For the Birds

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Birds in Massachusetts

Have you seen any Northern cardinals lately? Red-bellied woodpeckers? Carolina wrens? Purple finches?

If you enjoy bird-watching, you won’t want to miss participating in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count — an event that’s been going on for more than a century. During a three-week period (this winter, from Dec 14, 2023 to January 5, 2024) tens of thousands of birders will head outside in a cooperative effort to get the best count of birds throughout the country—and beyond.

A Circle of Friends

While bird-watching is often a solitary activity enjoyed in peaceful surroundings, the Christmas Bird Count is truly a group event, with participants counting birds on a single day within defined 15-mile diameter “circles.” Locally, active CBC circles are located in Athol, Westminster and the Oxbow area in Harvard. (You can find contact information for each of those circles online at To participate in the CBC, you need to join an existing CBC circle by contacting the compiler (leader) in advance of the count day.

If you happen to live within the boundaries of a CBC circle, you can stay at home and report the birds that visit your feeder on count day, as long as you have made prior arrangement with the count compiler.

New to the Christmas Bird Count world? Don’t worry! Birders of all skill sets are involved in the CBC. If you’re a beginning birder, the local circle’s compiler will pair you with an expert initially to ensure a proper count.

As you can see, this is a serious, well-controlled study, and CBC data have been used in hundreds of analyses, peer-reviewed publications, and government reports over the decades. A total of 133 Christmas Bird Counts were conducted in New England during the 122nd CBC season last winter. The “work force” participating in this effort included 4,071 counters (not including feeder watchers) who managed to tally 213 species!

Not on Your Calendar?

If you can’t make it to an active count circle—but still want to help keep track of local bird populations—you’re in luck!

As an alternative, you may be interested in getting involved in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) organized by Audubon, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada. It takes place President’s Day weekend each February, and you can count the birds each day in your backyard/community and then enter the results online.
For more information on the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit Audubon’s GBBC page.

And each fall and spring bring additional watchful experiences: The Eastern Mass Hawkwatch, when spotters gather to watch the movement of raptors unfold in the seasonal migrations. In Spring 2023, Eastern Mass Hawk Watch (EMHW) spotters counted for over 2,300 migrating raptors (along with numerous local eagles, vultures, and falcons)!

And for sheer pleasure, North Central Massachusetts is a great place to observe our feathered friends—at the abundant local and state parks, conservation areas and reservations throughout the region.

Here’s a tip for bird enthusiasts: The Athol Bird a Nature Club, headquartered at the Millers River Environmental Center in Athol, has an active birding division that takes local bird trips in the spring and fall. The club also has extensive collection of mounted bird specimens, some large such as the Great Gray Owl, and others much smaller such as a Black-capped Chickadee or various warbler species. The collection aids in educating interested bird enthusiasts on bird identification and bird adaptations. You can learn more about the ABNC online at