or southern range limit here. This diversity is reflected in a state list of regularly occurring birds that now numbers over 330 species. And the Maine Birding Trail has a list of places for a relaxing bird watching outing or locations to find birds you can add to your Life List.
Birding in Maine is a year-round activity. Spring migration is long, with the hardiest species arriving as the snow begins melting in early March and continuing well into early June with a final northward push of shorebirds. The songs of mixed sparrow flocks and the distinctive display-flight sounds of American Woodcock in early April are welcome notes to this eagerly awaited season. Blue-headed Vireos, Hermit Thrushes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and other vocal passerines make their presence known soon thereafter, accompanied by hawks that pour into the state through the month. Highlighting the spring migration for birders are the warblers: beginning with the first Palms and Pines in late April and finishing with the late-arriving Mournings in late May, the warbler migration is center stage at many of the most popular—and most accessible—birding sites around the state. A good morning at one of these sites can tally 22 or more warbler species. Shorebirds build in number through May, peaking during its last week.
June and July are alive with breeding activity. Time spent hiking mountain trails and exploring the spruce, fir and mixed woods of the Northern Forest provides opportunities to find such target birds as Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Bicknell’s Thrush, and a variety of warblers. Both of the secretive Sharp-tailed Sparrow species are late nesters and are reasonably easy to see through July. Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, and Arctic Terns are also reliable finds on offshore islands through the period. When the woods go quiet in August, the focus shifts to the exceptional shore birding at select locations all along the Maine coast. At times thousands of migrating shorebirds of a dozen or more species can be found, providing identification challenges for birders of all abilities.
Forest songbirds begin flocking in August, and their fall migration builds and peaks in September. Offshore islands and the ends of peninsulas often attract spectacular concentrations of these migrants, with warblers again often stealing the show, and the attendant Sharp-shinned Hawks and Merlins keeping everything moving. Maine’ protracted fall migration period continues well through October into November as waterfowl, grebes, loons, alcids, and a variety of gulls take up winter residence along the coast. Among the 32 waterfowl species that regularly occur in Maine annually is the spectacular Harlequin Duck, which now can readily be found at an increasing number of sites through the winter. Although land birds can be scarce during the coldest winter months, the possibility of finding a Rough-legged Hawk, Snowy Owl, Northern Shrike, Bohemian Waxwing, or a flock of one of the “northern finches” that irrupt periodically here always makes birding outings well worthwhile.
To follow the Maine Birding Trail, you can start by downloading a copy of the trail guide. Or, go to our regional stories, which lead you to specific birding areas in Aroostook County; Greater Portland and Casco Bay; Maine's Lakes & Mountains; Maine's MidCoast & Islands; The Maine Beaches; and The Maine Highlands: Bangor, Moosehead, Katahdin. You can also get statewide birding information at Maine Birding Trail.