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How Maine birders could play an important role in tracking climate change by documenting bird sightings

For the first time, the state wants Mainers to take note of the birds they see as part of a statewide winter survey.

MAINE, USA — Since 2018, birders across Maine have been participating in the Maine Bird Atlas. It’s a five-year citizen survey managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and is dependant on Mainers documenting their everyday bird sightings.

“Basically, what we’re just trying to do is essentially map out where birds are in the state," said Doug Hitchcox, a staff naturalist at Maine Audubon. 

The goal of the Maine Bird Atlas is to track different bird species, their numbers, breeding habits, and for the first time, include those that tough out Maine's winters.  

“We just need to know what the species is, and then let us know where and when you saw it,” said Hitchcox.

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Adrienne Leopold is the project director of the Maine Bird Atlas. She said one in every three to four birds across the country have been lost in the last 50 years. 

“We have a responsibility to the resources of Maine and to the people of Maine to try to conserve and protect our wildlife,” added Leopold. 

Leopold said protecting Maine's bird populations has been difficult for biologists as they don't have all the proper information about their habits, which is where the new winter survey comes into play.

“You have to understand where the organisms are and how they’re using the habitats that Maine offers in order to better conserve and protect them,” Leopold told NEWS CENTER Maine.

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This data can also shine a light on the impact climate change is having on Maine and its bird population. In recent years, state biologists have seen the loss of habitat for species like the saltmarsh sparrow due to rising sea levels caused by climate change, according to Hitchcox.

"In Maine, everyone complains when the mosquitoes and blackflies come out and I think it's underappreciated how many of those insects are actually being eaten by birds," explained Hitchcox. "Just for the health of our total ecosystem, it's important to have as much biodiversity as we can."  

The winter survey is open until March 15, 2022.